Violet — Perfumery

Synopsis – Violet is the flower that we all love has an elusive scent and is used either in perfumery or herbal therapy.……….

THE SECRETS OF THE VIOLET
Jeanne Rose

Violets shown in the garden from eye level.- photo by Monica Fine 2020
Violets in the Garden – photo by Monica Fine-2020

————The Violet is the flower that we all love and has an elusive scent, used either in aromatherapy or herbal therapy. The scent is difficult to capture in a bottle and does not yield its fragrance to distillation — but to enfleurage and maceration. The herb, Violet flower, and leaf, is also not much used although it is easy to grow and easy to use. People have forgotten about it.

Viola odorata of the Family Violaceae

            HISTORY OF THE VIOLET ~  In mythology the Violet arose from the blood of a nymph who was pursued by Apollo. Diana changed her into a flower to escape his importunities.

            True violets have been cultivated for centuries, with the earliest known use of the flowers dating back to Ancient Greece in 500 B.C., if not earlier. The Greeks used Violets in their wines, foods and medicines, and they actually loved this flower so much that it became the symbol of Athens.”3

            The variety that produces the most captured scent is the Parma and unlike other Violet species, Parma’s are unknown in the wild. Violets are not hardy in cold-weather and because of this experts have speculated that they may have originated in warmer latitudes. Recent testing suggests that the Parma’s might be descended from Viola alba, a species native to central Europe and the Mediterranean.

Wherever the Violet began, they eventually migrated to Naples, Italy. Sometime prior to  1880 a nobleman, Count Filippo di Brazza Savorgnan, began breeding them at his home near Udine in northeastern Italy. His efforts led to the Conte di Brazza violet, introduced in 1880 and still available today. The count, who was passionate about Violets, also produced other popular hybrids.
________Parma violets and their fragrant, single-flowered relative, Viola odorata, had their heyday from about 1870 through World War I. Many new varieties, often sports (or natural mutations) of older ones, appeared on the market.
_____The Meaning of the Flower • The violet, the traditional Valentine’s Day flower, celebrates modesty, virtue, faithfulness, humility and possible happiness.   According to legend, the Christian priest St. Valentine wrote love notes using ink made from the violets he grew.

            VIOLETS GROWING – Parma violets (Viola odorata DUCHESS DE PARMA) are beautiful, relatively easy to grow, and, most of all, fragrant. Much more loved about a hundred years ago, they fell out of fashion early in the 20th century when their beauty was outshone by flowers both bigger and more vulgar and  showier. Now again interest in heirloom plants is on the rise, and it is time for these delicate, elegant, beautiful violets to take center stage once more and for people to learn how to grow and use them for their scent.
_____Plant them anytime, especially spring. They are tolerant of shade and sun, and most soil types but do prefer moist, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. My violets seem fine, in a  sunny area, that is 3 inches deep in dolomite rocks. In the garden to obtain more flowers in the Spring, mow down the patch in the Fall.  Your Violet patch will look like a scraggly lawn, but you will be pleased by the number of flowers that you can pick in the Spring.

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VIOLET PERFUMERY

TO EXTRACT THE VIOLET’S ODOR AT HOME ~ This is the way to make a “Fragrant Tincture”. You will need patience and lots of Violet flowers, but the end result will be pleasing and therapeutic for your soul and psyche.  Fill a small jar with Violet flowers and then cover the flowers with pure* alcohol. [150˚ vodka may work]. The alcohol will extract both the color and the odor of the flowers.  When no more color is in the flowers, strain out the flowers and add new flowers to the alcohol or you may just pour the alcohol onto a new batch of flowers in another jar.  You will have to repeat this procedure over and over again using the same alcohol and new flowers until the alcohol is a deep violet color and has the odor of the flowers.  This will take an entire season.  At this time store the alcohol in the refrigerator. This is not the same as the therapeutic tincture described below.

