While violets’ delicate blossoms are a treat only for the observant, the plant has enjoyed a long history of medicinal and culinary use.
Leigh Hunt, an English Romantic essayist, and poet is the first known author of the phrase “shrinking violet.” In 1820, he published a passage describing a bit of woodland in The Indicator, a poetry magazine: “There was the buttercup, struggling from a white to a dirty yellow; and a faint-colored poppy; and here and there by the thorny underwood a shrinking violet.”
Hunt was almost certainly referring to the native English, or sweet, violet (Viola odorata). This shy plant can often go unremarked underfoot, and it carries its small, slightly recurved flowers level with or just below its leaves. The phrase “shrinking violet” took a few decades to catch on — but when it did, it spread rapidly, much as its parent plant does…
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