Common Name: Violet
Botanical Name: Viola spp. (bicolor/odorata)
Name Etiology: Viola meaning of the violet genus and bicolor meaning two colors (1).
Other Common Names: Field Pansy (2)
Introduction, History, Myth & Fun Facts:
With over 500 different species of violet with a tendency to crossbreed it is important to know what you are gathering although medicinal uses are thought to span most of the genus. There are 31 documented species of Viola in Alabama (3) with V. bicolor, V. tricolor, V. sororia, V. villosa, V. pedata, V. pubescence, and V. canadensis being used for food and medicinally in ethnobotanical literature (5). V. odorata being the most commonly utilized in traditional European herbalism has not been found in Alabama.
It is widely written that flowers in Spring are not true flowers as they do not produce seeds but this is incorrect. Many species of violet flower twice, once in the Spring with normal reproductive flowers that are pollinated by insects and then again with cleistogamous or self-pollinating flowers both producing seeds.
Violet has long been a symbol of love and there is no question as to why. When your look at them they seem to make us slow down and smile. V. odorata is known as “Heart’s Ease" and the Traditional Western uses follow the common name.
In Victorian England purple violets were intended to convey that the giver’s “thoughts were occupied with love” (3).
One very interesting and fun fact about violet is that an infusion of the flowers can be used to detect pH. When exposed to acids the color is reddened and bases turn the solution green (13).
When to Harvest/Parts Used/Where:
Violet leaves and flowers can be harvested as soon as they appear in early Spring into Summer. They prefer cooler weather and, depending on the variety, can be found tucked in shade on the edges of meadows or in hedges and tree lines due to their need for Winter and Spring sun and Summer shade. The flowers tend to be used for children in reliving constipation but also as a remedy for grief and sadness and extract beautifully in glycerine or as a syrup. The flowers can also be eaten in salads, candied, or as a garnish and are widely available in early to mid Spring. The leaves can be used in salads and in teas, salves, and tinctures and are fond throughout Spring, Summer (in the shade), Fall, and in early Winter. The roots are toxic in large amounts but are an effective emetic in small doses. You can harvest the roots at any time.
I was walking a few days ago in the crisp Spring newness enjoying the white to violet blooms of Viola bicolor thinking about the importance of living a whole-hearted life and heart focused life and how difficult it can sometimes be to remember our purpose, why we do what we do, and what we are ACTUALLY supposed to be doing with our lives. During this part of the year we are thinking about all the things we would like to do with all this, fresh, spring-y, energy. What to plant, who to hang out with, where to go on Spring break. What do we want to do with this crisp, and sometimes warm, sexy, showy, excited energy? We are so tempted to slide into the frenetic go-go-go of this time of year and into the interminable forward striving of the mind centered world we live in. But then violet appears and demands our attention with wisdom to share if we would just slow to listen. Oddly enough violet commands our slowing into that space of peaceful deep knowing like the indefinite stars or the constant tide. I am reminded that true power/knowing/existence does not have to assert itself (or act like a busy-body to ‘prove’ it is important). The quintessential heart medicine to guide us into those things that are our deep and grounded truth.
Our biology drives us during this time to begin cultivating the ideas of the winter, the things that we have thought about and culminated, ruminated on during the bleak winter months and what better way to do than than to tune into our wants and desires through the lens of the heart. A heart so red that it becomes a lovely violet.
Traditional/ Modern Applications:
The general consensus is that V. bicolor, V. tricolor, V. sororia, V. villosa, V. pedata, V. pubescence, and V. canadensis, and V. odorata can all be used almost interchangeably; that would be historically/ethnobotanically and in modern herbalism (4)(5)(???) with some thought that all violet spp. could possibly be held in the same esteem (13). V. odorata has been recognized in the US Pharmacopoeia and V. pedanta referenced in both the US and British Pharmacopoeias (13).
Violets are mucilaginous, which can be ascertained immediately upon munching on a leaf or flower, which I highly recommend.
