What Is an English Violet?

Caitlynn Lowe

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.

The petals and roots of the English violet can be made into a cough syrup.
The petals and roots of the English violet can be made into a cough syrup.

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.

The petals of an English violet are sometimes consumed as part of a salad.
The petals of an English violet are sometimes consumed as part of a salad.

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.

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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Discussion Comments


@talentryto- I have planted English violets, and they definitely do well when the soil has been replenished with organic plant material. If you have a compost pile of leaves, sticks, grass shavings, and last year's plants, this makes an ideal organic mixture for your garden soil. All you have to do is spread it on top of the soil, and use a garden tiller to mix it in. This will put back vital nutrients into the soil that will help new plants like English violets thrive each growing season.

If you didn't start a compost pile last year, you can purchase organic garden mixture at your local home and garden store. Just remember to set aside some organic materials this year so you can begin making your own natural fertilizer.


@talentryto- Instead of adding materials to your soil, maybe you should try rotating your plants. If you put your English violets in a different part of your flower garden this year, chances are that they will get the nutrients they need to grow and bloom.

If you think your soil will benefit from organic material, the leaves and stems from your previous year's garden can be tilled into the into it before you plant this year's plants. This will add some natural organic material to the soil.


I'm trying to find a natural way to add organic material to the soil in my flower garden because I'm hoping this will help my English violet plants thrive. I planted them last year, and they didn't grow very tall or develop many blooms. I think the problem might be that the soil in my garden is getting depleted of nutrients.

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