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 the year where produce from the garden is bountiful and can be used in the kitchen again.
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 simple 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 from the herb bed of rosemary, thyme and oregano.
One of my favourite plants to use, particularly in baking, is the pretty little viola. This delicate plant, which is considered a good luck gift, has pretty heart shapes 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 homecooked meal. The variety I chose is a white Sorbet Viola from Homeland.ie and is 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 very healthy and are used in many medicinal cures. Many contain anti-oxidants and are said to stregthen blood vessels. Viola herbal remedies stimulate the immune system and they are used to make cough syrups, their anti-microbial properties making them useful in the treatment of 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 do decide to make the wine then it will be handy to know that the Romans also believed that the flowers could prevent drunkeness and even cure hangovers! Handy. Another interesting fact is that the ancient Persians and Greeks used the violet to cure a broken heart. A truly fascinating plant!
Herbal and natural remedies are a fascinating field and it’s amazing how many flowers and plants have medicinal uses.
The Iona brand and specialist nursery is run by herbalists and naturopaths Marina Kesso and Ross Hennessy and the couple run some great courses from their nursery in Sligo teaching the public about herbal medicine, nutrition and growing herbs for natural remedies. ionaherbal.ie