Friday’s Flora and Fauna: Violets are More Than Just Blue.

When I was a little girl, violets were second only to dandelions. Oftentimes, I picked both together, enjoying the striking contrast between dandelion’s fuzzy, yellow flower head and violet’s soft, velvety petals. I would bring them in to my grandmothers’ kitchens, or to my Mom’s, place them in a Dixie cup or an old tea cup of water, where they would grace the windowsill for the rest of the day; by morning, they’d be dead.

I’ve blogged about dandelions before; now it’s violet’s turn.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first learned about sugared violets. I didn’t grow up with “green” living, or even living off the land, so this was foreign information to realize that certain flowers and/or leaves may be eaten–especially the ones that much of the population considers weeds. But sweet violet (Viola odorata) is indeed an edible flower. And, being curious about how they are “sugared”, I googled it. I found this recipe from Martha Stewart:; next spring, I will have to harvest them and give it a try. The leaves are also supposed to be good steamed, much like spinach or kale.

Medicinally, I have found two separate references–one from Juliette de Bairacli Levy and another from Michael Tierra, both renowned herbalists worldwide–for the use of violets to treat tumors. According to “The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable” by Juliette de Bairacli Levy, both the leaves and the flowers may be used…both internally and externally. Despite my love affair with herbs, I can’t help wondering how effective they are in such a treatment. If they are effective, why doesn’t the American Cancer Society incorporate them into their healing regime? Or do they? Has some part of the violet been isolated and made into a drug to be used in cancer treatment, similar to the pain relieving compounds in willow bark being isolated to make aspirin? Or is it simply because violets are considered by most a weed, and fall under the category of “folk medicine”, that perhaps they are pooh-poohed by orthodox medicine? Regardless, it is worth further research.

Violets have other medicinal uses, mostly involving the upper-respiratory system. They may sooth a sore throat, alleviate dry mucous membranes, ease chronic coughs and asthma symptoms (Tierra 203-204). They may also be taken internally for the treatment of inflammed liver, kidneys, bladder, and for gallstones (de Bairacli Levy 159-160). Though the latter book is aimed at the farm, they are also said to be effective for the same ailments in humans. Externally? Being emollient, they make a nice skin oil or lotion to help ease dryness and inflammation. Who knew?

Our natural world is so full of wonders, I am sometimes amazed to find myself reeling in shock over a new discovery. Violets haven’t been part of my pharmacopoeia before so it was fun doing a little research on them today. In so doing, I may have found a new friend to add to the home apothecary…or, at the very least, a new addition at the dinner table. And, if they don’t appeal to the palate? At almost 50, they still look great standing next to the dandelions on the windowsill.

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

de Bairacli Levy, J. The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable, 4th Edition. Faber and
Faber, New York: 1991 (original printing was with Faber and Faber of London, 1952…)

Tierra, M. The Way of Herbs. Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York: 1998.

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