Heartsease Pansy/Johnny Jump-up (Viola tricolor)
Sweet Violet (Viola odorata)
By Greg McCrone, R.Ph. & Herbalist
If there were a flower with a personality, it would be the violet. The perky, happy-faced Johnny Jump-Up greets me when I enter my garden. The cool heart-shaped leaves of the sweet violet spread madly across my asparagus patch and under the shade of my apple trees fenced along the edge of the woods.
Violets have been praised in word and text for thousands of years. From Homer, Hippocrates and Pliney to Shakespeare, Gerard and Culpepper; it would be hard to find a plant with a richer history. The sweet violet was a valued medicine of the ancient Greeks. Homer remarked how the Athenians used violet to "moderate anger." There are numerous myths regarding violets, including the story about Zeus, who was thought to have created violets to honor the beauty of Io. Io, in fact, means violet in Greek.
The sweet violet was used by Hippocrates and other ancient Greek and Arab medicine makers for numerous ailments: headaches; inflammations of the eyes, chest and skin; excess bile; liver problems; sore throats and coughs; and digestive upsets. It was also used for calming anger and for strengthening heart muscles.
Culpepper wrote, "It is a fine pleasing plant of Venus, of a mild nature and in no way harmful." In fact, syrups of violets are wonderful remedies for children and infants, relieving coughs, sore throats, fevers, stomachaches, and constipation.
All violets are loaded with precious compounds that can have profound effects on all our bodily functions. Rutin, for example, is a bioflavanoid with powerful heart-healthy effects. Another flavonoid found in violets, called Quercetin, is an anti-inflammatory and has skin cleansing and respiratory properties. There is even an aspirin-like compound found in violets. It didn't surprise me to learn that there have been studies as well as historical reports about violets inhibiting and dissolving tumors and cancers, especially skin and breast cancers.
Although we don't sell a lot of products at the Herbal Path that contain either of the violets, it would be a mistake to overlook their importance. Deb Soule's Broken Heart Remedy, which contains heartsease pansy, soothed my soul through a particularly trying time after my dearest friend passed away.
My favorite way of using violets is to gather a handful of the cool purple-blue flowers and to pop them in my mouth, while at the same time thanking the great mother for such an exquisite gift and asking my heart to use this gift wisely.