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The incredible, edible pansy?

By By Steve Strong / area horticulture extension agent
Sept. 23, 2003
Eggs, pork, and other agricultural products each get their own special promotion as a healthy part of a balanced diet, and one day soon we might be touting "October Is Pansy Month."
For generations, gardeners have known about the tasty and fragrant virtues of pansy and other members of the genus Viola as a both a colorful and flavorful addition to the salad bowl.
But it's not until the last years of new age consciousness about herbal nutrition and self-healing that common garden plants have gained a well-deserved place in the spotlight.
Like pansy, and its smaller, feistier cousin the Johnny-Jump-Up violet, it is no longer viewed as "just another pretty face," but now is valued as much for the medicinal qualities as for the garden display.
Rutin is the primary compound found in plants such as violets, mulberry, and horse chestnut. Rutin is classified as a bioflavenoid, similar to the flavenol compound Lycopene found in tomatoes. Each pansy flower may contain up to 20 milligrams each of rutin, a dose ingested up to three times a day for treatment of ailments ranging from glaucoma to varicose veins (a total of up to a half-dozen flowers depending on size).
The good news is that eating pansies and other violet flowers is perfectly safe, with no overdose level reported. However, just like any type of vegetable or fruit, moderation is recommended, and your digestive tract will usually give you a sign when you have eaten too many greens. Just ask the folks who grow turnips or collards.
This article is not written to suggest that everyone should run out to the flowerbed and start harvesting supper. Instead, the goal is to inform plant lovers that there are a variety of ways that they can enjoy their favorite garden plants through a range of human senses, and possibly reap some health benefits along the way.
Take other cool season crops like ornamental kale and cabbage, or onions and garlic. Fall is the perfect time to get these plants started, and their aesthetic properties easily rate as high as their culinary value. Most cool season vegetables and herbs will bloom and die back next spring as the weather warms up, allowing for more than six months of salad bowl fixings and landscape color.
Recent rains and cooler days make it the ideal time to amend planting beds with lime and compost, paying special attention to poorly drained areas where the soil holds too much water. Root rots are about the only serious problem to worry during fall planting, especially if the weather patterns continue to provide too much rainfall.
Gardeners do need to be aware of other pests that can slither in without warning, such as slugs and snails. These critters often leave behind dry, glittery, slime trails where chunks of leaves are missing, and the recommended control methods include everything from poison baits to biscuit dough placed in a gallon milk jug. Call your county Extension office at 482-9764 for more information.
Pansies are often the victims of snail and slug attack, while mustard and other greens attract cabbage looper worms as a primary pest. Again, holes in the leaves are a common sign of caterpillar damage (do not confuse this with yellow leaf spot fungus that causes the foliage to turn gray and wither), and some of the best controls include organic products like Bt and pesticides such as carbaryl.
If the rainy season continues, fungicides may be required to treat the foliage, or even the soil for ornamental plants like pansy. For correct pest diagnosis, drop samples by the county Extension office or your favorite garden supply dealer. We are all here to ensure that you get the most for your money, in addition to your personal health and garden well-being.