Viola odorata

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Viola odorata
Viola odorata fg01.JPG
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Malpighiales
Family: Violaceae
Genus: Viola
V. odorata
Binomial name
Viola odorata

Viola odorata is a species of flowering plant in the genus Viola, native to Europe and Asia. This small hardy herbaceous perennial is commonly known as wood violet,[1] sweet violet,[2] English violet,[2] common violet,[2] florist's violet,[2] or garden violet.[2] It has been introduced into North America and Australia.


Viola odorata can be distinguished by the following characteristics:

  • the flowers are scented[1]
  • the flowers are normally either dark violet or white
  • the leaves and flowers are all in a basal rosette
  • the style is hooked (and does not end with a rounded appendage)
  • the leaf-stalks have hairs which point downwards
  • the plant spreads with stolons (above-ground shoots)

These perennial flowers mature at a height of 4–6 in (10–15 cm) and a spread of 8–24 in (20–61 cm).[1] The species can be found near the edges of forests or in clearings; it is also a common "uninvited guest" in shaded lawns or elsewhere in gardens.


Several cultivars have been selected for garden use, of which V. odorata 'Wellsiana' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[3][4]

The sweet scent of this flower has proved popular, particularly in the late Victorian period, and has consequently been used in the production of many cosmetic fragrances and perfumes.[5] The French are also known for their violet syrup, most commonly made from an extract of violets. In the United States, this French violet syrup is used to make violet scones and marshmallows. The scent of violet flowers is distinctive with only a few other flowers having a remotely similar odor. 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 were 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 [6] and in the production of medicine.

There is some doubt as to whether the true extract of the violet flower is still used commercially in perfumes.[7] It certainly was in the early 20th century,[6] but by the time Steffen Arctander was writing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, production had "almost disappeared".[5] Violet leaf absolute, however, remains widely used in modern perfumery.[8][9]

The leaves are edible.[10] Real violet flower extract is available for culinary uses, especially in European countries, but it is expensive.

Herbal medicine[edit]

In herbal medicine, V. odorata has been used for a variety of respiratory ailments,[11] insomnia,[citation needed] and skin disorders.[12][13][14] However, there is insufficient evidence to support its effectiveness for these uses.[13]

In mythology[edit]

The violet flower was a favorite 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 and generation.[15][16][17]

Iamus was a son of Apollo and the nymph Evadne. He was abandoned by his mother at birth. She left him lying in the Arkadian 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.

The goddess Persephone and her companion Nymphs were gathering rose, crocus, violet, iris, lily and larkspur blooms in a springtime meadow when she was abducted by the god Hades.[18]

In culture[edit]

V. odorata may be the species mentioned in Shakespeare's famous lines:

"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine"[19]



  1. ^ a b c Bruce Asakawa; Sharon Asakawa (3 September 2001). California Gardener's Guide. Cool Springs Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-1-930604-47-6. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Viola odorata". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  3. ^ "Viola odorata 'Wellsiana' (Vt)". Royal Horticural Society. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  4. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 107. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  5. ^ a b Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin by Steffen Arctander, First published 1961, ISBN 0-931710-36-7, ISBN 978-0-931710-36-0
  6. ^ a b Perfumes Cosmetics and Soaps by W. A. Poucher, Vol. 2, Chapter V Monographs on Flower Perfumes. First published 1923
  7. ^ "Violet". fragrantica.
  8. ^ An Introduction to Perfumery by Curtis & Williams 2nd Edition, 2009, ISBN 978-0-9608752-8-3, ISBN 978-1-870228-24-4
  9. ^ "Essential oils". Bo Jensen.
  10. ^ "Edible Flowers Violets".
  11. ^ Qasemzadeh, MJ; Sharifi, H; Hamedanian, M; Gharehbeglou, M; Heydari, M; Sardari, M; Akhlaghdoust, M; Minae, MB (Oct 2015). "The Effect of Viola odorata Flower Syrup on the Cough of Children With Asthma: A Double-Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial". J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 20 (4): 287–91. doi:10.1177/2156587215584862. PMID 25954025.
  12. ^ Amer, A; Mehlhorn, H (2006). "Repellency effect of forty-one essential oils against Aedes, Anopheles, and Culex mosquitoes". Parasitol. Res. 99 (4): 478–90. doi:10.1007/s00436-006-0184-1. PMID 16642384. S2CID 206987619.
  13. ^ a b "Sweet Violet". WebMD.
  14. ^ PDR for Herbal Medicines. 2004. ISBN 9781563635120.
  15. ^ Audrey Wynne Hatfield (1973). A Herb for Every Ill. St. Martin's Press. p. 173.
  16. ^ Margaret Roberts (2000). Edible & Medicinal Flowers. New Africa Books. p. 79.
  17. ^ Christopher Cumo (2013). Encyclopedia of Cultivated Plants. ABC-CLIO. p. 1113. ISBN 9781598847758.
  18. ^ "Plants and flowers of Greek myth". Theoi Project.
  19. ^ Shakespeare, William. A midsummer night's dream.

External links[edit]