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Botanical Buzz - Violet odorata

Monday, September 08, 2014

Flowering plants are bringing delightful colour to Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden

One of those plants, Viola Odorata (sweet violet) is as famous for its symbolism and multiple uses as it is renowned for its beauty and scent.

Viola odorata is a species of the genus Viola native to Europe and Asia and belongs to the family Violaceae. It is an evergreen perennial growing to roughly 0.1 m high and 0.5 m wide.

In English literature violets may symbolise faithfulness and love. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet the bereft and tragic Ophelia declares “I would give you some violets, but they wither'd all when my father died.”

In his touching ode to personal loneliness “She dwelt among the untrodden ways” Wordsworth uses the violet as a metaphor for the unappreciated yet dignified beauty of a young woman isolated from society “A violet by a mossy stone, Half hidden from the eye! Fair as a star, when only one, Is shining in the sky..”

Viola odorata has been highly valued for its very distinctive scent for hundreds of years. Violet scented perfumes were particularly popular in the late Victorian period and grandparents may still remember violet candies such as such as Violettes de Toulouse and Parma Violets. Violet leaves are still used for high class perfumes but they do not have a violet scent.

The leaves and flowers of Viola odorata are edible but the seeds and rhizomes are poisonous. The flowers make an attractive garnish for salads and candied violet petals are a sweet delicacy.

The highly influential Roman physician Pedanius Dioscorides (40 – 90 AD) and English physician and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616 –1654) both recommended violets to treat a number of different ailments. However, violets are not used in modern medicine.

Viola odorata may be found in various sites in Shoyoen including at the base of the Persimmon tree and around the Ike (lake).
                                                                                                                            By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan