Violets- lore, magic, healing & food

VIOLET (SWEET)

Viola odorata

Planetary ruler: Venus

Element: water

Associated deities: Aphrodite, Io, Orpheus, Venus, Attis, Ares, Persephone

Magical virtues: Ostara, death, love, renewal,

One of the first signs that spring is really here are the sweet violets blossoming beneath my trees. Violets are small hardy perennials, native to Europe and north Africa but now naturalised in North America and eastern Asia. They can often be found growing in fields, hedgerows, meadows and on scrub or waste ground. The leaves are heart-shaped leaves and the purple (or occasionally white) five-petalled flowers are borne on long stalks in early spring. There are more than 500 species; the pansy is a cultivated kind of violet.

Like other such early flowers, they carry with them the promise of the regeneration of the year, and all the good things to come as the weather warms. In Europe, in the Middle Ages, the appearance of the first violets were a cause for great celebration; Duke Leopold (1198-1230) sent his whole court out to scour the banks of the Danube for the first violet. [1] In many places, it was believed that the very first violet of the year had special properties and would protect the finder from illness or the evil eye for a whole year. [2]

For the ancient Greeks, they were dedicated to Persephone, who was both the goddess of spring and the queen of the dead. She was out collecting violets when she was abducted by Hades and stolen away into his chthonic realm. [3] While she was there, the earth fell into a permanent winter while her mother, the goddess Demeter, searched for her. Eventually, all the gods agreed that Persephone should spend part of the year in the netherworld, ruling over the dead with her sombre husband, and part on earth with her mother. When she returns in the spring, the land is rejuvenated and flowers bloom, but when she returns to the underworld, winter comes. This gives the violet its dual mythology as a happy flower of spring, but also a flower of the dead. Strangely, one further association of the violet with the underworld is that they grow a second kind of flower that never sees the light of day, but which grows underground. These are called cleistogamous flowers (cleistos meaning ‘closed’ and gamos meaning ‘marriage’). Yet these flowers produce viable seeds. [4]

Violets were associated with another death and resurrection figure, the vegetation god Attis. When his mysteries were celebrated in Rome at the spring equinox, he was represented by a pine tree decorated with violets, which were believed to have sprung from his blood. [5] ‘Attis’ was laid in his grave and in the morning the priest opened the tomb and declared that the god had risen and returned from the dead. The day was marked as the festival of joy, the Hilaria.

Because of its association with the underworld, its purple colour and its drooping head, the violet was a symbol of death. [6] On the day ancient Romans remembered their dead, violets were laid on graves. [7] Even by the time of the Victorian Language of Flowers, violets signified death, so it was unlucky to bring them indoors. In England, it was believed that picking violets with the dew still on them would result in the death of a loved one.

Conversely, with its sweet scent and heart shaped leaves, for both the Greeks and Romans, the violet was also associated with Aphrodite (Venus in Roman mythology), the goddess of love, though Aphrodite has her own aspects as the fertile regenerator of spring. Violets sprang up wherever she trod, while her attendants, the Three Graces, plaited her crown of violets. [8] Naturally, this meant that violet, with its heart-shaped leaves, was a frequent ingredient of love potions and spells.  The association with love persisted. A sixteenth century poem runs: ‘Violet is for faithfulnesse,/ Which in me shall abide;/ Hoping likewise that from your heart / You will not let it slide.’[9] During the nineteenth century violets were often used to decorate love tokens, porcelain and treasure boxes. Napoleon was said to have given Josephine a violet nosegay on each wedding anniversary and when he was banished to Elba he vowed to return with the violets in the spring. Queen Victoria popularised posies of violets, and they were a traditional Mothering Sunday (the first Sunday of Lent) gift in the UK. [10]

The genus name Viola is derived from the Greek for the plant, ione. There are several legends as to how it got its name. In one, the god Zeus turned Io into a heifer so that his wife Hera would not suspect their affair; Io’s tears turned into violets. [11] Others say that certain nymphs from Ionia offered violets to Zeus, [12] or that the hero Ion met water nymphs on his way to Attica who presented him with violets to show their favour, so he founded the city of Athens there; violet was one of the emblems of ancient Athens, which was called the City of the Violet Crown. [13]

