Welsh, Crinllys, Gwiolydd, Mill, Millyn. - Irish, Sail covah. - Gaelic, Sail-chuach. - French, Violette. - German, Viole. - Italian, Viola. - Greek, Ion. - Arabic, Benefsig. - Persian, Benefse, or benefsch.
"Violets," says Gerarde, "haue a great preroga-tive aboue others, not only because the mind con-ceiueth a certain pleasure and recreation by smell-ing and handling those more odoriferous floures, but also for that verie manie of these violets receiue ornament and comely grace, for there be made of them garlands for the head, nosegaies, and posies, which are delightful to look upon, and to smel to; speaking nothing of their appropriat vertues; yea gardens themselves receiue by these the greatest ornament of all, chiefest beauty, and most excellent grace, and the recreation of the mind which is taken hereby cannot be but very good and honest; for they admonish and stirre vp a man to that which is comely and honest; for floures through their beautie, varietie of color, and exquisite forme do bring to a liberall and gentle manly minde the remembrance of honestie, comlinesse, and all kind of vertues; for it would be an unseemlie and a filthy thing (as a cer-taine wise man saith) for him that doth look vpon, and handle, faire and beautiful things to haue his mind not faire, but filthy and deformed".
The old medical MS. so often quoted, says; -
"Vigolet, an erbe cowth [familiar; more properly cuthe, hence uncouth, strange] Is knowyn in ilke manys mowthe, As bokes seyn in here [their] langage It is good to don in potage, In playstrys to wondys it is comfortyf Wt oyer erby sanatif. Oyle of hys flowre is profytable, And wt. oyle of rose medicinable. Ye oyle of hys fayre flowres.
In man distroithe wycke [wicked] huores [humours] And alle on kende hete [unkind heat] in fay Clene distroith it dothe away. Wherefor it is meche [much] of pris And miche in boke comendid is."*
Vitruvius tells us that the flowers were not only used to adulterate, or counterfeit, the celebrated blue of Athens, but were also employed to "moderate anger," to cure ague and inflammation of the lungs, to allay thirst, procure sleep, and "comfort and strengthen the heart, as well as for cooling plasters;" besides being worn in garlands as a charm against the "falling sickness," and headaches; and Pliny gives a long catalogue of their virtues; affirming that they are cooling, good for inflammations, weak eyes, quinsey, swellings, etc, etc, and recommending garlands of the blossoms to be worn for the preservation of the head. The seeds were formerly believed to counteract the effects of a scorpion's sting. The peasant mother - though she no longer uses the violet in her "pottage" - ad-ministers its syrup to her infant as a medicine suited to its tender age; the Moslem quaffs a similar pre-paration as one of his favourite sherbets; and the chemist employs it as his most delicate test for acids or alkalis; the former giving it a red tinge, and the latter one of green.* The French make the greatest use of the flowers in their "confitures" and house-hold remedies, and on turning over Machet's "Con-fiseur Moderne," and works of a similar character, we are surprised to find the frequency of recipes for conserve de violettes, glaces a la violette, marma-lade de violettes, Pains souffles a la violette (in which however Prussian blue and carmine usually do duty for the hue of the flower, while " iris de Florence en poudre" represents its scent and flavour), Pastille a la violette, pates de violettes, gomme de violettes, strop de violettes, and number-less confections of a similar character.
* Stockholm Medical MS.
The root of the sweet violet V. odorata acts as a most powerful emetic, and is frequently used to adulterate ipecacuanha, and in fact the whole of the Violaceae are thus, though in various degrees, dis-tinguished; the active principle of their roots, which is called violene, closely resembling emetin.†
* It however only serves for this purpose when quite fresh.
† Orfila, in the "Journal de Pharmacie," January 1824, describes this principle as intensely poisonous, and states that it equally occurs in the flowers, leaves, seeds, and Sir William Hooker has satisfactorily ascertained the Viola Ipecacuanha, or the Ionidium parvi-florum to be the celebrated "Cuychunchulle" of Dr. Bancroft. Pliny prescribes a liniment of violet roots and vinegar for gout and "disorders of the spleen".
Thus the uses of the plant, as well as its exquisite beauty, have attracted attention wherever it occurs - and it is by no means sparingly distributed. - Aboo Rami, the eastern poet, exclaims; "It is not a flower - it is an emerald bearing a purple gem!" And it has been said that the Arabs expressively describe the eye of a beautiful woman by comparing it to a violet. The ancient Greeks attributed to the goddess of beauty, "violet-like eyelids," and Shakespeare speaks of:-
"Violets dim But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes".