Sweet Violet or Viola odorata is one of the earliest native wild plants to flower and i have been out on my rambles hoping to catch sight and scent of this humble, but oh- so -beautiful and useful plant. A low lying dweller of the woodland floor, this delicate and unobtrusive wild flower could so easily be overlooked, but to do so would be a deprivation to the senses!
Finally i came across her where i imagined she might be, along a wooded path following the old railway line which runs in part parallel to the Grantham Canal. I was delighted to find the gently spreading patches of violets providing much awaited colour to the emerging spring woodland floor. Cohabiting with the tenderest new cleavers (Galium aparine) stems, here she is glossy heart shaped leaves against the daintiest blooms.
Culinary Uses and Perfumery
Asides from understated beauty, that delicate violet petal (yes violets are ‘violet’ not blue!) contrasting with orange, there is the unique scent harnessed by the perfumery industry, characteristically sweet, floral and woody.
Violets have long been associated with confectionery for their distinctive sweet, flowery taste. Other culinary uses apart from a simple tea, include using the flower to make pretty ice cubes, as an addition to garnish salad, to make jellies and vinegar. Violets contain high levels of vitamins C and A. Here’s my violet vinegar freshly made this week, here after only a day’s steeping, the violets are already giving up their hue.
As a herbalist i like to consider the particular chemical make up of a plant and understand how these constituents can benefit our health. But before i become too ‘scientific’ i would like to discuss the unique character of the violet plant and how i may feel it is indicated to a patient. She is associated with shyness, hence the term ‘shrinking violet’, this is because the beautiful blooms often appear curled, facing downwards as if she is hiding her face from us. Violets do not scream for our attention like other more showy flowers, their qualities appeal to the more sensitive eye. Interestingly the ability of a human to smell the violet scent varies due to a chemical called ‘ionone’ which temporarily can desensitize human nose receptors preventing scent detection.
Violet is a cool, moist, calming and hydrating plant- these characteristics relate to the effect the plant generally has on the body and the skin.
As a mucilaginous plant, violet is demulcent therefore very suitable for dry skin and conditions such as eczema. A preparation containing violet would also be indicated for acne as it is calming, anti inflammatory and has anti bacterial properties. Violet contains salicylic acid which gives her the soothing and healing qualities. It has anti fungal properties and the ability to dissolve abnormal skin cells making it useful in the treatment of skin cancer. A salve made from violet would be an excellent wound healer and burn treatment. Pictured below is my violet vinegar infusing nicely after four days steeping, this could be used in the bath or a foot bath, as a wasp sting treatment, for sun burn or as a hair rinse.
Next I am planning to infuse violet into oil to form the basis of a skincare product i’m currently formulating.
Violet leaves and flowers can be infused as a tea, in oils and vinegar or taken in tincture form, usually with the guidance of a Medical Herbalist.
Due to the salicylic acid content, (salicylic acid being the active chemical in Aspirin) Violet is anti inflammatory and anti pyretic (reduces fever) and is indicated for the relief of headaches. It has a sedating quality so can be useful for insomnia.
Infusions of the flower are useful for stomach inflammation as are cooling and soothing to mucous membranes.
Violet infusion makes a great gargle for sore throats and forms the basis of an effective poultice or ointment when applied to swollen glands.
The roots of viola odorata contain alkaloids which give the plant its expectorant action, this makes violet an excellent addition to a cough syrup to treat coughs, colds and catarrh.
Violet has an anti cancer activity due to containing cyclotides eg violaceae and there are many clinical studies to support this. Cyclotides are incredible peptides isolated from plants and violaceae has been found to be anti tumour and anti-HIV. Not only is violet cytotoxic (kills cancer cells) but it prevents spread of these cells being anti metastatic and can relieve the pain caused by cancer.
It is also hepatoprotective (protects the liver), diuretic (increases urine output), laxative and diaphoretic (increases elimination through skin). All these actions make Violet a useful plant to aid detoxification.
I like to add the tincture to mixes at this time of year as i feel using plants as they come into their own in nature is beneficial, a great time to detoxify the body after winter.
Over the coming days i will be harvesting wild violets to see what i can produce. I’m next planning to create a violet infused oil for use in skincare preparations. Watch this space!!