Ancient flower still a fragrant favourite

Viola odorata ‘Mary Louise’. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Viola odorata ‘Mary Louise’. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
The old saying "that nice things come in small parcels" applies to violets.

Their history goes back to before Christ. They became the symbol of Athens over 2000 years ago and any Greek ceremony was incomplete without garlands of violets.

Today the violet is rated as one of the world’s favourite flowers. The many species have come a long way from the stemless flowers that grew in the wild.

Their fragrance and daintiness makes violets great ground cover in a woodland garden. They like a cool spot and need little attention, multiplying easily from strong runners and seed.

There are singles and double varieties and cultivars with large flowers, although the most sought after are the deep purple true violet colours. They never seem to lose their appeal.

Sweet violet, Viola odorata, is one of the most common and was one of the first flowers grown for pleasure. It has creeping stems, forms mats and grows no more than 100mm to 150mm. Although country of origin is unclear it is known to come from Europe, North Africa and Asia.

Violet flowers can be eaten raw in salads. Violet conserve was used as a relief for quinsy, consumption, jaundice, digestive troubles and cancer. It is reported that Catherine Booth, wife of the founder of the Salvation Army, found violet leaves were the only things to relieve her advanced cancer, and the properties of violets have been studied in cancer research.

 - Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information contact David Askin.

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