READ Natural Perfumery by Jeanne Rose

            Enfleurage is not much employed as a means of extracting this delicious odor because people do not know how to do it correctly.  It is said that in the early part of this century, that a Russian Empress would only use the scent of Violet and only those Violets that had been picked in the early morning hours in the most highly regarded fields of Grasse.  These Violets were then quickly taken to the still-room where they were treated over the course of the flowering season by enfleurage to produce the thick odorous fat and this was then washed with pure high-proof alcohol. 

            Concrète is made of both flower and leaves, mostly leaves and this is washed in alcohol to obtain the fragrance material.  This is very difficult to make at home. The commercial Violet leaf absolute is a deep green-colored, green-smelling, sweet-green-scented scent of the leaf.  Neither the little produced Violet flower alcohol-wash at $100,000 per kilo nor the leaf absolute has yet found a use in aromatherapy.  It is just too expensive.  So, if you go to a store and find Violet perfume or Violet-scented soap, please note that it is a fake and synthesized version of this most fabulous of odors.  Do you have a garden?  Only with a garden and the knowledge of the ancient alchemists can you extract scent from this purple beauty to make a sweet violet-colored scent. 

            Violet Tincture is made using freshly-picked flowers, flowers that were picked in the early morning when the dew is dry and the sun not yet high — when the scent is at its strongest. This is the way to make a “Therapeutic Tincture”. Get a small wide-mouth jar and pack it full of freshly picked Violet flowers in full-bloom and with high scent.  Add just enough 95% neutral grape spirits to just cover the flowers.  Wait a bit as you may need to add more flowers and possibly a bit more grape alcohol. Keep this in a cool dark place for 3-7 days and then strain out the alcohol and place in a bottle, label, and date it for use. This is not the same as the fragrant tincture described above. *(see www.organicalcohol.com).

Small 4 oz. jar of violets infusing in grape spirits to make a therapeutic tincture.
JeanneRose Violet flower therapeutic tincture – 2018

USE THE VIOLET TINCTURE PERFUME ~ Dilute your Violet tincture with a bit of water or oil , so that it is about 70% alcohol, and apply to your body as a lightly scented perfume or to the hands as hand sanitizer.  Another use is to put 1 oz in a 4 oz spray bottle, add 3 oz of spring water and let your husband use this to heal his skin of nicks after shaving.

         Violet Leaf Absolute in Perfumery ~ In May several companies including Robertet harvest hundreds of tons of Violet leaves in the south of France from the Parma violet where they are then processed and extracted with volatile solvents. An absolute is obtained with a wondrous intense green smell.

Robertet Violet Leaf Harvest and Prima Fleur Violet Leaf Absolute
leaves and absolute

            Violet leaf absolute -Viola odorata oil. Used in products or blends for its wonderful ‘green’ scent, Violet leaf absolute is produced from the concrète made of both flower and leaves, mostly leaves and this is washed in alcohol to obtain the fragrance material called the absolute.  This Violet leaf absolute is solvent-extracted in Egypt and is a deep green-colored, green-smelling, sweet-green-scented scent of the leaf.

CHEMISTRY OF VIOLET ~ The Violet flower implacably refuses to surrender its smell. And so, perfumers recreate it: mix 2,6-nonadienal + beta-ionone + dihydro-beta-ionone + alpha-ionone and a few others, and there’s your scent of violet.

Violet Leaf Oil1

             “In the 19th century Viola odorata L. (family Violaceae) began to be used in fine perfumery with the cultivation and solvent extraction of the Parma and Victoria variety of violets. According to Dioscorides, 1st century BC Greek physician, the Violets were important plants used medicinally.  Mainly, the herb and flower are used on the throat (for serious throat conditions); the tea or infusion could be gargled or drunk or compresses could be used on the throat. 
        Victoria violets are grown in the South of France and it takes about 1 ton of Violet leaves to produce 1 kg of the dark green waxy concrete when petroleum ether is used as the solvent.   When the concrete of Violet leaves is processed with ethanol an absolute is obtained that contains about 95% of higher fatty acid esters.  Only about 200-250 kg of Violet leaf absolute is produced per year.
           The flowers are no longer processed via enfleurage or solvent extraction for the fragrant product. In 1904 it cost about $100,000 for 1 kg of Violet Flower oil.  
          Most of the fragrance of Violet Leaf is composed of secondary metabolites of high molecular weight precursors.  The long chain alcohols possess floral notes while the short chain aldehydes contribute to the fatty notes of the substance.  In the flower ß-ionone and other compounds are the main constituents of the odor of the flowers and is very evanescent, disappearing almost as soon as it is smelled.  The Violet leaf green odor, called Violet leaf alcohol is synthesized and used in much perfumery.”
        ‡Violet Notes ~ The famous Vera Violetta by Roger & Gallet from 1892 was the first creative combination of natural Violet leaf and synthetic ionones.2

