Written by: Lindsey Feldpausch
Latin name: Viola spp.
Energetics: Cooling, moistening
Taste: Sweet, mucilaginous, cool, minerally
The Violet by Jane Taylor
Down in a green and shady bed,
A modest violet grew;
Its stalk was bent, it hung its head
As if to hide from view.
And yet it was a lovely flower,
Its colour bright and fair;
It might have graced a rosy bower,
Instead of hiding there.
Yet thus it was content to bloom,
In modest tints arrayed;
And there diffused a sweet perfume,
Within the silent shade.
Then let me to the valley go
This pretty flower to see;
That I may also learn to grow
In sweet humility.
The spring season begins for me when I see the first Violet bloom peak her blushing head above ground. Multiple species of Viola grace the slope of my mountain side home in abundance. Her heart shaped leaves come first, alongside the clover and wild onion shoots. And soon to follow are the blooms, creating a carpet of purple growing most everywhere the sun shines its warming spring rays, and in light shade. The violets call me into a spring euphoria, the kind that makes one lie in the grass basking in the glory of nature as it comes back to life after a long winter sleep.
The fragrance of Violet blossoms is a subtle and ephemeral scent but precious none the less. You may have heard that Violets steal your sense of smell, and the truth of this is part of the magic of Violet. The first breath of the Violet scent, will come and go, a fleeting aroma of an elusive kind. This brief enchantment is due to a compound in the Viola species, ionone, that enters your olfactory glands and binds to your smell receptors temporarily stalling them until moments pass, and you are gifted with the aroma once more.
Plucking a violet flower here and a violet flower there to pop onto my tongue is instantly soothing in the way of the season’s first sincere days. Violet leaves and flowers are highly nutritious, eating them will provide vitamins and minerals that our bodies will surely appreciate. Upon consumption the moistening properties of Violet quickly reveal themselves. The leaves and flowers alike contain mucilage, an amalgamation of slippery heteropolysaccharides that physically soothes irritation and cools bodily heat.
The moistening and cooling tendencies of Violet lend themselves well to any dry tissues that need calming hydration. You can think of Violet when your throat is arid and irritated, especially with an exasperating cough with stuck phlegm. Throughout the respiratory system Violet will work to quell the incensed tissues, moisten any congested catarrh ultimately pacifying the coughing reflex. Preferably an infusion will be used in these cases, allowing the water to assist in moistening. But one could also chew the leaves and flowers themselves and reap the bountiful benefits.
If one is constitutionally dry, with a lack of bowel flow, Violet will be able to assist in hydrating the digestive tissues. In the intestines, the tissues will be moistened as well as the contents themselves, giving it the leaf and flower of the Viola species a mild laxative quality. The root and seeds, on the other hand are strongly emetic. Lucky for us the seeds of the Violet are not found in the flower many have come to know and love, but an inconspicuous pale green, seed bearing inflorescence that arises in late summer.
As an alterative, Violet’s work on the lymphatic system. When there is congestion and lack of flow in the system, Violet is a viable option to increase overall fluid movement. A traditional remedy for swollen lymph glands, Violets lymphatic action will aid by gently increasing flow and decreasing inflammation. For swollen and congested mammary glands, Violet is a gentle yet effective remedy. It can be taken internally or the infused oil massage in topically.
The use of Violet to cool tissue irritation and inflammation extends itself well to topical applications. The mucilage will coat and sooth tissues that are red, swollen, inflamed or just plain dry. For the mammas out there, who have experienced the painful condition of sore nipples from breast feeding, Violet infused oil works remarkably well. Violet oil or an infusion-soaked rag can sooth diaper rashes and cradle cap and is safe for application on the wee ones. Violet is one of my favorite poultices for the pesky sting of the Nettle plant, just chew the leaf or flower and apply to the angered tissue, soon you will find the pain diminishing not to return. Insect’s stings and bites will also benefit from this medicine.