Because of this mucilage, it is outstanding for issues of dry mucosal membranes and as such is a wonderful gentle but stimulating expectorant, specific to dry irritated coughs with thick unproductive mucous (10)(11)(14). It has a long history of this use and it is mostly credited as an expectorant due to its saponin content with the mucilage soothing the tissues (14).
Viola does act as a mild lymphatic (10) (11) (12) (14)(16) (17) and is specific to the throat and you can notice this especially upon taking a hot infusion of the leaves or flowers. It is a nice addition to salves for swollen lymph nodes and is safe in breast salves for mastitis.
The leaves and flowers are commonly used as a gentle laxative (11)(14)(17) its action as such is attributed to small amounts of the emetic compound violine found in the leaves and flowers which is found in greater amounts in the root (19). The root was touted as a replacement for Ipicac in Porches "Resources of the Southern Fields and Forrest” in 1863 (19).
Anti-inflammatory activity is often spoken about but I believe that action is very mild. The claim is backed up by its rutin, quercitin, and methlysalicilate content (14). It is used as a way to soothe a sore throat as a gargle with a strong infusion of the leaves. I believe the chemical constituents rutin, quercitin, and methlysalicilate content would also make violet very useful for upper respiratory allergic conditions but haven’t experimented with it in that capacity.
The same thoughts could be applied to its long used indication as an herb for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. With the same properties being helpful lymphatic, soothing, demulcent, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic.
Viola can be with irritated conditions of the bladder such as cystitis, and the symptoms of cystitis such as, frequent and painful urination. Because of its lymphatic, anti-inflammatory, and mucosal membrane demulcent activity it is so helpful in soothing irritated and dry tissues lacking in elasticity and protection from normal acidity in the bladder (14).
Thomas Easley, Steven Horne, and David Hoffman all back violet as a long term approach to rheumatism (14) (15) but I don’t think any of them would lean on it as a regular addition to protocols.
With a gentle action on the lower GI, lymphatic system/innate immunity (8), and skin (10) it is a wonderful remedy for children for the systems listed. Violet, being a gentle herbal it is fine to use as a daily addition to soups, stews, salads or Spring drinks.
V. oderata Phenolic glycosides (including gaultherin, salicylic acid methyl ester); saponins (myrosin, violin); flavonoids (rutin, violarutin); miscellaneous: odoratine (an alkaloid), mucilage
V. tricolor: Flavonoids (including violanthin, rutin, violaquercitrin); methylsalicylate; miscellaneous: mucilage, gums, resin, saponins
Flowers: Sweet, floral, slightly sour, grape
Leaves: thick, astringent, grassy, green
Root: green, salty, mucilaginous, bitter, slightly acrid (warning: the root is emetic and cathartic)
cooling and moistening
All Therapeutic Actions:
Anti-inflammatory, demulcent, emollient, expectorant, mild laxative, and lymphatic
Demulcent, emollient, expectorant, mild laxative, and mild lymphatic
Ingestion of the root in any form is a strong emetic and cathartic and I have seen the cooked and uncooked green leaves cause diarrhea in people who were sensitive but there is no need to be cautious of the leaves as they will just stimulate a nice, if a little intense, BM.
In applications where mucilage is needed a fresh juice of the leaves is superior. A cold extraction overnight of the fresh leaves would be second. Cold extraction of the dry leaves over night would be third and then tincture of fresh and then dried would be the order of effectiveness. As a lymphatic a warm tea of the fresh or dried) leaves would be best but tincture would work just fine. It plant also works very well as a salve.
Pairs well in blood building and detoxification formulas with Red Clover, Cleavers, Yellow Dock, Poke, etc.
Violet is a cooling musilagionous pant with an affinity of the lungs, breasts, and colon. As a laxative expectorant and lymphatic it shines in detoxification and in dry conditions of the mucosa that has caused stagnation.