Violets Come Back


Volunteer Violets in flowerbox

In my neglected flower boxes, violets are blooming. I didn’t plant them. They sprang up of their own accord, like a gift from the Universe.

Violets are my favorite flower for its deep purple petals, its gold beard and its persistence as beautiful wildflower that commands its own pesticides to be eradicated from the pristine grass of manicured lawns. It blooms around my birthday in mid-March—though is usually associated with February birthdays  (Stritof & Stritof, 2006). When I moved into my home, the back yard was covered with violets, and they bloom along the edge of the street in front of my house.

It is one of the first flowers of spring, and has several medicinal uses, including a mild pain reliever (salicylic acid, aspirin) (Jackson. & Bergeron, 1999-2006).  An infusion of its leaves relieves congestion and sore throat, makes a hot compress, and in larger doses is emetic (Grieve, 1900). Mrs. Grieve also claimed that a man cured his colon cancer by eating all the violet leaves in a 1600 sq. ft. area of his garden over the space of nine weeks. as they are high in vitamin C (Sweet viola, n.d.). According to Reismiller (2000), Pliny recommended violets for gout and spleen problems. Mrs. Grieve claims (1900), that Celtic women mixed violets and goats milk for skin lotion. The flowers and leaves are edible, and the roots contain powerful alkaloids that may be found useful in treating modern diseases (Jackson & Bergeron, 1999-2006).

Violets are strewn across the landscape of mythology, though ignored like weeds. Several myths concern suicide or murder. In another rite of spring, Attis castrated himself in remorse for his infidelity to his lover/grandmother Cybele (Kybele) ; his blood became violets as he died (Reismiller, 2000). He was reborn as a daughter to Cybele, and her priests mutilated themselves for love of Cybele. Each March, a pine tree would be cut and covered with violets for the spring blood-letting rituals in honor of Attis (Reismiller, 2000).

Other coverings of graves with violets occurred with Nero, Napoleon’s wife Josephine, and Frederic Chopin (Lauro, 2000).

Ajax, too, killed him

field of violets

field of violets

self for a cowardly act, creating bloody violets (Reismiller, 2000). Athenians used violets on altars, in wedding bouquets and in funeral displays, based on a story that Ion (another form of the Greek word for violet) was given violets and advice from Ionian (violet) nymphs about the establishment of the city (Larson, 2001). The Iroquois tell about a brave who stole a maiden from a neighboring village, and when her people killed them in the forest, violets sprang from their bodies (Olcott, 1917). Medieval Christian mythology holds that the violet was an upstanding flower until the crucifixion, at which time it lowered its head in shame (Sweet viola, n.d.).

Other violets are associated with star-crossed love. For one thing, St. Valentine wrote his notes from prison on heart-shaped violet leaves, not roses, and even today, many valentines are delivered with posies of violets (Beredjiklian, 2000) In astrology, the violet is protected by Venus and is associated with Taurus (Violet Trivia, 2000). The Frost King in English myth allowed his lovely wife Violet to visit her people every year, but only as a flower (Reismiller, 2000). In another myth, Orpheus created the violet by dropping his lyre on the ground (McIntosh, 2005). Violets were among the flowers picked by Persephone and her nymphs before her abduction (Reismiller, 2000). Zeus created violets from Io’s (io is Greek for violet) tears, so she would have something to eat besides grass after he turned her into a cow t hide her from his wife Hera. In retribution for Cupid’s declaration of their beauty, Aphrodite/Venus as “violet-crowned Cytherea” beat some maidens black and blue, thereby turning them into violets (Athena, 2006).
The wide variation of myths is reasonable as there are over 500 species of violets, including pansies, violas, and johnny-jump-ups. It was a favorite image in Renaissance writing: A violet (love-lies-idle) provided the potion that caused Titania to fall in love with Bottom in A Midsummer Nights Dream (Reismiller, 2000). In Hamlet, Ophelia gives out flowers after her father dies, but says, “I would give some violets, but they withered all when my father died: they say he made a good end.” (Act IV, scene 5).  John Donne’s image in “The Ecstasy” uses the violet to summarize the devotion and passion of the lovers: “Where, like a pillow on a bed / A pregnant bank swell’d up, to rest / The violet’s reclining head” (Ward & Lovejoy, 1999, p. 365). Robert Herrick puts them “‘Fore damask’d roses,” and Sir Walter Scott calls it, ” the fairest flower / In glen, or copse or forest dingle”(Ward & Lovejoy, 1999, p. 365). In Toulouse, Poets were awarded a gold violet at a poetry festival in May, the Compagnie des Jeux Floraux, which has been revived in modern times. (“Toulouse,” 2006).
In historical times, the Tatars ate violet roots as they marched across central Russia (Reismiller, 2000). Napoleon was known as the Violet Corporal because he said he would return to France in the spring. A pass phrase for his supporters was “Do you like violets?” His love for violets came from his wife Josephine, who had large gardens of violets. On his defeat, the wearing of violets was considered sedition to the king. The City of Toulouse claims the violet as its city emblem, and it is called the Violet of Parma (“Toulouse,” 2006). Eugenie met Napoleon III with amethysts and violets in her headdress. Queen Victoria favored violets, as did Mohammed.

