The Herb of the Month for March 2021 is Heartsease Viola Tricolor.

Viola Tricolor is a well-known annual and biennial herb and has many common names, such as Johnny-Jump-Up, Wild Pansy, Heartsease, Viola, three faces in a hood, and more. It is a native from Europe but has becomes naturalized in the United States.  Pansies are mentioned in Roman and Greek mythology and also in more modern literature such as Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Hamlet. The Celts and Romans used the flowers to make perfumes. During the Victorian era, Heartsease’s meaning in the language of flowers was “you are in my thoughts”. It can be found in partial shade, short grassland, and on farms, usually on acidic or neutral soil.

The color combinations can be varied, including purple, blue, yellow and white which is due to its tendency to hybridize.  The plants are self-pollinating and may produce up to 50 seeds. Crossbreeding of this cultivar began in 1800.

Wild pansies were cultivated for their charm but also for medicinal uses.  Traditionally, medicinal uses were for tonics, epilepsy, skin tonics, bronchitis, asthma, and more. Modern research has found therapeutic uses for this plant which contains antioxidants and flavonoids. The flowers have been used to make yellow, green, and blue-green dyes. The leaves can be used to indicate acidity

Today we use the flowers in salads and desserts, or enjoyed candied.  The leaves are also edible and can be added to salads and soups.

Heartsease Viola Tricolor

Tips and Tricks!

  • Gently gather and rinse flowers so that they will not be bruised. Lay out on a flat absorbent surface to dry. Use quickly if possible, otherwise refrigerate in a container.  Be sure that the harvesting area has not been subjected to chemicals.
  • The whole flowers make a charming garnish to desserts including wedding cakes.
  • Consider using the whole flower as a garnish for drinks or freeze them into ice cubes for various beverages.
  • Pansies are also a visual and culinary delight when adding whole or individual petals in salads.
  • The flowers can be used in a cold infusion with some slices of citrus, or as a hot tea which has been allowed to steep for several minutes.
  • For additional adventures, the flowers can be candied.
  • Press a whole flower into the top of shortbread cookies.

Reni Erskine
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