Tag Archives: violets

For the Love of Pansies, Violas, and Violets


“I pray, what flowers are these? The pansy this, O, that’s for lover’s thoughts.” ~George Chapman

vintage violas from seed

It is at the edge of a petal that love waits.”William Carlos Williams

“Heart’s ease! One could look for half a day Upon this flower, and shape in fancy out Full twenty different tales of love and sorrow, That gave this gentle name.” ~Mary Howitt

“Who are the violets now

That strew the lap of the new-come spring?”  ~Shakespeare: Richard II

violas

“Look at us, said the violets blooming at her feet, all last winter we slept in the seeming death but at the right time God awakened us, and here we are to comfort you. “  ~Edward Payson Rod

The modern day pansies are descendants of the wild viola tricolor also called heartsease. There are many nicknames for this plant that include: love-in-idleness, call-me-to-you, three-faces-under-a-hood, godfathers and godmothers, flower o’luce, banwort, jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me. We have always called the smaller violas johnny-jump-ups.

Violas, violets, and pansies are my absolute all-time favorite flowers. Though admittedly, I have many favorites. I often start violas and pansies from seed because I can get more varieties this way, but I also purchase the plants.  I prefer the miniature violas to the larger pansies but love both. To my delight many of the smaller varieties self-seed freely. I’m not surprised they have been used in love potions. An old belief is that if the flowers were placed on the closed eyelids of a sleeping person they would fall in love with the first person they saw upon awakening.

Viola_odorata

From The Scots Herbal by Tess Darwin:

“On the Isle of Skye, whey in which violets had been boiled was given to feverish patients as a cooling drink. Heartsease, also known in Scotland as love-idleness, was used to treat epilepsy, asthma, heart disease and eczema.”

Bog violet was said to be a sacred plant on Skye.

Ancient Gaelic advice: “Anoint thy face with goat’s milk in which violets have been infused, and there is not a young prince on earth who would not be charmed with thy beauty.”

VIOLAS or HEARTSEASE

From A Modern Herbal:

“The flowers (1/4 to 1 1/4 inch across) vary a great deal in colour and size, but are either purple, yellow or white, and most commonly there is a combination of all these colours in each blossom. The upper petals are generally most showy in colour and purple in tint, while the lowest and broadest petal is usually a more or less deep tint of yellow. The base of the lowest petal is elongated into a spur, as in the Violet.

The flower protects itself from rain and dew by drooping its head both at night and in wet weather, and thus the back of the flower and not its face receives the moisture. The Pansy is one of the oldest favourites in the English garden and the affection for it is shown in the many names that were given it. The Anglo-Saxon name was Banwort or Bonewor

Its common name of Pansy (older form ‘Pawnce,’ as in Spenser) is derived from the French pensées, the name which is still used in France. ‘Love in Idleness’ is still in use in Warwickshire. In ancient days the plant was much used for its potency in love charms, hence perhaps its name of Heartsease. It is this flower that plays such an important part as a love-charm in the Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Medicinal Action and Uses: The Pansy has very similar properties to the Violet. It was formerly in much repute as a remedy for epilepsy, asthma and numerous other complaints, and the flowers were considered cordial and good in diseases of the heart, from which may have arisen its popular name of Heartsease as much as from belief in it as a love potion.

violas (2)

From Meanings and Legends of Flowers:

“The monks of the Middle Ages called ~Viola tricolor~ common in Europe, the ~Herb of the Trinity (herba trinitatis) because they saw the symbol of the trinity in their three colors. The name ~Heartsease~ stemmed from its old use as a medicine to treat heart disease. People believed God gave the plant heart-shaped leaves for that use. The name may also come from its ancient use as an aphrodisiac and a love potion. The deep purple ~Viola odorata~ native of the Mediterranean region, is so sweet that an oil from it is used in the perfume industry.”

“Violets are also considered to be funeral flowers. It was thrown in graves for remembrance in rural England. The mourners also carried violets to protect themselves against poisonous exhalations while in the cemetery.”

arrangement of violets in an old lavender bottleInteresting regarding Napoleon Bonaparte and violets: 

Napoleon Bonaparte loved violets. When he married Josephine, she wore violets and on each anniversary Napolean sent her a violet bouquet. Josephine maintained an extensive garden of violets which became the rage in France. In 1814, Napoleon asked to visit Josephine’s tomb, before being exiled to the Island of St. Helena. There he picked the violets that were found in a locket around his neck after he died. The French thus chose the violet as their emblem, and Napoleon was nicknamed Corporal Violet or Le Pere Violet meaning the little flower that returns with spring.

“Heart’s ease of pansy, pleasure or thought, Which would the picture give us of these? Surely the heart that conceived it sought Heart’s ease.” ~ Algernon Charles Swinburne

“The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size.” ~Gertrude S. Wister

Images from our garden.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill. You know how it is with an April day. ~Robert Frost


Oh, yes. I know. April in the Shenandoah Valley is up and down and all around. Some days are heavenly blue and balmy. I ache to capture the beauty, and can’t bear to come inside from the garden.