Violet’s physiologically actions are mild but pronounced. They do not create a whirlwind of flashy affects, they more so gently nourish and sooth your body and tissues into a more balanced being. This same can be said of the emotional attributes of Violet on one’s mental state. Upon partaking in Violet’s medicine, you will notice a subtle shift of the mind, an ease of the worries floating through your consciousness, a release of mental tension that clouds your thoughts. Violet’s sooth anxiety, and the restlessness that goes along with it. The cooling tendencies of Violet lend well to reducing stuck anger that is not serving oneself. Violet will bring you into a more peaceful place and allowing for a release of negative emotions. This can be helpful in cases of insomnia, especially where one’s mind is racing with circular thoughts.
The many species of Viola range in color and leaf appearance, but the flower itself is always the distinct Viola shape. Viola pedata, commonly known as Bird’s Foot Violet has readily recognizable Violet flowers but the leaves are not your typical serrated heart shape, they are a deeply lobed leaf resembling (you guessed it) a bird’s foot. Viola canadensis has white flowers with larger more elongated leaves. Viola tricolor, is commonly known as Heartsease and has a flower of three different colors. What all Viola species do have in similarity is that there leaves, and flowers are edible (some species taste better than others) and make good medicine that can be used interchangeably throughout the species.
Before you ever put a wild plant into your body, you should be sure of what it is you are picking and more forward with the appropriate amount of consideration. An important note, African Violets (Saintpaulia spp.) are not in the Viola genera, are not true violets and contain a level of toxicity so do not eat them mistaking them for such.
I have long desired a violet covered yard, and while they are prolific in my most recent residence, as well as many other places on this continent. Regrettably not all violets species are blessed with such abundance. So, take care to ensure the species you find are not of the rare or endangered kind.
If you do find yourself in a prolific patch of Violets, and are so inclined to do so, eat them! Toss them in salads, put them in your pesto blend, or just lay about in your yard popping them into your mouth. Also, drink them; nourishing violet infusions are wonderful, you can dice up some flowers and leaves, pour boiling water over and ta-da Violet tea. I prefer a freshly dried violet infusion, as the color and flavor are much more pronounced, but fresh works just fine. Make a fresh violet maceration by covering them in alcohol and you will have a tincture to last for years. Or you can make Violet syrup, a remedy that has been used throughout the ages and will not disappoint.
Violet Syrup Recipe
Harvest Violet flowers of the violet hue (Viola odorata, V. sororia) when they are at their peak of color and condition. Preferable on a sunny, dry day reducing any unwanted moisture and ensuring you are getting the best of the purple coloring. Only pick the flower itself, leaving any calyx or green parts behind. If you have a large patch of Violets, you should be able to run your hand underneath the flowers gently pulling up between loosely clenched fingers. This will leave behind the majority of the green and you can garble the rest of the green parts after harvest. Once you have a few compact cups (approx. 3 cups) worth, place them in a mason jar.
Get some water boiling and pour a few cups worth over the flowers. If the water does not cover the flowers press them down or place a weight on top to keep them submerged. Cover the mason jar and steep for a couple hours. Once done, strain the infusion. You should be left with a violet colored tea.
An interesting note, Violet infusion was the original litmus test for pH. If you add an acidifying agent to the preparation it will turn magenta, if you add something base it will turn green! Nature never ceases to amaze.
Take two cups of the infusion and set aside. You may drink any remaining liquid.
Get a double boiler rolling, or if you do not have one place a bowl atop of a pot with water in it. Once there is adequate heat add 2 cups of the violet infusion and 2 cups of sugar (1:1). Slowly melt the sugar until it has sufficiently dissolved, stirring often. Once done pour off Violet syrup into a glass bottle and marvel at your beautiful creation, that color! This will keep in the fridge for up to six months.
You can put Violet syrup in fuzzy water on a hot day or add it to your Gin n’ Tonic when you want a fancy cocktail. Have fun with your plant creation and experiment in any way you see fit.