Parma violet, sweet violet and violet leaves of Viola odorata.

VIOLET  — HERBAL USES

         Hilda Leyel considered Violets to be an anodyne, cordial, cardiac, antiseptic and expectorant and very useful for both the Sense of Hearing and for problems in the throat area.

GENERAL USES ~ Jeanne Rose’s Herbal Body Book describes how to use the flowers . . . Externally, the Violet flower and leaf are used to treat anything near the throat or esoterically anything near the 5th chakra.  Violet leaf has a historical reputation for treating cancers of the mouth and throat.  This is one of the flowers that have been mentioned since the time of the ancient Greeks.  Sweet Violets either fresh or dried are used in teas or baths for the soothing and slightly astringent quality.  Violets contain salicylic acid and are extremely high in vitamins A and C.  Violet flower water (1/4 c. Violets steeped in warm spring water for 30 minutes, strained, bottled and refrigerated) is used on the face as a tonic and healing spray for all sorts of facial afflictions.  “It is wonderful as an after-shave water or even as a wash for baby’s skin.  If the leaves and flowers are macerated in oil, strained and then beeswax added, this cream is excellent as a daily application to remove cosmetics, or can be used daily on your face and hands for dry skin.
         Quantities of Violet flowers can be added to talcum powder to scent it and then later sifted out. The powder is soothing and the scent quite complementary.

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an antique DeParma Violet talcum Powder tin (made in Canada)
Old DeParma Violet Talcum Powder tin

MEDICINAL VIOLETS. Yes, there are studies that have been done on Violet medicine and here is one: Viola odorata — A Critical Review on Phytochemistry, Pharmacology of Viola odorata L. and Related Multipotential Products in Traditional Persian Medicine by Feyzabadi, Ghorbani, Vazani and Zarshenas and published 26 September 2017, https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.5909
            Both the leaves and the flowers are useful — the flowers made into a syrup to take for a sore throat and to cure a troublesome cough or to use as a ‘cure for rheumatism of the right wrist’.4  

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            Sweet Violet flowers and leaves have a gentle expectorant and demulcent action, and they induce light sweating. They are often used as an infusion or syrup for treating coughs, chest colds, and congestion.
        If the leaves and flowers are macerated in oil, strained and then beeswax added, this cream is excellent as a daily application to remove cosmetics, or can be used daily on your face and hands for dry skin.

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            Viola odorata The Violet is used to aid memory particularly in a tea with Sage and Rosemary. The leaves and flowers are used as a tea and compress, especially for the throat, and sore throat. The tincture can be taken for sore throat or cough or the flowers made into a syrup to be used both internally  and the leaves as a poultice used externally for the throat or taken as tea. The tea is useful for “headache and vertigo and has been mentioned for hysteria and have specific action on the ears and as a ‘cure’ for otorrhea”.5

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            Violet Flower Syrup • Take 3 cups of boiling water and add to ½ lb. of a mixture of fresh and dried flowers in a glass or porcelain pot; leave to infuse in the water for 24-hours. Strain through a silk or muslin cloth. To the strained liquid add a double quantity of sugar. Heat enough to dissolve the sugar. Store in sterile bottles in a dark cabinet or the refrigerator. Take 1 t. 4-6 times per day until the condition is resolved but for no more than 10 days.

