Viola odorata flowers Viola odorata Family: Violaceae
(vi-OH-lah oh-dor-AY-tah)
Common name: sweet violet; English violet; wood violet; garden violet
Zone: 5 – 9
Height: 4-6 in (10-15 cm) Spread: 12-18 in (30-45 cm)
Aspect: full sun; partial shade; full shade
Soil: sand; loam; clay; well-drained
Water: moderate
Description: Hardy, rhizomatous perennial with deep green, roughly heart-shaped leaves appearing in late winter. Fragrant flowers are either deep violet or white and appear in early spring. Disease and pest resistant. Propagation is from seed and spreading stolons, or rhizomatous roots.


Special Notes: Originally native to Asia and Europe, the early settlers carried specimens with them to Australia and North America where the specie has become established. The fragrant flowers are very important to the perfume industry in southern France where the flowers are also harvested for use in making flavourings, toiletries, and the violet-coloured liqueur called Parfait d’Amour.

The whole plant contains salicylic acid…the main ingredient in aspirin…which may be why the ancient Greeks wore garlands of flowers on their heads during festivals to thwart dizziness and headache brought on by imbibing too liberally. The leaves contain antiseptic compounds and have been used as poultices or added to ointments for centuries. Infusing them in a tea or making a syrup has long been a remedy for coughs.

The flowers have a mild laxative effect. Roots and seeds contain purgative properties. Herbalists have long recommended the use of a liniment made from violet roots and vinegar to cure spleen disorders and ease the pain caused by gout.

More recently, it has been discovered throat cancer patients who drink violet leaf infusions have realized relief from pain caused by their treatment. Reportedly, there have actually been several cures of this cancer by drinking leaf infusions.

The edible flowers can be added raw to salads, made into dainty crystallized candies for decorating cakes, made into a delicate violet jelly (recipe here), added to vinegar for colour, or fermented for a sweet wine.

An infusion of sweet violet flowers can also be used as a substitute for litmus paper to determine pH. When it comes into contact with alkaline substances, the colour of the infusion turns green. Acid substances will turn the infusion colour red.


Viola odorataIn our Zone 7a garden: I am particularly fond of sweet violets, Viola odorata, as their delicate scent reminds me of my granny. I originally placed three or four clumps around my front garden and over the ensuing years they have gently spread. Some are in the lawn, some in full shade, some in part shade, and a lovely patch has grown up in my Rosa rugosa hedge where it is slowly reaching out to the boulevard. This patch is growing is almost pure sand…with only the barest of soil to found. I never water out there and it receives the hottest sun of the day. For this reason it will languish in the summer months but not before I have picked its flowers for my varied uses.

For some gardeners, sweet violets are too invasive for their preferences. John will not have them in his garden for this reason. However, any wayward plants are very easily removed if the patch gets too rambunctious.


Note: None of the medicinal claims are meant to be followed without the express knowledge of your doctor or a certified herbalist. Please act responsibly in regards to your health.


Posted on April 18, 2017