‘Sweet’ violets are so called because they are sweetly scented, though other types of violets do not share this property. In Bohemia it is said that violets lose their scent after the first clap of thunder – meaning that the later summer flowering varieties of violets are scentless.[14] The strange thing is, that if you inhale the perfume of sweet violets, they seem to quickly lose their perfume, hence the phrase ‘smell the smell out of violets’. This is because they the chemical ionine, which supresses the sense of smell. [15] The nineteenth century French scientist de Panille claimed that the scent had a harmful effect on the voice, and it is said that the singer Marie Sass could not sing after smelling violets; even today, some singing teachers forbid the use of violet cologne. [16] This is somewhat at odds with their connection with the ancient Greek legendary musician Orpheus, whose music was so sweet that it could charm the birds from the trees. Violets were said to have bloomed where the lute of Orpheus fell when he was killed by drunken Maenads.  Zeus took the lute and placed it in the stars, but the violets were the sweet embodiments of his music and dedicated to Orpheus. [17]

The shy little violet, nestling half-hidden on the woodland floor, is a symbol of humility, purity, chastity, modesty and discretion. In Christian lore, they are a symbol of Christ’s humility through incarnation and the Virgin Mary, whom St Bernard of Clairvaux wrote of as the ‘sweet virgin of humility’. [18] In a spurious piece of mythology, René Rapin (1621–1687) related that the flower was once a maid called Ianthis, one of Diana’s nymphs, who was forced to run away from the unwanted attentions of Apollo in order to save her virginity, till Diana stained her face blue to put him off. Others say that Ia, a daughter of Midas, betrothed to Attis, was transformed by Diana into a violet, so that she might be saved from Phoebus, the sun god. However, neither Ianthis nor la are genuine mythological characters.

The white violet is a symbol of innocence and openness. [19]

Violets have long been used in cosmetic and healing preparations. They were believed to have the ability to moderate anger, strengthen and comfort the heart, and promote refreshing sleep. The Roman writer Pliny recommended that revellers wore chaplets of violet flowers to prevent hangovers. [20] The ancient Greeks wore them to induce sleep and to prevent headaches. [21] According to the ninth century Codex-Sangellensis, to cure a headache, rub the forehead with violets. [22] The sixteenth century herbalist Ascham said that ‘for them that may not sleep for a sickness seethe violets in water and at even let him soke well his temples, and he shall sleepe well by the grace of God”. [23]

The leaves should be collected during the early spring and dried. The flowers should be harvested when available and dried slowly in the shade to retain their colour.

The flowers can be dried and used for potpourri or for decorating home-made Valentine’s cards, and you can even make a DIY soil tester from them – an infusion of violets will turn red if something acid is added to it (such as a few grains of acid soil), and green if something alkaline is added. 

MAGICAL USES:

The power of violets concerns the return of life, the energy of green shoots emerging from the underworld in spring, and new life coming from death. Use violet flowers in your Ostara decorations and chaplets or use Violet Wine for your ritual drink. Dried violet flowers and leaves may be added to incenses for the spring equinox, and any incenses designed to invoke springtime death and resurrection deities, or vegetation deities. Keep the first violet you find in spring as a protective amulet; place it in a small cloth pouch and carry it with you. 

You can use the power of violet when you need to emerge from a personal dark time too, when you have been shaken by major changes and transitions. Working with the plant, perhaps in the form of Violet Tea or Violet Flower Essence, will help you to accept yourself, recognise your own self-worth, overcome your timidity, and find a place of balance and stillness that will prepare you to emerge into a time of happiness.  

Use violet flowers in funeral flowers and funeral incenses, or plant violets on a grave to signify that from death, rebirth will come.

Violets are sacred to goddesses of love, and may be employed in incenses, to invoke and honour them, as well as employed in love spells, rituals, charm bags, incense and amulets. To attract a new love, carry a sachet of violet and lavender flowers. When you invoke the goddess of love, you may use violet decorations in your temple or circle. Give violets to your beloved or place them in the wedding bouquet/handfasting flowers. Share Violet Wine with the one you love or use it in the handfasting ritual.

Violets are sacred to the god of music, so use them in incense and spells when invoking him or looking for musical inspiration.

Lastly, violets are associated with the twilight, a magical ‘time between times’, when the Otherworld is closer and it is easier to slip into. Violet Wine or Violet Tea may be taken at twilight to facilitate passage into the Otherworld, and to make contact with the fairy folk. This is especially effective on Midsummer’s Eve.

