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Sweet violet has been used for headaches and coughing. It is said to have antibiotic properties, too.
The violet family comprises over 200 species, widely distributed in the temperate and tropical regions of the world, those natives of Europe, Northern Asia and North America being wholly herbaceous, whilst others, native of tropical America and South America, where they are abundant, are trees and shrubs. The genus Viola contains about 100 species, of which five are natives of Great Britain.
Violets, like primroses, have been associated with death, especially with the death of the young. This feeling has been constantly expressed from early times. It is referred to by Shakespeare in Hamlet and Pericles and by Milton in Lycidas.
In parts of Gloucestershire the country people have an aversion to bringing Violets into their cottages because they carry fleas. This idea may have arisen from these insects in the stem.
When Napoleon went to Elba his last message to his adherents was that he should return with Violets. Hence he was alluded to and toasted by them in secret as Caporal Violette, and the Violet was adopted as the emblem of the Imperial Napoleonic party.
Violet as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
The Violet is still found in the Pharmacopoeias.
Violet is effective in healing internal ulcers. It is used both internally and externally for pimples, abscesses, tumors, and swollen glands. It is useful in treating malignant growths as well. Native Americans soaked corn seed in an infusion of yellow violet to prevent insects from eating the seeds.
Syrup of Violets is also employed as a laxative, and as a coloring agent and flavoring in other neutral or acid medicines.
The infusion is generally drunk cold and is made as follows: Take 2 1/2 ounce of Violet leaves, freshly picked. Wash them clean in cold water and place them in a stone jar and pour over them 1 pint of boiling water. Tie the jar down and let it stand for twelve hours, until the water is green. Then strain off the liquid into a well-stoppered bottle and the tea is ready for drinking cold at intervals of every two hours during the day, taking a wineglassful at a time until the whole has been consumed each day.
It is essential that the tea should be made fresh every day and kept in a cool place to prevent it turning sour. If any should be left over it should be thrown away. As a cure for cancer of the tongue, it is recommended to drink half this quantity daily at intervals and apply the rest in hot fomentations.
As a hot Compress, for external use, dip a piece of lint into the infusion, made the same strength as the tea, of which a sufficient quantity must be made warm for the purpose. Lay the lint round or over the affected part and cover with oilskin or thin mackintosh. Change the lint when dry or cold. Use flannel, not oilskin, for open wounds, and in cold weather it should be made fresh about every alternate day. Should this wet compress cause undue irritation of the skin, remove at once and substitute the following compress or poultice: Chop some fresh-gathered young Violet leaves, without stems, and cover with boiling water. Stand in a warm place for a quarter of an hour and add a little crushed linseed.
Place 2 ounces of the best lard in a jar in the oven until it becomes quite clear. Then add about thirty-six fresh Violet leaves. Stew them in the lard for an hour until the leaves are the consistency of cooked cabbage. Strain and when cold put into a covered pot for use. This is a good old fashioned Herbal remedy which has been allowed to fall into disuse. It is good as an application for superficial tubercles in the glands of the neck, Violet Leaves Tea being drunk at the same time.
Culinary Uses of Violet
Violets were also and still are used in cookery, especially by the French. ‘Vyolette: Take flowrys of Vyolet, boyle hem, presse hem, bray (pound) hem smal,’ and the recipe continues that they are to be mixed with milk and floure of rys and sugar or honey, and finally to be coloured with Violets.‘ A recipe called Mon Amy directs the cook to ‘plant it with flowers of Violets and serve forth.‘.
The fresh flowers have also been used as an addition to salads; they have a laxative effect.
A wine made from the flowers of the Sweet Violet was much used by the Romans.
Violets impart their odor to liquids, and vinegar derives not only a brilliant tint, but a sweet odor from having Violet flowers steeped in it.
Syrup of Violet with Lemon Syrup and acetic acid makes an excellent dish in summer. The Syrup forms a principal ingredient in Oriental sherbet.
“Sirrup” of Violets, from a seventeenth century recipe book:
‘Take a quantity of Blew Violets, clip off the whites and pound them well in a stone morter; then take as much fair running water as will sufficiently moysten them and mix with the Violets; strain them all; and to every halfe pint of the liquor put one pound of the best loafe sugar; set it on the fire, putting the sugar in as it melts, still stirring it; let it boyle but once or twice att the most; then take it from the fire, and keep it to your use. This is a daynty sirrup of Violets.’
Did you know?
The flower of the month for February is Violet. It stands for faithfulness, wisdom and hope.
Greek Mythology Lore
According to Greek mythology, violets helped the god Zeus out of a bind. Zeus fell in love with a priestess named Io. When Zeus’s long suffering wife Hera found out about the illicit affair, she was understandably upset.
To keep Io out of his wife’s way, Zeus turned the young lady into a white heifer. To give Io something sweet to eat, Zeus created a field of violets for her and while he was at it, he sent a bunch of violets to Hera, as an apology. The flowers soothed the jealous goddess, suggesting to the ancient Greeks that these pretty blossoms might have a calming effect.
It wasn’t long before violets were being used everywhere as a fragrant sleep aid.
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