Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Viola odorata 
Sweet Violet/ Martsviol

Viola odorata has many pretty names like Apple leaf, Blue violet,
English violet, Garden violet, Heart's ease, Russian violet, Bairnviolet, but the most used name is Sweet violet. The sweet scent of a Viola odorata is unique. The Danish name is Martsviol because it arrives in the month of March. The sweet scent of its flowers is used in the production of cosmetics and perfumes.

Sweet violet has got heart-shaped leaves and darkviolet, sweet smelling flowers. It was not originally a
wildgrowing plant, but common at inhabited places below hedges and on wickets, banks of ditches and in glades.

Three other violets: 
Viola canina, Heath-Dog violet or Heath Violet (Danish: Markviol): with pale blue flowers and without scent is native to Europe and common in thicket, on dry fields and hills.

Viola silvatica ( reichenbachiana)  Wood violet, (Danish: Skovviol) grows in hardwoods and thicket.

Viola palustris: Marsh Violet or Alpine Marsh Violet (Danish: Engviol) inhabits moist meadows, marshes, and streambanks in Europe, Asia and North America. It is used as the food plant for the Pearl-bordered Fritillary and the Small Pearl-bordered fritillary.

The violet has often been plant in gardens below trees or wicket or along the fence. A street in Copenhagen with present name Fiolstræde was until 1570 called Violstræde. It had achieved its flowername from many gardens with an abundance of violets. Sweet violet is the most loved boutquet flower in spring. The first spring's violets were until ab. 1875 plucked on the banks of Copenhagen and gathered in bouquets or put in little cones and sold for a skilling. At Copenhagen's market square were in spring 1967 sold ab. 26.300 bouquets with ab. 10 flowers each. The violets were much used by children for garlands. If the petals are plucked, a figure is seen -  it's interpreted as Virgin Mary with Jesus.

Folk Medicine:

Henrik Harpestreng ab. 1300-1400s: was used in burns; it was crushed as a compress for headcache which came from drink or food;  the scent from a violet garland upon the head protected against vipers; crushed roots cooked with myrrh to put on inflamed eyes; crushed violet leaves mixed with honey to rub on   head boils;  mixed with vinegar this would heal all outer damage; crushed and put on blisters; the plant sap  taken with water against lung diseases and soft ribs;  for headache rub head with violet water and fennel juice -  or put crushed violets into wine or vinegar on the head;  the crushed plant mixed with wine put on wounds, ease pains, the juice drives out pus and prevents "dead flesh."
violet- and rose oil:  helped children's cough,  put into an aching and buzzing ear, cools body and gives sleep;  to rub against roundworms and against head scales.

1533: vinegar-decoct of sweet violet as a drink in spleen diseases.

Henrik Smid 1546: Violets pickled with vinegar and sugar used for children's epilepsy and malaria; violet flowers pressed into a juice and cooked with water and sugar into a syrup, which stops "the burning cold disease" (malaria); violet-oil and violet-vinegar as a compress on the temples stops headache, also as a compress for "the hot liver"; violet-oil stops "the evil heat and sharpness" of the throat, chest and lungs.   

Simon Paulli 1648: from the juice of the flowers are in spring prepared a syrup good for "the heated flood of the breast". People used to put a little bag with dried violet flowers upon the chest " for they have got noble forces to refresh the heart".  The herb was often used by physicians in an enema "to soften the belly" (against constipation). The seeds were used against bladder stones.

1700s: Violet- and rose-oil mixed with wax into an ointment on children's gums to ease the teething. Viola odorata helps against cough, ease pains, the herb gives a softening compress , the seeds are vaguely diuretic, the root gives vomiting and diarrhea. The flowers and seeds were written into the Pharmacopoeia in 1772.

Violet syrup in snaps was used for gargling to help "the temper of the tongue"! Decoct from the leaves was used for bathing shinbone wounds and excoriation; violet syrup in a cough syrup for children; decoct of the whole plant used as a skin tonic for dry skin.

1806: Sweet violets which stand all night in a closed room are harmful for the health.

