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Gerard's Herbal - Part 3

Gerard's Herbal - CHAP. 313. Of Violets.

CHAP. 313. Of Violets.

Fig. 1263. Purple Garden Violet (1)

Fig. 1264. White Garden Violet (2)


The Kinds.

            There might be described many kinds of flowers under this name of violets if their differences should be more curiously looked into than is necessary: for we might join hereunto the stock Gillyflowers, the Wallflowers, Dame's Gillyflowers, Marian's Violets, and likewise some of the bulbed flowers, because some of them by Theophrastus are termed Violets. But this was not our charge, holding it sufficient to distinguish and divide them as near as may be in kindred and neighbourhood; addressing myself unto the Violets called the black or purple violets, or March violets of the garden, which have a great prerogative above others, not only because the mind conceiveth a certain pleasure and recreation by smelling and handling of those most odoriferous flowers, but also for that very many by these Violets receive ornament and comely grace: for there be made of them garlands for the head, nose-gays, and posies, which are delightful to look on, and pleasant to smell to, speaking nothing of their appropriate virtues; yea gardens themselves receive by these the greatest ornament of all, chiefest beauty and most pliant grace; and the recreation of the mind which is taken hereby, cannot be but very good and honest: for they admonish and stir up a man to that which is comely and honest; for flowers through their beauty, variety of colour, and exquisite form, do bring to a liberal and gentle manly mind, the rememberance of honesty, comeliness, and all kinds of virtues. For it would be an unseemly and filthy thing (as a certain wise man saith) for him that doth look upon and handle fair and beautiful things, and who frequenteth and is conversant in fair and beautiful places, to have his mind not fair, but filthy and deformed.

The Description.

            1. The black or Purple Violet doth forthwith bring from the root many leaves, broad, slightly indented in the edges, rounder than the leaves of Ivy: among the midst whereof spring up fine slender stems, and upon every one a beautiful flower sweetly smelling, of a blue darkish purple, consisting of five little leaves, the lowest whereof is the greatest; and after them do appear little hanging cups or knaps, which, when they be ripe, do open and divide themselves into three parts. The seed is small, long, and somewhat round withal. The root consisteth of many thready strings.

            2. The White Garden Violet hath many milk white flowers, in form and figure like the precedent: the colour of whose flowers especially setteth forth the difference.

Fig. 1265. Double Garden Purple Violet (3)

Fig. 1266. Yellow Violet (5)

            3. The Double Garden Violet hath leaves, creeping branches, and roots like the garden single Violet; differing in that, that this sort of Violet bringeth forth most beautiful sweet double flowers, and the other single.

            4. The white double Violet likewise agreeth with the other of his kind, and only differeth in the colour. For as the last described bringeth double blue or purple flowers: contrariwise this plant beareth double white flowers, which maketh the difference.

            5. The Yellow Violet is by nature one of the wild Violets, for it groweth seldom anywhere but upon most high and craggy mountains, from whence it hath been divers times brought into the garden, but it can hardly be brought to culture, or grow in the garden without great industry. And by the relation of a gentleman often remembered, called M. Thorne Hesketh, who found it growing, upon the hills in Lancashire, near unto a village called Latham; and though he brought them into his garden, yet they withered and pined. The whole plant is described to be like unto to the field Violet, and differeth from it, in that this plant bringeth forth yellow flowers, yet like in form and figure, but without smell.

Fig. 1267. Wild or Dog's Violet (6)

            6. The wild field Violet with round leaves riseth forth of the ground from a fibrous root, with long slender branches, whereupon do grow round smooth leaves. The flowers grow at the top of the stalks, of a light blue colour: and this grows commonly in woods and such like places, and flowers in July and August. There is another variety of this wild Violet, which hath the leaves longer, narrower, and sharper pointed.

            7. There is found in Germany about Nuremberg and Strasbourg, a kind of Violet which is altogether a stranger in these parts. It hath (saith my author) a thick and tough root of a woody substance, from which riseth up a stalk dividing itself into divers branches, of a woody substance; whereupon grow long jagged leaves like those of the Pansy. The flowers grow at the top, compact of five leaves apiece of watchet colour.

The Place.

            The Violet groweth in gardens almost everywhere: the others which are strangers have been touched in their descriptions.

The Time.

            The flowers for the most part appear in March, at the farthest in April.

The Names.

            The Violet is called in Greek, Ion: in Latin, Nigra viola or black Violet, of the blackish purple colour of the flowers. The apothecaries keep the Latin name Viola but they call it Herba violaria, and Mater violarum: in High Dutch, Blan Viel: in Low Dutch, Violeten: in French, Violette de mars: in Italian, Viola mammola: in Spanish, Violeta: in English, Violet. Nicander in his Geoponics believeth, (as Hermolaus showeth) that the Grecians did call it Ion, because certain Nymphs of Ionia gave that flower first to Jupiter. Others say it was called Ion, because when Jutuper had turned the young damsel Io, whom he tenderly loved, into a cow, the earth brought forth this flower for her food: which being made for her sake, received the name from her; and thereupon it is thought that the Latins also called it Viola, as though they should say Vitula,["a calf"] by blotting out the letter t. Servius reporteth, That for the same cause the Latins also name it Vaccinium, alleging the place of Virgil in his Bucolics:

Alba ligustra cadunt, vaccinia nigra leguntur.
["The white privets fall, the dark hyacinths are gathered"]
Virgil, Eclogues 2 l. 18

            Notwithstanding Virgil in his tenth Eclogue showeth, that Vaccinium and Viola do differ.