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Daughter Elise brings her camera over, but even her talent cannot totally convey the beauty. A wash of rich green spreads from the yard down across the meadow. Tender new leaves flushed with rose blend in with the many shades of green in the woods on the hills behind our farm. Daffodils, tulips, Virginia bluebells, lilac, pears, bridal veil spirea…beloved blossoms return as old friends to color the trees and flower beds. Wild flowers star the roadside and the creek bank. A wonderland. On those days, we are like ‘The Shire’.

spring flowers in the Shenandoah Valley

Other days are cold, gray, and windy–as if the Norsemen are coming in their dragon-headed ships. Or the furious wind fairies are gathering to attack, as our resident fairy expert, my niece Cailin, would warn. Soft rains are gentle and sooth the earth. Animals, plants, and people hunker down on the chill-you-to-the bone blasting kind of days. Spring is ‘right mixy’ to quote a local country woman.

Beauty of Apeldoorn tulips
The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. ~Henry Van Dyke

The sun has come out… and the air is vivid with spring light. ~Byron Caldwell Smith, letter to Kate Stephens

April hath put a spirit of youth in everything. ~William Shakespeare

The front door to springtime is a photographer’s best friend. ~Terri Guillemets

_MG_8464_1 (1)       (Elise made an arrangement of daffodils)

A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King.
~Emily Dickinson

A wizard must have passed this way
Since—was it only yesterday?
arrangement of violets in an old lavender bottleThen all was bare, and now, behold,
A hundred cups of living gold!
~Emma C. Dowd, “Daffodil and Crocus,” in Country Life in America: A Magazine for the Home-maker, the Vacation-seeker, the Gardener, the Farmer, the Nature-teacher, the Naturalist, April 1902

(Elise made an arrangement of violets in an old bottle we found on the farm)

It’s spring! Farewell
To chills and colds!
The blushing, girlish
World unfolds
Each flower, leaf
And blade of sod—
Small letters sent
To her from God.
~John Updike, “April,” A Child’s Calendar, 1965

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(An arrangement in our kitchen window by Elise. All images by Elise)

Spring: the music of open windows. ~Terri Guillemets

***Many of our flowers are heirlooms.

The Love and Lore of Violets


An excerpt from my herbal, Plants for A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles:

“Who are the violets now
That strew the lap of the new-come spring?” ~ Shakespeare: Richard II

SweetViolets008

Violet (Viola Odorata). Part Used: Flowers (dried). The leaves and whole plant (fresh).

Sweet violets grow at the edge of forests and clearings and can be detected by their scent. Sometimes they appear as unwanted guests in yards and gardens, but we like violets and encourage them here. Violets have a long history reaching deep into the misty past. There are over two hundred species in the world; five are native to Great Britain. Sweet violets are usually dark purple, but may be white. The flowers are full of honey and appealing to bees, but usually bloom before bees are really out from as early as late February into April.

Viola OdorataViolets imbue liquids with their color and fragrance and make a divine perfume. A medicinal syrup of violets is given as a laxative considered mild enough for children, and for a variety of other ailments. Old herbalists recommended the syrup for ague (acute fever), inflammation of the eyes, insomnia, pleurisy, jaundice, and many other illnesses. They had great faith in its healing attributes. Among other components, violets contain salicylic acid which is used to make aspirin.

As with primroses, violets have been associated with death, particularly of the young. This is referred to by the poets, including Shakespeare in Hamlet. Ancient Britons used violet flowers as a cosmetic, and in a Celtic poem they are recommended to be employed steeped in goats’ milk to increase female beauty. In the Anglo-Saxon translation of the Herbarium of Apuleius (tenth century), the herb V. purpureum is recommended ‘for new wounds and eke for old’ and for ‘hardness of the maw.’ In Macer’s Herbal (tenth century) the Violet is among the many herbs which were considered powerful against ‘wykked sperytis.’  (A Modern Herbal)

Gar Flower Web Blue Violet

Askham’s Herbal Violet Recipe for Insomnia: “For the that may not slepe for sickness seeth this herb in water and at even let him soke well hys feete in the water to the ancles, wha he goeth to bed, bind of this herbe to his temples.”

spray of beautiful dark blue violets

To Make Syrup of Violets: Tale 1 lb. of Sweet Violet flowers freshly picked, add 2 ½ pints of boiling water, infuse these for twenty-four hours in a glazed china vessel, then pour off the liquid and strain it gently through muslin; afterwards add double its weight of the finest loaf sugar and make it into a syrup, but without letting it boil. (A Modern Herbal)

“Viola Odorata is an ancient heirloom, which the Greeks used in love potions, and beloved by our grandmothers and their grandmothers because of its sweet perfume, delicate purple to deep bluish purple flower and heart-shaped leaves.” ~ Quote from Cherry Gal, an interesting website that sells heirloom violet seeds, amongst other offerings.

violet“I know a bank, where the wild thyme blows Where ox-lips, and the nodding violet grows; Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.” ~ William Shakespeare

“Look at us, said the violets blooming at her feet, all last winter we slept in the seeming death but at the right time God awakened us, and here we are to comfort you.” ~Edward Payson Rod

“You can’t be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or a squirrel of subversion or challenge the ideology of a violet.” ~Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons, 1964