Violets

These were one of the first wildflowers I became familiar with and am still getting to know; the slight peppery bite of leaf, more pronounced in the blossoms, doesn’t fail to startle my taste buds.  They’re a sight for sore eyes coming out of winter into spring, and always cheer me up; I do so adore Violets!

They’re also one of the first flowers my children learned were edible and now forage on their own, returning with baskets of violet blossoms as a precious gift for me . . . . if you have ever gathered violets, you’ll know it requires a long amount of time to fill a basket; and so I treasure not only the violets that they bring but also that they gave of their day to gather them.  Knowing how much bending and walking went into the gathering, they are very respectful and mindful about how much of the violet honey and violet syrup they imbibe::violet teaches respect!

Other than lazing in a patch of violets nearby the pond, I do enjoy a combination of violet and lilac syrup, by the teaspoon as a refreshing sip on a hot summers day or even drizzled over birthday pavlovas.

I begin by first making a simple syrup and pouring it hot over a packed jar of lilac and violet blossoms with two or three frozen wild blueberries added for color. I’ll let this sit out for 3-4 hours or up to 4 days fermenting on the counter, then strain, bottle, and refrigerate.  It keeps for half the year; I like to have a whiff of the fragrance from time to time and find it lovely over a bowl of strawberries.

When enough violets are brought home, I’ll fill a pint jar with blossoms and leaves, then cover with boiled apple cider vinegar and steep for four weeks.  This is an alkalizing and nutritive tonic; mix a little with honey and water, sip, and enjoy; or add the vinegar and blossoms to salad dressings.

I’ll also make a paste by crushing enough violet blossoms and honey to fill a pint jar.  I’ll add some of this to some of a mixture I keep on hand of minced garlic infused in olive oil with thyme.  When we have dry cough, cold, or flu, I’ll administer a tsp. of this mixture 3 x day alongside other plant medicines.

Sometimes, I’ll steep wilted violet leaves and blossoms in sweet almond oil for six weeks, or use a double boiler to infuse coconut oil, and add this to a luxurious facial butter with evening primrose and rose infused oils, shea and cocoa butter, and a combination of essential oils too.

Botanical Name:  Viola Odorata

Family: Violaceae

Common Names:  Sweet Violet, Common Violet, Blue Violet, English Violet

Habitat and Growing Conditions: 

Violet, sweet violet, will you look up and let the sun shine in?

Violets pop up from rhizomes in the spring here in Virginia’s Blue Ridges, dotting the new grown grasses with their purple and white flowers; drawing your attention down where the dark green, heart shaped leaves are harder to see as they  come up very close to the ground.  They flower March through July but taste sweetest in April.  The variety growing here are Viola Sororia.

Violets prefer the moist hedgerows, waysides, and slightly shady dappled sun spots.  Look for them under lilac bushes, blackberry thickets, and adorning orchard grounds.

The Violet family has over 200 species all over the temperate and tropical regions of the world in both hemispheres.  Northern Asian, North American, and European natives are herbaceous, whereas in South America and tropical regions, members of the Violet family grow into trees and shrubs!

Within the genus Viola there are 100 species, five of which are native to Great Britain.

Interesting Tidbits: 

Violets are a sacred plant of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, who withdraws into the Underworld domain of Hades for a measure of the year, returning above to our world in the spring, when the violets pop up.  Where there are violets is where Persephone has walked, looking for her mother.  Where there are dense spreads of violet is where she has bedded for the night and the violets, so gladdened by her presence, multiplied, and spread farther and farther around her creating a sacred soothing hoop. Ironically, it is violets that Persephone and her friends were gathering when Hades first laid eyes on her; carrying her away.

The Athenians used violets “to comfort and strengthen the heart,” and as a sleep aid.  They are mentioned in the works of Homer and Virgil often.

The Romans made a wine of sweet violets.

Violets were the emblem of the Imperial Naploeonic party, and Napoleon toasted by them as Caporal Violette.  They also used violet as a secret code word to determine party affiliation and loyalty, as he declared from his exile on the island of Elba that he would return with the violets in spring.

Nicholas Culpeper, in his Complete Herbal, associates this soothing plant with the planet Venus.

A Violet Origin Story in the Iroquois tradition from The Red Indian Fairy Book by Frances Jenkins Olcott::

“Many Moons before the white man came to the land of the Red Indian, there lived a young warrior who was the pride of his tribe; for dangerous deeds had he accomplished for the good of his people. He had slain the Great Heron that destroyed their children, and he had brought back from the Mountain of the Witches the healing roots that cured the plague.

