The most recognizable form of the violet flower is the garden violet. This is mainly due to its brilliant purple hue which has become the violet’s signature shade. However, due to its extensive family – an amazing 500 species in the Violaceae genus – there are a vast amount of colors available. White and cream shades are quite common; blue, yellow and even bicolored varieties may also be seen. The violet flower is native to moderate areas of the Northern Hemisphere; can either grow directly from a stem, or as a cluster from a rhizome, and grows best in a shaded area during the early spring.
The violet flower has, over time, developed an interesting and varied history. In Greek mythology violets were said to be created by the god Zeus so that his beloved Io might consume them while she was transformed into a heifer. Further Greek mythology states that violets grew from the spilled blood of Ajax; a similar story is told of the Roman god Attis. The violet flower has also become a great inspiration for art and artists alike. In Christian art the violet is considered an emblem for the Virgin Mary’s humility. In the background of Giovanni Paolo’s “Madonna of Humility” you will see a small speckling of violets, while in Da Vinci’s “Madonna Benois” you will see the Mother Mary presenting a violet to the infant Jesus. Flowers, particularly violets, were also an inspiration to composer Frederic Chopin. At the time of his death, his piano student, Jane Sterling, purchased all of the violet flowers she could find, and placed them on his grave. Today, it has become a tradition for visitors to place violets upon his grave in Paris. Aside from their obvious beauty, violets have also become well known for their usefulness. They are frequently used in perfumes, and their scent is sometimes made use of in aromatherapy to treat eczema and calm the nerves. The sweet violet is the only flower in it’s family to have medicinal properties. It can be placed into syrups, creams or teas to help treat coughs, colds and lung disorders; it can help to treat insomnia, skin conditions and digestive upsets. Violets are also considered an edible flower, and are often candied and placed on top of cakes or other pastries. The petals and leaves might also be used in salads; the flowers can be steeped and used to flavor a variety of dishes, or as simple, pretty garnishes.
Violet flowers have become a very popular gift. This is likely due to its dual nature. It is thought to be a symbol of peace, spirituality and imagination; at the same time it is a symbol for mourning and sadness. Violets can be given to encourage the recipient’s creative endeavors, or to show respect for the dead. They are also frequently given around Easter, as they are an emblem for the Passion of Christ.