So delicate and old fashioned, sweet violets used to yield our grandmothers or great-grandmothers’ favorite perfume at the beginning of the twentieth century. The tiny flowers nosegays and corsages fell out of favor partly because they seemed matronly to younger generations and partly because the plants are not very easy to grow commercially. They weave their runners in rich moist humus under trees or through partly shady lawns, with their sweetheart shaped bright green leaves, delicate as dreams. Try to gather a bouquet and they will wilt pitifully, always thirsty and vulnerable. Even though the classic violet fragrance is out of this world, many varieties are not scented, which can be a surprise and slight disappointment for people who anticipate it.
As with many other edible plants, the boundaries between the medicinal and gastronomical uses of violets were often blurred. Apothecaries who made them into perfume used to sell the candied flowers as food supplements. The violet syrup is supposed to smooth a singing voice.
Many medicinal qualities have been attributed to violets: sedative, fever reducer, expectorant, tumor shrinking, tonic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, cough suppressant, and snake bite antidote. Goat milk mixed with pressed violet flowers was considered a beauty potion for any lady who would wash her face with it.
The French in Toulouse still sell the candied violets today, as part of the tradition of that region. Pastry chefs build entire desserts to display this rare sugar confection.
If you are lucky to have scented sweet violets in your garden, you can make your own candied flowers, as a culinary curiosity if nothing else. Here is how:
Crystallized sweet violets
– violet flowers, unblemished and with the stems still attached
– 1/2 cup of water
– 1 cup of sugar
– 1 tbsp of rose water
– sprinkling sugar
Boil the water, sugar and rose water until the sugar completely dissolves. Pick the flowers by the end of the stem with a pair of tweezers and quickly dip them into the syrup. Lay them out on wax paper and sprinkle with sugar. Allow them to dry.
This unexpected sugary treat will certainly create a focal point on your artful dessert. Alternately, violets will display just fine in a simple vase.