Violets for Your Furs

That lovely tune from the Great American Songbook has been stuck on repeat in my head since I found the dooryard carpeted with wild violets the other morning. I hear several different versions, by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Hartman, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Matt Dennis wrote the music, Tom Adair the lyrics. Of course they wouldn't be Politically Correct today, when wearing fur risks a paint attack, but to a romanticist they are poetry:

You bought me violets for my furs
And it was spring for awhile, remember?
You bought me violets for my furs
And there was April in that December

Those would have been cultivated violets, of course, though one May Day long ago I left a bouquet of woodland violets for the girl next door to find. She wasn't impressed. There are some 80 different species of wild violets spread across North American and they come in a wide range of colors: purple, lavender, blue, yellow, white. Mine are common blue violets, a velvety purple, and much paler and less impressive dog violets.

Common blue violet by Les Line

In our book A Countryman's Flowers, Hal Borland wrote that "the old herbalists used violets, especially the flowers, to make concoctions for all kinds of inflammations and for hoarseness. The Indians used powered violet root as an emetic, and the flowers were decoted for a laxative. They also used violet tea for lung disease and respiratory troubles. And they believed it induced sleep." I've found a recipe for a sugary "sirrop" of violets dating to 1585 and violet wine is said to have been a favorite beverage among Persians and Romans. But I'll leave the violets unpicked and unbrewed and stay with maple sirrop on my waffles and, at dinner, a good red.

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