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What Is an English Violet?

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  • Written By: Caitlynn Lowe
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 11 August 2014
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The English violet, or viola odorata, is a popular perennial with fragrant purple blossoms. These flowers are relatively easy to grow and blossom in the early spring. This particular type of violet is most often grown in Europe, North America, and Asia. Many ancient cultures prized this flower for its cosmetic properties and supposed health benefits. In modern times, the English violet is often admired in gardens or consumed as a garnish.

Other names for the English violet include sweet violet, blue violet, common blue violet, garden violet, and royal robe English violet. These flowers grow best in relatively cold soil. Gardeners planting seedlings in the spring should do so a few weeks prior to the last expected frost. Seeds should be planted two to three months before this date.

These violets thrive in partial sunlight. The soil should contain a great deal of organic material and retain moisture but remain well-drained. Even though the English violet does not often attract many garden pests, slugs have been known to eat them. A gardener must either pick off the offending pests by hand or apply a chemical treatment to ward them away before they appear.

At maturity, English violets will be approximately 6 inches (15.24 cm) in height. Clusters of violets often spread out to a foot (30.48 cm) in length. The blossoms are a deep purple that borders on blue, and their green leaves can either take on a round or heart shape.

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The English violet has held a significant role during various points in history. In Ancient Greece, many believed the flower could aid those suffering from insomnia. Romans held that the roots of this violet could cure gout. The Celts used a cosmetic made of English violets, and in the 1500s, the English made a syrup of violets that was used as a remedy for jaundice and epilepsy.

While many modern gardeners who plant English violets simply enjoy them for their beauty and fragrance, some harvest the plant for practical purposes. English violets have several culinary uses. Gardeners can consume the petals as a garnish for a salad or opt to use the petals to flavor vinegar, butter, or preserves. Some people even use English violets in tea and cake. The petals have a sweet taste while the leaves tend to be a little tarter.

Modern usage of the English violet also extends beyond the culinary realm. Its petals can be used for dyes and fragrances. A syrup made from the petals or roots is used as an herbal remedy for coughs and colds. British herbal medicine even uses the blossoms and leaves to create a medicine used for patients with stomach or breast cancer, but no accepted medical evidence exists to support its supposed effectiveness.

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