Other use, Symbolic:  
In chemical  experiments the flowers of sweet violet were used to show acids and salt; their juice mixed with copper gives a green paint; a violet-essence from wine-alcohol can be used to perfume liqueur. If you rub your hands with sweet violets or with the mercury plant, you can put them in boiling water without being scalded !!  Violet flowers were sprinkled on the floors to give a fine scent in the house.

In H.C. Andersen's fairy tale "The Snow Queen" a silken quilt is stuffed with violets.

The violet flower symbolizes innocence, timidity, grace.

Candied violets:
The French have been using candied violets to decorate cakes and pastries for several hundred years.

Source: V.J. Brøndegaard, Folk og Flora, bd. 2, Dansk Etnobotanik, Rosenkilde og Bagger 1979


Out on the prairie said...

Some very interesting uses. A dogtooth variety grows around here and is a welcome bloom in the spring, as well as a nice garnish on a salad.

Thyra said...

Hej Steve, yes there are many varieties. They must look pretty in a salad. I'll try that in spring!
The candied are pretty on cakes.
Grethe ´)

shoreacres said...


Your blog is so lovely, and filled with such interesting observations. I've not completely read this post just now because of time constraints, but one of my New Year's resolutions (do you do those in your part of the world?) is to give more time to blogs such as yours.

So for now I will wish you a good New Year, and as I am able I will come back to read more.

Thyra said...

Hej, thank you so much for your kind words. This means a lot to me.
Oh, yes! I've got lots of New Year's resolutions right now, but I've probably forgotten most of them next month!
I know about time constraints.... I have always wished that day and night were 48 hours instead of 24!!
Happy New Year to you too. I hope you'll come back.
Grethe `)

Susan Blake said...

I love that little sweetie of a flower! I have quite a few in my front garden but I won't see them until probably May. We have 50 degrees today which is unheard of for Chicago in January - we've had NO snow yet either. Spooky. Hope we don't get our winter all in one day.
Happy New Year Hugs

Thyra said...

Hej Susan, we've also got mild temperatures right now, some days 10 Celsius - I think this is about yours 50 Fahrenheit. So you can look forward to lots of violets in May. I think those flowers
have got the most lovely scent. A small bouquet of violets can fill more than a room.
Happy New Year to you too!
I hope our winter will be short. The birds are singing - those optimistic little souls - and some chanterelles were found the other day! Miracle!
Grethe ´)

Vagabonde said...

I came to visit through Wanda’s blog. What an interesting post about violets. There was a good bakery near our home in France where there were some delicious dark chocolate pastries decorated with candied violets – they were my favorite. I also have a special English china cup decorated with violets – they are such delicate flowers.

Thyra said...

Hello, the English China with the violet pattern is difficult to get. Here in DK anyway. It's very pretty.

There was a bakery here in my town some years ago where you could buy cakes with violets. But then they sold and the next baker changed the whole thing. Maybe I could bake some myself! I have seen those candied violets in a special shop downtown.
Grethe ´)

Teresa Evangeline said...

I still have a small crocheted sachet filled with violet potpourri and tied with a violet colored silk ribbon that my mother made me Many years ago. I will get it out of its box and set it where I can be reminded. Thank You for triggering this memory for me with all this wonderful information.

Teresa Evangeline said...

I almost forgot! I also knew a woman who made violet jelly. It was wonderful. Can you imagine the work involved in picking enough to make jelly? She would lie down on the ground! That's dedication to homemade!

Thyra said...

Hello Teresa, what a precious memory from your mother.

Violet jelly, oh, this must be delicious. It's very difficult for the knees to pluck violets! My left knee won't get up again! But I love to pluck just a little bouquet in spring when I pass a "secret" place in the forest with the dark blue violets.

We've got a Danish song, a children's song about a mother and her little girl walking in the forest. The girl is plucking violets for her mother, who's blind, and the whole song is so terribly sad that we cried our eyes out in school when we were singing it!! Can you imagine that?

Grethe ´)