Once when he led a band of warriors against another tribe, he saw in the lodge of one of his enemies a maiden so gentle and lovely that he longed to have her for his wigwam. But because of the strife between the two tribes, he could not buy her with quills of the Wampum Bird.

So after he had returned victorious with his warriors to his own village, he often thought of the maiden, and how, unless he could light his wigwam with the brightness of her eyes, he would no longer lead out his young men to battle.

At last he went forth alone, and hid in the woods near the village of his enemies. There he watched patiently for the maiden whose eyes had softened his heart.

He sang her praises so often that the little birds took up his song and carried it in their flight, over valley and meadow. The Bear, the Fox, and the Beaver heard him murmur her name in his sleep, and thought that a bright new flower had been born in the woodland.

With the calls of the song-birds, he wooed the maiden from her lodge, and lifting her, bore her away toward the hunting-grounds of his people.

But, alas! a suitor of the maiden saw her carried swiftly off upon the shoulder of the dreaded warrior. He dared not follow, but fled to the village and gave the alarm. The braves left him—a coward—in the hands of the women, and hastened in pursuit of the maiden and her lover.

They followed them over mountains and plains all through the dark night. And as the morning dawned, they found them in the forest. And when the braves saw the maiden, they were filled with anger, for she had plaited her hair about the neck of the young man, to show that she was a willing captive and had given him her heart.

Then her people, enraged at their foe for his daring, and at the maiden because she had deserted her tribe, killed them both, and left their bodies lying where they fell.

And from this spot in the forest sprang up the first Blue Violets. And the winds and the birds carried the seeds of the flowers and scattered them over all the Earth. So they did, that in the Springtime youths and maidens might pluck the little blue flower that breathes of constant love.”

Medicinal Actions and Properties: 

Cold, moist, mucilaginous, sweet, and salty energetics.

Violets bring cooling relief to hot inflamed areas, especially in dry, sore throats.  As a syrup or mashed into honey, it’s terrific for dry cough from a cold.

Calms the hot throbbing head, relaxes the stomach, and overall brings cooling relief when there is a choleric showing of heat, outbursts, and tantrums.  Hot head, heart, and stomach?  Allow Violet to soothe you, cool you, and harmonize you (in tasty ways).

Where there is slow lymph flow, in conjunction with dry skin and constipation, it is indicated . . .check for swollen glands around the ears and throat.

It is used often for cancer of breast, lymph, and lungs; reputedly as a tincture of the dried leaf.

Violets are anti-inflammatory, diuretic, emollient, alterative, vulnerary, demulcent, and slightly laxative.

Tissue States:

Stagnation (slow, sluggish, stuck in the muckish) and atrophy (degenerating, deteriorating).

Cold in the first degree, moist in the fourth degree.

Systems Affected

Cardiovascular, Respiratory, and Digestive.

Cooling to the head, heart, and stomach.

Uses

Calms the nerves, lifts the spirits, and soothes the agitated heart.

Violet leaves are high in Vitamin A, as discovered by Euell Gibbons when he had them analyzed.  They are nutritive and combined with daylily shoots and garlic mustard, make a delicious meal sautéed in butter with garlic and wild onions.

Violet blossoms are a great source of Vitamin C, three times weight for weight as oranges; also discovered by Euell Gibbons when he had them analyzed with the leaves.

Perhaps his interest in their vitamin content was piqued by his Pennsylvania Dutch neighbours, who he’d see munching on violet leaves and flowers?

You don’t have to know their vitamin content to enjoy them, step out and enjoy the blossoms and leaves all growing season; I’ve found the more you pick the more they give but be sure to pick when the flowers are out as they are look-alike plants with similar leaves that are toxic.

Parts Used

Fresh flowers and leaves raw in salads and steeped in infusions; the dried leaves can be used in teas.

Flowers made into syrup.

Tincture of dried leaf specific for enlarged spleen and stagnant lymph flow.

Flower and leaf infused oil for use in salves and face butters.

Flowers and leaves infused in vinegar as a nutritive tonic.

References:

A Modern Herbal Volume 2, Maude Grieves p. 834, 835, 838

The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants, Matthew Wood, p. 516 – 518

Common Herbs for Natural Health, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, p. 167

Sleeping with a Sunflower, Louise Riotte, p. 58

Herbe Rowe https://herberowe.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/legend-of-the-violet/

Icy Sedgwick http://www.icysedgwick.com/violets-folklore/

Witchcraft Medicine, Claudia Muller-Ebeling, Christian Ratsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl, p.89

The Complete Herbal, Nicholas Culpeper, p. 189, 247, 262, 266

Michael Moore’s Principle’s and Practice of Constitutional Physiology for Herbalists, p. 63

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