The Vivacious and Virtuous Sweet Violets
“The violet is mainly of moderate heat and it grows by the sweetness and gentleness of the air.” – Hildegard of Bingen
The nectar of this sweet and humble flower, this harbinger of spring, offers far more than merely a pleasant fragrance. The flowering violet, specifically the wild European sweet violet (Viola Odorata) has long been admired for its application in skin care and medicine.
The active chemical constituent of its fragrance is as clever as its leafy tendrils, briefly inhibiting the sense of smell – a valuable quality when households and towns were aggressive cornucopias of odiferous offenses. Violets were also added to the rush matting on the floors of medieval houses to sweeten rooms. And, it was often carried in bouquets by ladies, desiring to put off the stench of progress.
The sweet violet has long had figurative associations with faithfulness, chastity, and modesty. This imagery – along with the “shrinking violet”, stems from its dainty stature and small flowers, often hidden among its leaves, and frequently inconspicuous among larger and more aggressive plants.
Despite the modesty in stature, violets propagate vigorously by both seeding and underground runners, resulting in what might be regarded by gardeners as lovely one day and an invasive pest the next.