Thursday, 29 September 2016


“Cold blows the wind against the hill, And cold upon the plain; I sit me by the bank, until The violets come again.” - Richard Garnett

Viola odorata is a species of the genus Viola native to Europe and Asia, but has also been introduced to North America and Australia. It is commonly known as wood violet, sweet violet, English violet, common violet, florist's violet, or garden violet. It is a hardy herbaceous flowering perennial.

Several cultivars have been selected for garden use, of which V. odorata ‘Wellsiana’ has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. The sweet scent of this flower has proved popular throughout the generations particularly in the late Victorian period, and has consequently been used in the production of many cosmetic fragrances and perfumes. The scent of violet flowers is distinctive with only a few other flowers having a remotely similar odour. References to violets and the desirable nature of the fragrance go back to classical sources such as Pliny and Horace when the name ‘ion’ was in use to describe this flower from which the name of the distinctive chemical constituents of the flower, the ionones is derived.

In 1923 Poucher wrote that the flowers are widely cultivated both in Europe and the East for their fragrance, with both the flowers and leaves being separately collected and extracted for fragrance, and flowers also collected for use in confectionery galenical syrup and in the production of medicine. There is some doubt as to whether the true extract of the violet flower is still commercially available at all. It certainly was in the early 20th Century, but by the time Steffen Arctander was writing in the late 1950s and early 1960s production had “almost disappeared”. The violet leaf absolute however remains widely used in modern perfumery.

The combination of α-ionone and β-ionone is characteristic of the scent of violets and used with other components in perfumery and flavouring to recreate their scent. Ionones can be made synthetically in the laboratory and nowadays most perfumes using ionones use the synthetic form.

The French were known for their violet syrup, most commonly made from an extract of violets. In the United States, this French violet syrup was used to make violet scones and marshmallows. Once again most violet flavourings that one can obtain for culinary use are synthetic. However, if one grows fragrant violets in one’s garden, both flowers and leaves of the violet are edible and can be used in the kitchen.

The violet flower was a favourite in ancient Greece and became the symbol of Athens. Scent suggested sex, so the violet was an emblematic flower of Aphrodite and also of her son Priapus, the deity of gardens, fertility and generation. Iamus was a son of Apollo and the nymph Evadne, a daughter of sea-god Poseidon. He was abandoned by his mother at birth as she was ashamed of her pregnancy. She left him lying in the Arcadian wilds on a bed of violets where he was fed honey by serpents. Eventually, he was discovered by passing shepherds who named him Iamus after the violet (ion) bed he lay in. When he grew up, he descended into the waters of Alpheios and invoked Poseidon, his grandfather, and Apollo, his father, asking them to reveal his destiny to him. Apollo instructed him to go to Olympia. Granted the gift of prophecy by Apollo, he founded the Iamidae, a family of priests and seers in Olympia.

In the language of flowers violet flowers symbolise delicate love, affection, modesty, faith, nobility, intuition and dignity. The meaning of the violet changes depending on the colour of the flower and the person the flower is sent to. Blue violet flowers symbolises love and faithfulness, white violets represent purity and chastity, and yellow violets symbolise high worth and goodness. Violet flowers are often sent to commemorate a couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Crystallised violet flowers are used as an edible decoration for cakes, pastry and cupcakes. You will need the white of an egg, caster sugar and fresh, clean, whole violets (leaving the stalk on them helps you handle them). Place the clean dry flowers on a baking tray. Beat the egg white to a light foam. Brush the flowers all over with beaten egg white, using a soft pastry brush. Sprinkle flowers all over with the caster sugar immediately. The sugar needs to stick to the egg white before it dries. Leave for approximately one hour or more until fully set. You can also sit the finished flowers on a baking tray lined with ovenproof paper in a warm oven (switched off). Once they have dried, they will be hard and brittle; store them carefully in an airtight tin for up to 2 months.

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme,
and also part of the Friday Greens meme,
and also part of the Food Friday meme.


  1. Blue and green is so attractive together! Pretty as cake decoration as well...

  2. Very educational write Nick! And violet or commonly 'purple' has always been Hank's favorite color!


  3. These beauties grow all around the house without any help from me! All the different color combinations fascinate me. Thanks for all the information about them.