In China, a group of writers dubbed “the Butterfly” had a magazine, The Violet, published in China in the 1920s, portrayed the 20th century Chinese woman as a violet—beautiful and educated (Mostow, 2003). The editor Zhou Shoujuan focused on the problems of women under the old Chinese system, and in the 40s published a memoir of his fantasy affair for the love of his youth who was lost to an arranged marriage (ibid). According to Mostow, (2003) The ‘violet’ phenomenon, as a modern vision of women, sex, family, and daily life combined with the aesthetics of pleasure and intimacy, implies the author’s agenda to reform urbanites’ sexual tastes and behavior to save China from moral corruption” (p. 158). The primary content of the magazine was sad love stories.

In the language of the flowers, violets say, “I am faithful, I am true, I am thinking of you.” White violets say, “Let’s take a chance on happiness!” They symbolize modesty, faithfulness, innocence, understated beauty, and are associated with the fiftieth wedding anniversary (Stritof & Stritof, 2006). Many images of the Virgin Mary contain violets to represent her humility (Arnett, n.d.). According to Jackson & Bergeron (1999-2006), violets symbolized love and fertility. In addition, they indicate the awakening year, earth’s renewal, hope and the simple joys and sorrows of love (Reismiller, 2000). The Violet is the state flower of Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, chosen in each case by schoolchildren, which perhaps reinforces their representation of youth, love and innocence (Rice, 2000).

I love them because they are persistent and beautiful, coming back from their strong roots every year.


Arnett, J. A. (n.d.) The painted flower. ART Ideas website. Retrieved 12/16/06  from

Athena, A. (2006) Aphrodite: Goddess of love. Women in Greek Myths website. Retrieved 12/16/06   from

Beredjiklian, N. (2000) St. Valentine’s Violets. The Violet Gazette V1:1. Retrieved12/16/06   from

Grieve, M. (ca. 1900). A modern herbal. Website. Retrieved12/16/06   from

Jackson. D. & Bergeron, K. (1999-2006) Violet: viola odorata. Alternative Nature Online Herbal. Retrieved 12/16/06   from

Larson, J. (2001) Greek nymphs: Myth, cult, lore. Oxford, NY: Oxford UP.

Lauro, L. (2000)  Frederick Chopin and the Paris violets.  The Violet Gazette V1:1. Retrieved  12/16/06  from

McIntosh, C. (2005) Gardens of the gods : Myth, magic and meaning. New York: IB Tauris.

Mostow, J.S. (2003) Zhou Shoujuan’s love stories and mandarin ducks and butterflies fiction. The Columbia companion to modern East Asian literature. New York: Columbia UP.

Newlands, C.E. (2002) Statius Silvae and the poetics of empire. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge UP.

Olcott, F. J. (1917) The legend of the violet. The red Indian fairy book. The Baldwin Project Website. Retrieved 12/16/06 from author=olcott&book=indian&story=_alphaindex

Reismiller, J. (2000) Footnotes to the Violet. Violet Traditions. American Violet Society website. Retrieved 3/28/2010 from

Rice, A. (2000) Violets As State Flower Symbols. American Violet Society website  Retrieved 3/28/2010 from

Stritof, B. & Stritof, S. (n.d.) Meaning of flowers. About Mothers Day website. Retrieved 3/28/2010 from

Sweet viola: viola odorata (n.d.) The English Cottage Garden Nursery Retrieved 3/28/2010 from

Toulouse: Land of plenty (2000-2006) FranceMonthly website. Retrieved 3/28/2010 from

Violet Trivia. (n.d.) Retrieved 3/28/2010 from HistoryTraditions/Trivia.htm

Ward, B.A. & Lovejoy, A. (1999)  A contemplation upon flowers: Garden plants in myth and literature. Portland, OR: Timber Press

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