Et nigræ violæ sunt, & vaccinia nigra.
["There were both black Violas and black Vaccinias"]
Virgil, Eclogues 10 l. 39

            Vitruvius also in his seventh book Of Architecture or Building doth distinguish Viola from Vaccinium: for he showeth that the colour called sile atticum, or the azure of Athens, is made ex Viola; and the gallant purple, ex Vaccinia. The dyers, saith he, when they would counterfeit sile, or azure of Athens, put the dried Violets into a vat, kettle or caldron, and boil them with water; afterwards when it is tempered they pour it into a linen strainer, and wringing it with their hands, receive into a mortar the liquor coloured with the Violets; and steeping earth of Erethria in it, and grinding the same, they make the azure colour of Athens. After the same manner they temper Vaccinium, and putting milk unto it, do make a gallant purple colour. But what Vaccinia are we will elsewhere declare.

The Temperature.

            The flowers and leaves of the Violets are cold and moist.

The Virtues.

            A. The flowers are good for all inflammations, especially of the sides and lungs; they take away the hoarseness of the chest, the ruggedness of the windpipe and jaw, allay the extreme heat of the liver, kidney, and bladder; mitigate the fiery heat of burning agues; temper the sharpness of choler, and take away thirst.

            B. There is an oil made of Violets, which is likewise cold and moist. The same being anointed upon the testicles, doth gently provoke sleep which is hindered by a hot and dry distemper: mixed or laboured together in a wooden dish with the yolk of an egg, it assuageth the pain of the fundament and hæmorrhoids: it is likewise good to be put into cooling clysters, and into poultices that cool and ease pain.

            C. But let the oil in which the Violets be steeped be either of unripe olives, called omphacinum, or of sweet Almonds, as Mesues saith, and the Violets themselves must be fresh and moist: for being dry, and having lost their moisture, they do not cool, but seem to have gotten a kind of heat.

            D. The later physicians do think it good to mix dry Violets with medicines that are to comfort and strengthen the heart.

            E. The leaves of Violets inwardly taken do cool, moisten, and make the belly soluble. Being outwardly applied, they mitigate all kind of hot inflammations, both taken by themselves, and also applied with Barley flour dried at the fire, after it hath lain soaking in the water. They are likewise laid upon a hot stomach, and on burning eyes, as Galen witnesseth. Dioscorides writeth, that they be moreover applied to the fundament that is fallen out.

            F. They may help the fundament that is fallen out, not as a binder keeping back the fundament, but as a suppler and a mollifier. Besides, Pliny saith that Violets are as well used in garlands, as smelt unto; and are good against surfeiting, heaviness of the head; and being dried in water and drunk, they remove the squinancy or inward swellings of the throat. They cure the falling sickness, especially in young children, and the seed is good against the stinging of scorpions.

            G. There is a syrup made of Violets and Sugar, whereof three or four ounces being taken at one time, soften the belly, and purge choler. The manner to make it is as followeth.

            H. First make of clarified sugar by boiling a simple syrup of a good consistence or mean thickness, whereunto put the flowers clean picked from all manner of filth, as also the white ends nipped away, a quantity according to the quantity of the syrup, to your own discretion, wherein let them infuse or steep four and twenty hours, and set upon a few warm embers; then strain it, and put more Violets into the same syrup: thus do three or four times, the oftener the better; then set them upon a gentle fire to simmer, but not to boil in any wise: so have you it simply made of a most perfect purple colour, and of the smell of the flowers themselves. Some do add thereto a little of the juice of the flowers in the boiling, which maketh it of better force and virtue. Likewise some do put a little quantity of the juice of lemons in the boiling, which doth greatly increase the beauty thereof; but nothing at all the virtue.

            I. There is likewise made of Violets and sugar certain plates called sugar violet, or violet tables, or plate, which is most pleasant and wholesome, especially it comforteth the heart and the other inward parts.

            K. The decoction of Violets is good against hot fevers, and the inflammation of the liver and all other inward parts: the like property hath the juice, syrup, or conserve of the same.

            L. Syrup of Violets is good against the inflammation of the lungs and breast, againt the pleurisy and cough, against fevers and agues in young children, especially if you put unto an ounce of syrup eight or nine drops of oil of vitriol, and mix it together, and give it to the child a spoonful at once.

            M. The same given in manner aforesaid is of great efficacy in burning fevers and pestilent diseases, greatly cooling the inward parts: and it may seem strange to some, that so sharp a corrosive as oil of vitriol should be given into the body; yet being delayed and given as aforesaid, sucking children may take it without any peril.

            N. The same taken as aforesaid cureth all inflammations of the throat, mouth, uvula, squinancy and the falling evil in children.

            O. Sugar-violet hath power to cease inflammations, roughness of the throat, and comforteth the heart, assuageth the pains of the head, and causeth sleep.

            P. The leaves of Violets are used in cooling plasters, oils, and comfortable cataplasms or poultices; and are of greater efficacy among other herbs, as Mercury, Mallows, and such like, in clysters, for the purposes aforesaid.

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