CULINARY USES:

All the members of the true viola family (violets and pansies) are edible, though sweet violets have the best flavour, and in the past were commonly consumed. The Greeks and Romans made wine (Vinum Violatum) from violets, the buds were eaten in salads in Elizabethan times and Mon Amy, a pudding made with violets, was popular in the Middle Ages. [24]

They are rich in vitamins A and C. The young leaves, which taste faintly of celery, can be eaten in salads, crystallised, or added to souffles. The flowers can be made into a soothing Violet Tea, or candied as Crystallised Violets, and used for cake decorations, or the petals used fresh as an edible garnish for soups, salads and cocktails, or freeze them into ice cubes and drop them into drinks.  The flowers can be made into Violet Wine – if you can harvest enough (please don’t take them from the wild).  A Violet Syrup can be added to cocktails or poured over desserts and ice cream.

COSMETIC USES:

Violet flowers are good for aging skin, acne and large pores.

The natural properties of violets including saponins (soap) make them an excellent cleanser. Our great, great grandmothers used Violet Milk for this, or you can use Violet Tea as a facial wash.

Add Violet Bath Salt to the bath for a soothing and relaxing soak.

Violet salve makes a good moisturiser if you have very dry or irritated skin – the Vitamin C in them brightens the look of the skin, and the Vitamin A improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, while the natural oils and mucilage in the plant plump up the skin.

Macerated Violet Oil can be used to soften hard skin and callouses on the feet and hands.

Macerated Violet Oil is also great for your hair.  The mucilage in violets help smooth frizz. Massage the oil into your hair, wrap your hair in a warm towel, leave for 2-3 hours and wash out.

MEDICINAL USES:

Actions: alterative, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, expectorant, laxative, lymphagogue, mild laxative, vulnerary

Violet Tea or Violet Syrup can be useful for treating coughs, chest colds and catarrh. A teaspoon of Violet Syrup will soothe sore throats.

Sweet violet is naturally anti-inflammatory and soothing so can be helpful for those with eczema, rashes, insect bites, chaffed skin and dry skin conditions, applied directly in the form of Violet Salve or Macerated Violet Oil.

Violet Infusion is used internally in the treatment of gout, headaches, rheumatism in the small joints, heartburn, gas and urinary infections. It is also beneficial in cases of poor nerves, hysteria, insomnia, irritability, mild depression and menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes.

Violet Infusion can be used as a gargle for the treatment of mouth inflammations and externally as a wash for eye inflammations and skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis.

Add Violet Infusion to your bath where its anti-inflammatory properties can help with muscular aches and joint pains. 

Use a violet poultice for bruises, wounds, abscesses and skin rashes.

The leaves and flowers of sweet violet are slightly laxative. Take a cup of Violet Infusion or take Violet Syrup for constipation.

CAUTION:

All of the true viola (including pansies) species are edible, but note that other flowers may be called violet, such as the African violet, and these should not be consumed.  No side effects or contra indications of violas have been reported except for individuals who have the rare inherited disorder G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) deficiency, because it can aggravate haemolytic anaemia, and for those allergic to aspirin (salicylic acid). However, to be on the safe side, avoid medicinal amounts if you are pregnant or breast feeding.

RECIPES:

Violet Tea

250 ml/ ½ pint boiling water

1 tsp. violet flowers and leaves

Pour the water over herb. Infuse for 15 minutes. Strain and drink. You can add a little honey or agave syrup if wished.

Violet Infusion

600 ml/ 1 pint of boiling water

60 gm/ 2 oz leaves and flowers

Pour the boiling water over the leaves, cover and leave overnight, or at least eight hours. Strain.  Will keep 24 hours in the fridge.

Great Grandma’s Violet Milk

250 ml/ ½ pint milk or yoghurt

Handful of violet flowers

Pour the warmed milk over the violets. Steep for 4 hours. Strain and refrigerate when cool. Using cotton buds, dab this over your face and deck. Keeps 2 days in the fridge.

Macerated Violet Oil

Violet leaves and flowers

Vegetable oil

Pack the flowers and leaves into a clean glass jar. Cover them with oil. Put on the lid and place on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain the macerated oil into a sterilised jar, fit the lid and label. Will keep 8-12 months.

Violet Syrup

1 litre water

50 violet flowers

50 gm sugar

Pour the water over the violets and stand overnight. Strain, discarding the flowers, add the sugar to the retained liquid. Heat gently for 20 minutes (do not boil), strain again. Keep refrigerated and pour over fruit salads, puddings, ice cream.

