Violet Leaf (Viola odorata), a member of the Violaceae family, sometimes known as sweet violet, is a small tender perennial plant that only grows a few centimeters high. It has dark green, heart-shaped leaves with downy undersides, fragrant violet-blue flowers, and an oblique underground rhizome. There are over 200 species in the Violaceae family, which are widely distributed over many temperate and tropical regions of the worlds. Grasse, in the South of France, has the largest production of Violets for the perfume trade, with smaller productions in Italy and China. The bulk of Violet Leaf absolute produced is used in high-class perfumes and occasionally in the flavoring of confectionery. Only a very small amount finds its way into the aromatherapy market.
A concrete and absolute are solvent extracted from the fresh leaves and flowers. The leaf absolute is an intense dark green, while the flower absolute is a yellowish-green liquid. Violet flower absolute is extremely difficult if not impossible to find. It is the leaf absolute that is more readily available, however even here the yield is relatively low. Ernest Guenther tells us that it takes about 1,000 – 1,100 kg of violet leaves to yield 1 kg of the concrete.
It is interesting to note that while the plant produces flowers both in spring and fall these flowers are quite different. The flowers produced in the spring are fully formed and sweet scented, however they are generally barren and produce no seed. These flowers are also full of nectar but, because they bloom before bee season, they are not pollinated by bees. The flowers that bloom in the fall are very small and almost insignificant. They are quiet hidden among the leaves and have little or no aroma. They do however produce an abundance of seeds and these fertile flowers are self-fertilizing. The plant is also able to propagate itself in the summer by sending out runners to form new plants.
The leaf and the flowers have been used in traditional herbal medicine for congestive pulmonary conditions and sensitive skin conditions. The leaf has also been used to treat cystitis and as a mouthwash for infections of the mouth and throat. Its use has mostly been in perfumery and skin care.
The Ancient Greeks considered the Violet to be a symbol of fertility and love, so it was used in love potions. Pliny recommended that a garland of them be worn about the head to ward off headaches and dizzy spells. The ancient Britons used the flowers as a cosmetic, recommending that the flowers be steeped in goats’ milk to increase female beauty.
Syrups have traditionally been made from the flowers and leaves to help with respiratory ailments associated with congestion, coughing and sore throats. The flowers are edible and are quite often used in salads or candied for decoration. A decoction made from the dried root is used as a laxative while a tea made from the entire plant is used to treat digestive disorders. Applying freshly crushed leaves to the skin has been found to be helpful in reducing swelling and soothing irritations. The freshly crushed flowers with their relaxing aroma could be added to the bath to sooth the skin.
Violet Leaf absolute has an earthy fragrance with a slightly floral overtone and it blends well with tuberose, champaca, clary sage, tarragon, cumin, basil and other florals.
Psychologically, violet leaf has calming, comforting properties and could be useful for headaches, dizziness, insomnia and nervous exhaustion. On the physiological level it has anti-inflammatory, calming properties and can be used topically for skin complaints such as acne and thread veins, as well as coughing, bronchitis, sore throats and cystitis. On a subtle level violet leaf is thought to protect those who are shy or hypersensitive. It can help to increase spirituality.
It is generally considered to be non-toxic and a non-irritant with the possibility of sensitization in certain individuals.
Ernest Guenther, The Essential Oils, Vol. 5Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, FL, 1952