Saturday 3 December 2016

Inspired planting... Versatile viola

Garden designer Leonie Cornelius brings the dainty viola from the garden into the kitchen

Leonie Cornelius

Published 26/04/2015 | 02:30

Leonie Cornelius with violas
Leonie Cornelius with violas

This time of the year is an incredibly exciting one for gardens. The recent stretch of warm weather has seen the plants in my garden shooting up, their beautiful colours starting to brighten up the borders. It's also the time of year where produce from the garden is bountiful and can be used in the kitchen again.

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I love using plants from my own garden for cooking and baking. Taking a plant straight from the garden is incredibly rewarding, and it's a lovely way of teaching kids to appreciate the food they eat. There is nothing like freshly-picked mint to flavour a sunny day lemonade, or making your own bouquet garni of rosemary, thyme and oregano from the herb bed.

One of my favourite plants to use, particularly in baking, is the viola. This delicate plant, which is considered a good luck gift, has pretty heart-shaped leaves and has many uses in the kitchen and beyond.

The plant in its simplest form, can be picked and just added to salads, onto soups or on cakes. There are so many varieties and colours to choose from, making them the perfect finishing touch to any home-cooked meal. The variety I chose here is a white Sorbet Viola from homeland.ie. It's very pretty planted en-masse in a big bowl on a garden table. The wild growing purple Viola odorata, which is native to Europe and Asia, can even be used to make candied sweets, such as the famous Violettes de Toulouse, as well as syrups and delicious purple liquors.

Violas are also used in medicinal cures. Many contain anti-oxidants and are said to strengthen blood vessels. Viola herbal remedies stimulate the immune system and they are used to make cough syrups, while their anti-microbial properties makes them useful in treating acne.

Historically, the Greeks and Romans treasured violets and made wine out of the flowers. There are some wonderful recipes out there for making your own violet syrups and wine if you fancy getting creative. If you try, it may be handy to know that the Romans also believed that the flowers could prevent drunkeness and even cure hangovers. Handy! Also interesting is the fact that the ancient Persians and Greeks used the violet to cure a broken heart.

A truly fascinating plant.

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