Candied Violet Flowers

25 violet flowers (leave a bit of stem on to make them easier to handle)

1 large egg white

2 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar)

Sift the sugar into a bowl.  Beat the egg white until frothy.  One by one, dip the flowers into the egg white, then hold them over the sugar, and sprinkle it over the flowers, trying to get an even coating. Place the coated flowers on a tray covered in greaseproof paper to dry. Pop them in the fridge for 24 hours. Remove and leave in a warm place for 24 hours. Cut off them stems, and store in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

Violet and Rose Lozenges

6 gm dried violet flowers, powdered

4 gm dried rose petals, powdered

Honey or maple syrup

1 tsp powdered mallow root, powdered

Icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)

Combine the flower powders with the mallow root powder. Combine these with enough honey to enable you to form them into pea sized balls – you might need to add a little sugar to help this along and help them keep their shape. Roll them in the sugar. Leave to harden for 24 hours. Store in an airtight container. These are good for sore throats.

Violet Bath Salt

2 tbsp. fresh violet flowers

4 tbsp. coarse salt

1 ½ tbsp Epsom salt

Pound the violet flowers into the sea salt in a pestle and mortar (or just put both in a food processor and give it a quick whizz). Spread on a tray and leave to dry for 24 hours. Then add the Epsom salts and put into a pretty jar. To use, just drop a handful of two into your bath and swirl around.

Violet Flower Essence

Gather a few mature flowers. Float them on the surface of 150 ml spring water in a bowl and leave in the sun for 3-4 hours. Make sure that they are not shadowed in any way. Remove the flowers.  Pour the water into a bottle and top up with 150 ml brandy or vodka to preserve it. This is your mother essence.  To make up your flower essences for use, put seven drops from this into a 10 ml dropper bottle, and top that up with brandy or vodka. This is your dosage bottle. The usual dose is four drops of this in a glass of water four times a day. When making flower essences it is important not to handle the flowers – it is the vibrational imprint of the flowers you want to be held by the water, not your own imprint. 

Violet Rum

750 ml dark rum

5 cm piece cinnamon stick

5 bunches of sweet violets

15 cloves

2 star anise

Juice and zest of 2 oranges

1 vanilla pod

Put the rum in a jar and add the spices. Add the violet petals, orange zest and the vanilla pod. Leave in a cool dark place for one month. Strain into a clean bottle.

Violet Sweet Creams

450 gm/1 lb. sugar

200 ml/ 7 fl oz water

½ tsp. cream of tartar

½ tsp. vanilla essence

Crystallised violets

Put the sugar and water in a pan and heat slowly until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Do not stir. Add the cream of tartar and continue boiling until a drop of the mixture forms a soft ball when dropped into cold water. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla essence. Sprinkle a board with cold water and put the fondant mixture onto it. Cool for a few minutes them work the fondant with a palette knife until it is white and opaque. Knead with your hands until it is smooth. Shape small pieces into balls and press a violet on top of each one. The sweets will harden in about an hour and can be kept in an airtight tin.

Violet Ice Cream

425 ml/ ¾ pt. single cream

140 ml/ ¼ pt. milk

60 gm/ 2 oz sugar

Yolks of 3 eggs

1 heaped tbsp. violet flowers

Place the cream, milk, sugar and flowers in a pan and bring almost to boiling point.  Cover the pan and leave it to stand for 1 hour.  Strain the contents through a sieve or jam bag, pressing the flowers to obtain their flavour.  Reheat the liquid to near boiling point.  Remove from the heat. In a bowl beat the eggs.  Beat in some of the hot cream mixture, then add this to the cream in pan.  Heat gently until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Pour into a container and leave to cool before placing it in the freezer (or into an ice cream maker if you have one – if you do, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and disregard the following steps).  When half frozen, whisk the ice cream thoroughly and return to the freezer.  After 1 hour, whisk again. Leave a further hour and repeat the process. Freeze until ready to serve.

© Anna Franklin (from the forthcoming Hearth Witch’s Garden, Llewellyn)


[1] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[2] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[3] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[4] https://chestnutherbs.com/even-violets-need-a-plan-b/, accessed 15.9.21

[5] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[6] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[7] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[8] There is no ancient authority for Herrick’s tale (in his Hesperides) that violets are the descendants of some unfortunate girls, who, having defeated Venus in a contest of sweetness, were beaten blue by the goddess in her jealous anger. 

[9] Cook, A. (1900). Iostephanos. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 20, 1-13. doi:10.2307/623737

[10] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[11] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[12] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[13] Cook, A. (1900). Iostephanos. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 20, 1-13. doi:10.2307/623737

[14] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[15] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[16] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[17] Claire Nahmad, Garden Spells: The Magic of Herbs, Trees and Flowers, London: Pavilion Books, London, 1994

[18] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[19] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[20] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[21] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[22] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

[23] Quoted in Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[24] Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune, Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, Man & Culture Publishers, Ghent, Belgium, 2003

Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: