The last time I wrote about violets, Henriette Kress left me a comment saying, “See, I don’t get violets. We have v.tricolor and that tastes ghastly. No “gentle mucilaginous green” taste, no, it’ll clobber your tongue to tell you to fxxx the hxll off. V.odorata, gentle mucilaginous, check. The rest? The wild dry ones? Most emphatically not.”
This had me worried. I’d never tasted heartsease but it was on my list of things to do with violet’s relations. I’d already chewed a dog violet leaf and that was basically tasteless but more mucilaginous than the odorata. I was intending to do the same with heartsease, but Henriette’s comment did have me wondering. Would it be bitter? Would it be as unpalatable as she described? I would have to “bite the bullet” or rather, leaf and see for myself.
I haven’t found any heartsease growing in the garden this year. For the last five years or so they have wandered around the various beds popping their beautiful flowerheads up out of various beds from late spring to summer. I think I killed them all off by replanting some in the old wheel frame which acts as my sole hanging basket – sometimes I forget to water it and after last winter, nothing survived.
I thought I would have to buy new seeds this year to repopulate the heartsease, but the plants in the Sanctuary had other ideas. They reappeared in March and have been blooming beautifully for the last three months. You may have seen the photos on Facebook.
Last weekend was the menopause workshop where fourteen women got together to discuss, laugh and create amongst the stunning flowers and herbs of the Sanctuary, ending with a beautiful healing circle.
I was standing by the bottom bed while others searched for motherwort, lady’s mantle and nettle to put in their tonics and decided it was time to test the palatability of heartsease. I picked a leaf, chewed and waited to be told to “go away”. It didn’t happen. From the virtually tasteless tiny leaf developed the most amazing amount of mucilage – soothing, calming and definitely welcoming to the tongue.
I picked a bunch of aerial stems and gathered the other women together – presenting them with a leaf each to chew and experience. They all agreed it was pleasant, very mucilaginous and a fascinating experience as most of them had not known the term mucilaginous before.
We discussed Henriette’s comments and agreed that environmental conditions must dramatically affect a plant’s makeup. Finish plants must have a sterner outlook on life than our own as they have to survive in colder conditions with a much short growing period.
I’ve not seen viola tricola growing wild in the UK, but I saw it everywhere when I was travelling from Oregon to California three years ago. I shall look for it again on the east coast when we return to the vast continent to explore from the Canadian border down to Boston in September. There they call it “Johnny jump up” because of its proclivity.
My first awareness of heartease medicinally came from an Israeli herbalist on Henriette’s email list. She talked about using heartsease for childhood eczema, so I steeled my heart to their beauty, gathered a bundle in the garden and made an infused oil. Those I gave it to reported it was helpful, but I might do many other things before handing out a salve now, including using a chamomile water to reduce the heat in an inflamed condition before applying any kind of oil.
James Wong also likes heartease. He talks about using heartease as an anti-inflammatory for eczema and combines it with chamomile in a cream.
Viola eczema cream
Makes one 150 ml pot
2 tbsp (20 g) viola flowers, stripped from their stems (heartsease, viola tricola)
2 tbsp (20 g) Roman or German chamomile, dried (you could use 4x the amount of fresh)
1 tsp beeswax
2 tbsp almond oil
1 tsp vitamin C powder
1 tsp glycerine
2 tsp emulsifying wax
250ml freshly boiled water
1. Place the violas and chamomile flowers in a glass bowl. Pour over the water to cover. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Put the infusion into a medium-sized pan (this will form the bottom of your double boiler or bain-marie).
2. In another glass bowl, add the beeswax, almond oil, vitamin C powder, glycerine and emulsifying wax. Place on top of the infusion pan, and warm over a gentle heat, stirring until melted. This takes about 10 minutes.
3. Strain the infusion, then slowly whisk it into the oil mixture until incorporated – the texture should be smooth, like mayonnaise.
4. Pour the mixture into a sterilized dark glass ointment pot, then seal.
USE: Apply to affected areas morning and night. Ideally, apply within a few minutes of bathing, to keep moisture in the skin.
STORAGE: Keeps for up to 6 months in the refrigerator.
Personally, I can never get a cream not to separate, but then I haven’t tried an emulsifying wax. Maybe I should.
My harvest of heartsease this year is infusing into cider vinegar. I thought long and hard about how to preserve it and what I would find most useful. I already have some wonderful oil from the odorata in the garden and the infused vinegar is being used up on salads, so a vinegar to extract all the minerals from the plant seemed to way to go.
If you would like to see many of the other plants growing in my gardens this month, take a look at Facebook.