The violet is the emblem of Toulouse and much loved in the region; it is a strain of the Parma violet and is especially sweet-smelling. Everywhere you go in South West France at this time of year you will not only see violets growing wild in woodland, meadows and gardens but also products made from the extracts of violet; syrups, liqueurs, candles, honey and the crystal violet sweets which are particularly popular. There are also numerous perfumes and soaps.
Its origin in the region is not well known although it is thought to have been introduced by Napoléon III in the middle of the 19th century and it was in the north of Toulouse that the local farmers began to cultivate and export the violet to cash in on its incredible popularity. People prized Toulouse violets highly and the city exported more than 600,000 bouquets every year during the 19th century. Violets are, however, very sensitive to disease and extremes of temperature plus cultivating them is very labour-intensive (they require propagation by hand) so they almost died out in the 1950s.
Then,1985, the violet gained official protected status in France and La Violette de Toulouse became a registered trademark. Its popularity has gradually increased ever since thanks to the efforts of the association Terre de Violettes; a group of manufacturers producing perfumes or liqueurs from violets in Toulouse and exporting worldwide.
The flower of a violet is made up of between thirty and forty petals with a white heart and is particularly perfumed. It is supposed to represent peace, sweetness, modesty and shyness. Offering someone a violet is a way to declare your love in a discreet way because the colour violet symbolizes deep feelings. In addition, la Violette de Toulouse is known for its medicinal properties; it can aid breathing and soothe headaches thanks to the aspirin that it contains.
On the first weekend in February, Toulouse holds the Fête de la Violette, a large fair and market that sees the main square of Toulouse, the Capitole, covered with a carpet of purple flowers. It is also possible to visit the greenhouses of the National Violet Conservatory which was founded in the city’s municipal greenhouses in 1994 and houses a collection of 80 different strains of violet from around the world: http://www.inra.fr/Grand-public/Chimie-verte/Tous-les-magazines/Violette-de-Toulouse