VIOLA ODORATA, also known as Sweet Violet, 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. To quote Tovah Martin of The New York Times, "Nothing quite compares to the fragrance of Viola odorata. It is an essence so ethereal, so fragile that it disappears entirely the moment after your nostrils sense its presence. Only violets and wallflowers have an aroma so sugary that it satiates and anesthetizes your scent receptors after a few long whiffs. For several minutes, you will be unable to smell that fleeting fragrance while your nostrils recover." Also a wonderful culinary decorative either in fresh salads, preserved in sugar for cake decorations, or made into a fragrant purple jelly. One of the first harbingers of Spring, it will naturalize easily. I remember visiting Dumbarton Oaks Park in Washington in early spring before much else was blooming and being awed by the profusion of this delightful flower - the entire park was enveloped in its perfume and the carpet of purple cast a special light in the gardens. And I was delighted when I moved to North Carolina that my 1927 house, along with all its warts, offered patches of this naturalized garden gem. Blooms from March to June, depending on your location, and self-seeds freely, returning each spring true-to-type in enormous numbers. Grows 4"-6" tall. Biennial. 50 seeds.
MEDICINAL: The flowers and leaves are made into a safe and effective cough syrup by simply warming them in honey. Used traditionally for oral cancer palliative. The dried root is a useful emetic (causes vomiting) due to an alkaloid called violine. A decoction of the dried root is a useful laxative. Tea made from the whole plant is good for digestive disorders and new research has identified a glycoside of salicylic acid (aspirin) which also supports its use for headaches and as a sedative. When the crushed leaves are applied externally (or tied up in cheesecloth and used in the bath) they reduce swelling and soothe irritation. Additional compounds present in this plant are under scientific study for use in treatment of cancers, arthritis, AIDS, gum disease, among other ailments.
GROWING TIPS: Start in greenhouse or indoor flats sowing on surface of well-draining seeding soil. Do not cover. Germination in 7-10 days at 59 to 64 degrees. Harden off and plant outside in early spring. OR plant directly into the garden in the very early spring by pressing into soft garden soil and barely covering, keeping moist until germination. Depending on your timing (and nature's) germination can take a year to break dormancy, but they will eventually reward you with fabulous fragrance and color. [Note: If you are adept at cold stratification methods, you can sow in a flat, keep at 70 degrees for 2 weeks, then 30 degrees for 4-6 weeks, then 40-50 degrees to initiate germination. This replicates a fall-winter-spring cycle compressed.]