Viola odorata and related species
Violets are believed to bring comfort and to carry the virtue of modesty. The botanical name means "sweet smelling purple flower." But violet's spring blooms are not really flowers! They bear no seeds, so you can pick all you want. The real flowers bloom later, under the leaves. They are greenish, have no petals, no scent and bear seed abundantly. Violet's "false" flowers, which look like tiny pansies, can be purple, white, pink or lilac. They are incredibly rich in vitamin C, and make a healthful and pretty addition to salads. Violets, it has been said, "bloom out of sheer exuberance."
Ancient Greeks enjoyed eating violet flowers, believing they "mitigate anger, procure sleep and strengthen the heart." Another name for violet is heart's-ease. A tincture of fresh violet flowers relieves pain in the heart. Violet leaves are heart-shaped, and violet is a primary ingredient in love potions. First Nations people, including Potawatomi and Ojibwa, are familiar with the heart-strengthening benefits of violet.
Violet flower syrup has long been used to ease sore throats, relieve coughs and bronchitis, and to help bring up phlegm. It also makes a soothing digestive tonic. Just as my grandmother's grandmother might have, I take a teaspoon after meals in a cup of warm water or tea. I also made a throat and cough-easing infused honey with violet flowers, taking a teaspoon every couple of hours and putting it into tea. Cherokee drink violet root infusions to relieve cough and colds and applied a poultice of the leaves to relieve headache.
To relieve tinnitus, grandmothers used a well-strained fresh violet flower infused oil dropped into the ear, one drop per treatment, once or twice daily for as long as it took. Do not use this remedy if there is any chance the eardrum is perforated.
Violet leaves are highly nourishing, containing more vitamin C than any other leafy vegetable known, and an abundance of vitamin A. Other constituents of violet include saponins, salicylates, alkaloids, flavonoids, volatile oil and minerals.
Violets gather minerals from deep within the earth into their leaves. We eat them raw in salads or lightly steamed like spinach. Although slightly laxative, they gently nourish the lungs, nerves, immune and reproductive systems.
Among my Southern Italia neighbors this pretty blue-violet flowering plant is known as violetta. It’s commonly found in our mountainous woods and on shady hillside slopes. The whole plant in flower is used as a poultice (sometimes mixed with millet) in the treatment of lesions, warts, growths, lumps, swellings, knobs or nodules that may be likely to undergo malignant degeneration, specifically when accompanied by a hereditary or constitutional predisposition to arthritis. An infusion of leaves and flowers is sipped slowly when treating chest congestion and coughs, and less commonly it is used as a pediatric laxative.
One year my friend Antonietta brought me a big bag full of freshly picked violet flowers she’d collected on our mother mountain. Together, we put up several jars full of infused oil and several filled with vinegar. The vinegar changed a fabulous purple color almost immediately and was delicious! After several weeks, we strained out the violet oil and mixed it with cocoa butter to make a creamy violet face butter. It was fantastic! When I returned to the village several months later, I remarked on how radiant my friend’s skin looked. She laughed and said she’d been using nothing but that violet butter we’d made together.
In First Nations legend, violet was an amethyst crystal living deep within the earth brought to the surface as a gift to the human kingdom to cure cancer. Early herbals attest to violet's ability to dissolve cancers and tumors, especially those of the breast, skin, reproductive system and throat.
Medical literature from the early part of the twentieth century includes five different studies demonstrating violet's anticancer properties. These properties are found in dried plant infusions, fresh leaves, flowers, tincture and violet oil.
Ancient Celts used violet flowers steeped in milk to enhance beauty. Antiseptic and mucilaginous, violet leaves make an excellent poultice for relieving skin problems, especially sores, abscesses, burns and boils. They are gentle enough to ease diaper rash, cradle cap and baby's insect bites.
Violets have a special affinity for the breast. Fresh violet leaves are used as a poultice against breast lumps, cysts, infections and growths, to help relieve pain or inflammation. Wild hearted wise women combine external and internal treatments: a cup of dried leaf infusion, or 20 drops of fresh violet tincture a day, plus a poultice or application of infused oil. I’ve seen a number of women over the years successfully drain a breast cyst or dissolve a lump in this way.
Violet essential oil is valued in perfumery. It is used in aromatherapy as an analgesic and as a liver stimulant.
All species of Viola, including the familiar pansies, possess similar medicinal properties. The Chinese use the root of V. yedoensis, which they call zi hua di ding, to treat skin infections, lymphatic conditions and breast abscesses.
Flower Essence Violet flower essence helps to develop warmth, trust and openness in group situations.
Magical Lore Violets offer psychic protection. Old wives say violets outside the door are a blessing on all who enter. All parts of violets in amulets bring simplicity, serenity, peace and good fortune.
Culture Violets are easy to grow in rich, moist, shady areas. They grow wild at the edges of woods, shaded by trees and large plants. Violets self-seed readily and also spread by runners.
Violets are a food plant for the great spangled fritillary butterfly and a nectar source for spring azure butterfly.
I gather the colorful blossoms as they appear, and the leaves while they are green and vibrant. I tincture some fresh in alcohol, and infuse some in honey, vinegar or oil. I dry violet leaves too, for infusions.
“Myth is not much to do with the past, but a kind of magical present that can flood our lives when the conditions are just so. It is not just the neurosis of us humans trying to fathom our place on the earth, but sometimes the earth actually speaking back to us. That's why some stories can be hard to approach, they are not necessarily formed from a human point of view." Martin Shaw