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Signs of Spring

April 18, 2016
By Heidi Maness Hartwiger - Natural Parent, Natural Child Series , OVParent

Is it beds of golden daffodils, tufts of chickweed or folks with ramp breath that signal to you it's spring?

What about violets dotting yards and open spaces? Ralph Waldo Emerson said that "in the presence of nature a wild delight runs through a man." I might alter his thought a bit to say "in the presence of violets a wild delight runs through me." After a long winter, what can be more thrilling than discovering sweet violet faces peeking through the dry grasses?

My romance with violets began when I was small. Whether I worked in the garden beside my granny or sat on her lap for a story, I smelled the scent of April violets. The secret source was violet water splashed on the hankie forever tucked in her sleeve or buried deep in her apron pocket.

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Violets are reported to be the wild, pesky and distant cousins of the domesticated pansy. Perhaps their persistent, ever-spreading nature is rooted in Greek mythology. Zeus, the amorous Greek god, was married to Hera and was smitten with a nymph named Io. There are many variations of this myth. One version indicates that when Hera discovered the affair, Zeus changed Io into a heifer to shield her from Hera's wrath. The delicate Io, unaccustomed to the coarse pasture grass, wept. Pitying her, Zeus transformed her tears into tender violets upon which she could graze.

Historically, violets have been awarded as prizes and offered as tokens of love. They even were adopted by Napoleon Bonaparte's followers as a political insignia.

Violets definitely stand the test of time and cultures. Violets appear throughout early Christian folklore. It is said that the first violets bloomed when the angel Gabriel came to Mary to tell her she would give birth to the Son of God. There is a Christian belief that violets with their three heart-shaped leaves are the herbs of the trinity. It is believed that once violets stood upright on strong stems with their heads held high, faces to the sun. Then on the day of Christ's crucifixion the shadow of the cross fell across the violets. From that day, the violets have bowed their heads in reverence.

Medical practitioners of old believed in signs. They believed God gave the violet heart-shaped leaves to be used as a medicine for heart trouble. Enter an ancient Roman historian named Pliny the Elder. He suggested when attending festivities that adorning oneself with a garland of violets would prevent drunkenness. He also recommended ingesting violets for a night of restful sleep. Actually, Pliny the Elder may have been on to something. While the delicate little flowers will not prevent drunkenness, some folks claim that violets brewed into a tea will supposedly cure a headache and encourage sleep.

Would you be surprised to know that violets and their leaves are respectable ingredients in modern cough syrups and gargles? Nicholas Culpepper, a renowned 17th-century astrologer and physician, recommended an infusion of violet flowers for pleurisy and other respiratory afflictions. Is it possible that he could have known about the high concentration of vitamin A and C in violets? For relief of swollen and inflamed skin, he recommend that a violet-leaf poultice be applied to the afflicted area. Fast forward to the 21st century. Made into a compress, violet blossoms and leaves can provide comfort to irritated skin.

If you suggest to the kids a walk to hunt for violets, they may look at you as if you were not speaking their language. Bring food into the conversation and see how quickly interest grows. April 23 is National Picnic Day. Can you think of a better reason to embrace the great outdoors? The picnic could be a main event or as simple as veggie sticks and dip or fruit, chunks of cheese and bottles of water. You won't have to go far to find violets, as they are plentiful everywhere.

Now what are you going to do with the bouquets of violets the children picked? Putting them in mini-vases is logical. The Victorians would press the little beauties in books. You and the kids could make violet chains.

Then there is always the culinary option. If the violets are exceptionally large, try frosting them. Violets are edible. You can use them as garnishes for salads or to decorate a spring cake or giant iced sugar cookies. Everyone will be pleasantly surprised at the delicate sweetness of the frosted delicacies.


To frost violets you will need paper towels, fine bristle watercolor paint brushes, a baking sheet lined with waxed paper, 1 egg white beaten until foamy but not stiff, violets, granulated sugar and a small bowl for dipping violets into granulated sugar. To wash violets, gently dip them in cool water then place on paper towel to dry.

With the paintbrush, gently paint the the violet petals with the frothy egg white. Place the violet "face down" in the sugar. Sprinkle the exposed underside of the petals (which also have been "painted") with more sugar. Hold the violet over the bowl and check for non-sugared areas. Sprinkle more sugar if necessary. Set the sugared violets on the waxed-paper-lined baking sheet to dry. The drying process may take two to three days. Be patient. You will not be disappointed. The sugared violets will become slightly crunchy. Store the sugared violets by layers in an airtight container until you are ready to use. Imagine sugared violets decorating oatmeal or scrambled eggs!

What are you waiting for? At last it's time to be outside. Turn your faces to the sun and in whatever way you choose embrace the signs of spring.

Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.



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