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Celebrating Violas — 2022 Herb of the Year

It’s baaack!

After a two year absence because of Covid, the Herb Society of Central Indiana’s annual Spring Symposium is returning to the Hamilton County 4-H Fairgrounds on Saturday, April 9, from 9 a.m. to 2:20 p.m.

To make up for the lost time, there will be presentations on the Herbs of the Year for 2020 and 2021, but the star of the show is the 2022 Herb of the Year, Violas.

Violas?

Yes, the 500 to 600 species that belong to the genus viola. You know them best as violets, pansies and heartsease (also known as Johnny-jump-ups.)

I know pansies and violets aren’t what most people usually think of as herbs. They do, however, meet the International Herb Association’s criteria for selection as Herb of the Year, being outstanding in at least two of three categories: decorative, culinary and medicinal.

I’m sure you already know violas are decorative. Cold tolerant pansies are among the first plants available to add color to your flower beds in the spring and they provide some of the last bright colors in the fall garden.

Violets and pansies are also edible, as I learned when I worked at Conner Prairie back in the 1970s.

Libby Doss, the training guide for the costumed interpreters at Dr. Campbell’s house, showed me how to make candied violets to decorate cakes, ice cream and other desserts.

The basic steps are fairly simple: beat an egg white until it’s frothy but not stiff, carefully paint the egg white on the violet with a brush, then dust the flower all over with very fine sugar and let it dry.

Of course, you need to make sure the violets are clean and pesticide-free, and these days you’d better use dried egg whites or meringue powder in place of raw egg white, just to be safe.

What I didn’t know about violets and pansies is that they also have valuable medicinal qualities. Sweet violets (“viola odorata”) have been used to treat respiratory disorders, and heartsease or wild pansies (“viola tricolor”) are useful for respiratory disorders, skin ailments and arthritis.

You can learn more about violas at the Spring Symposium.

Food writer, editor, photographer and “flavor artist” Susan Belsinger will discuss all aspects of violas — from their cultivation, to medicinal uses, to recipes using violets, pansies and “johnnies” — in two presentations, “Celebrate Viola, Herb of the Year 2022” and “The Virtues of Violas.”

In addition, HSCI member Helen Burke will speak on “Brambles,” the 2020 Herb of the Year (brambles are raspberries, blackberries, etc.) and Joyce Miller, another HSCI member, will talk about “Humble Parsley,” the 2021 Herb of the Year.

Other presentations include “Tai Chi for Gardeners” with Christine Bhe, a certified Tai Chi and Qigong instructor, and “Best Fragrant Plants for the Midwest Garden” with author, ethnobotanist, gardener, and lecturer Bill McKnight (aka The Mad Botanist.)

A breakfast snack and a lunch, catered by Juniper Spoon, are included in the $60 registration fee ($55 if you’re a member of the HSCI,) but take along a little extra cash because you’ll also have an opportunity to shop for live plants and herb-related items, and to participate in a silent auction.

Registration for the Symposium can be done by mail, or online at https://sites.google.com/view/herb-society-of-central-indiana/symposium. (Note: this is a different web address from previous years.) The deadline for registration is April 1.

Questions? See the website above or email nksnively@gmail.com. A clarification: The log jail in last week’s column DID precede the Old Sheriff’s Residence and Jail that now sits on the courthouse square, but there was another jail — a brick one — between those two jails.

– Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com