A pugil of Violets – photo by JeanneRose2019
A pugil of Violets – photo by JeanneRose2019

Violet Historical Uses – Hilda Leyel & Others

            Cooling Herbs were very important during the 1500 and 1600s, as a cooling medicine, to cool the ‘hot’ blood; a cooling tonic if you will and . Violets was one of the most important.
––––      Violet Vinegar by Francis Bacon.  Take Violets and infuse a good pugil* in a quart of vinegar (probably grape or wine vinegar), let them stand three quarters of an hour and take them forth and repeat the infusion with like quantity of violets seven times and it will make a vinegar so fresh of flower, as it a twelve months after it be brought you in a saucer, you shall smell it before it comes to you.
         Note: It smelleth more perfectly of the flower a good while after than at first.

*pugil is an old form of measurement meaning what you can hold between your thumb and first two fingers; a large pinch; a small handful (see above).

More Violet Herbal Uses ~ In addition to their medicinal uses, the flowers can be eaten in salads . . . boiled, pressed, pounded, and mixed with milk, rice flour, and sugar into a porridge . . . crystallized as beautiful candies . . . added to vinegar to impart color and fragrance . . . made into a rare and delicate jelly . . . and even fermented to produce a sweet wine. Since the blue color is released by infusion, violets have been used to create delicate eyeshadows and fragrant, tinted skin lotions. (A curious feature of the infused color is its property of turning red when in contact with acid, and green when in contact with an alkali. Because of this reaction, it has been used as a substitute for litmus.)

In The Secrets of Flowers as revealed by A. Stoddard Kull, the Violet is a symbol of Faithfulness.  “Some lovely maids of antiquity once became the object of Venus queenly wrath, when a dispute arose whether she or they were more beautiful, Cupid judged in favor of the maidens; and in a fury, Venus beat them until they were blue.  Thus, the girls became the first Violets.”  This is the story as Herrick tells it.

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A Violet in the youth of primal nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute;
No more. . . . . . Laertes in Hamlet

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SOURCES*: To learn to use the leaves and flowers of the Violet, you may wish to read Jeanne Rose’s Herbal Body Book and The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations.  Both are available from Jeanne Rose Aromatherapy and if you mention this article you may receive both books free of shipping charges for $38.00 which is a 10% discount.  Call 415.564.6337 and/or purchase by PayPal.  To purchase the flowers and leaves you may have to try a number of herb mail-order places and these addresses are listed in Chapter VI, the source list of both aforementioned books. The last time I purchased Violets to grow was from Select Seeds in Union, CT 1-800-684-0395 (www.selectseeds.com) and I ordered the Duchesse du Parma in January for Spring delivery.

Violet is for Faithfulness, Which in me shall abide;
Hoping, likewise, that from your heart
You will not let it slide. — the words of Shakespeare

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Bibliography:

1.Ohloff, GüntherSCENT AND FRAGRANCES: Springer-Verlag. 1990. Translated by Pickenhagen and Lawrence {this is the main source}
2.Rose, Jeanne. Blending Booklet & Natural Perfumery Booklet.  Spiral Bound www.jeannerose.net/ • 2017
3Teleflora.com
4Leyel, Hilda. Green Medicine. Faber and Faber Limited, London. 1952
5Leyel, Hilda. Cinquefoil. Faber and Faber Limited. London. 1957

Leyel, Hilda. Herbal Delights. Faber and Faber Limited, London. 1937
Rose, Jeanne. Herbs & Things. Last Gasp Press. 2000Spiral bound is Available at New Age Creations, 219 Carl  Street, San Francisco, CA 94117. $28 includes S&H.

info@jeannerose.net and please read the articles and see the products at http://www.jeannerose.net

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3 thoughts on “Violet — Perfumery

  1. Excellent information that makes me realize this little flower is very magical and helpful for both health spirit and body. Jeanne Rose thanks for the info that will make me so much more aware of the tiny things in nature

  2. I have wild violets all over in the spring on my Kansas farm.
    I sit in the grass and pluck away!
    I have made lavender jelly, and incorporate into my soapmaking

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