Quick facts

Common name: sweet violet
Scientific name: Viola odorata
Family: Violets
Origin: native
Flowering season: March to May
Habitat: woodland edges

What does sweet violet look like?

Sweet violet is a low-growing perennial.

Leaves: heart-shaped, hairy and deep green in colour.

Flowers: five oval petals. Blue-violet is the most common colour of the sweet violet’s petals, although white or lilac also occur.

Not to be confused with: common dog violet (Viola riviniana). This is almost identical to the sweet violet in appearance, but is completely unscented.

Credit: Philippe Clement / naturepl.com

Where to find sweet violet

Sweet violets are widespread across the UK, commonly found in woods and hedgerows. It is becoming less common, probably due to over-picking.

Mythology and symbolism

Legend says that a person can only smell sweet violets once, as they steal your sense of smell. This is untrue, but, it stems from the fact that sweet violets contain beta-ionone, a chemical which temporarily shuts off smell receptors.

Did you know?

The goddess of springtime and flowers, Persephone, was picking spring flowers, including violets, when she was abducted by Hades, god of the Ancient Greek underworld.

Uses of sweet violet

Sweet violets were used in herbal medicine to treat ailments such as headaches, depression and insomnia.

They have been used to make perfume throughout history, dating back to Classical Greece. They were also used to create early household deodorants in medieval Britain.

Sweet violets are edible, and are often candied and used to decorate cakes. They can also be added to salads or used as a garnish.

Credit: Peter Barritt / Alamy Stock Photo

Threats and conservation

Sweet violets are widespread but are increasingly uncommon. This is probably due to them being foraged for culinary purposes. As important sources of nectar for woodland butterflies, it’s important to leave uncommon species like the sweet violet. We recommend planting your own sweet violets at home if you’d like to use them in cooking.

Did you know?

Sweet violets were important to Napoleon and his first wife, Josephine. Pressed sweet violets from Josephine’s grave were found in Napoleon’s locket at his death.