Despite the association between violets and spring, it is not a single season plant. Although the purple flowers disappear in April, the leaves continue to grow throughout the year and are best gathered for oil making or for drying in the summer and autumn when the leaves grow to their largest size.
Until this year when I decided to work more closely with the plant, I have used violets mainly for a double infused oil to offer added moisture to any salve I make. Yesterday I needed a new batch of moisturising and cell-strengthening salve for after my shower, so I mixed together 4 fl.oz. each of horse chestnut and calendula oils and added the last of my 2009 fresh violet leaf oil to bring the volume up to 10floz. To this I added 1 oz. of beeswax and heated it gently until the wax was fully dissolved.
Then I poured it into three containers and waited for it to cool so I could take pictures to show the dramatic change in colour. The salve is softer because I added two more ounces than my usual ratio, but it still holds together and is much easier to rub on than pure oil.
Today I made a new batch of double infused fresh violet leaf oil to replenish my stocks. The size of the leaves this time of year never ceases to amaze me – they are truly four times the size of the April leaves. They grow in tiers, the largest leaves hiding the substantial volume of green canopy below. The underneath leaves are smaller, but will soon grow to replace the ones I picked. The undergrowth in this part of the garden is so dense, I was fully expecting a grown frog to jump out at me, as happened the last time I picked here, but nothing happened!
What did surprise me was the depth of colour from the double infused oil. I’m sure the oil I used yesterday looked only green as opposed to dark green/almost black hue of the one made today.
The cooked leaves went very soggy after two hours, unlike some plant matter which looks as if it has been deep fried and crispy! Once I squashed the leaves together to remove any remaining oil from them, they turned into a small, compact, green, somewhat-slimy lump. I shall leave it overnight to separate the oil and aqueous layer as much as possible and then pour it into clean jars which will be stored with my other oils in the larder.
Violets are a wonderful teaching aid. Anyone who visits my gardens from January to April is offered a leaf to chew, a new experience to bring delight and wonder. What I have not done yet is to offer the same opportunity over the summer with heartsease leaves and see what happens!
Earlier on in the year, I spent a great deal of time reading in various herb books about violets. If you only have access to one book, the most comprehensive description of violet can be found in Anne Macintyre’s ‘Complete Herbal Tutor’. I was surprised she managed to include more details than either David Hoffman or Matthew Wood.
Wood says violets have a long history of use in European medicine especially the blue varieties. He says the leaves and flowers together are used. He says they have a sweet, slightly mucilaginous, slightly salty taste and cool impression. Violets contain flavonoids, mucilage, salicylates, tannins, essential oils, an alkaloid, saponins and minerals (especially calcium and magnesium). The root and seeds contain a substance like emetine, which causes vomiting, hence only the leaves and flowers are used in herbalism (unless of course you need an emetic!).
Violet is suited to cases where the mucosa is dry, when expectoration needs to be increased. It has an affinity to the lymphatic system and is indicated when there is lymphatic stagnation and swollen glands often in the throat and around the ears, in association with dry skin and constipation. As a moistening agent it acts on the kidneys, bladder and chronic arthritic deposits and skin conditions such as eczema.
Violet is described as an “alterative” or “blood purifier”, a perfect addition to spring salads or mineral-rich hot, long infusions. Add violets to red clover, plantain and nettles if you are looking to maximise the mineral content of your tea or combine violets with hawthorn and oatstraw for a more soothing and nourishing infusion.
From times long past violet has been used to soothe hot, dry coughs such as whooping cough, congestion and sore throats. If you are looking for a soothing juice made from the weeds in your garden, try a combination of plantain, chickweed, violet and mallow/marshmallow leaves. Pick the leaves, wash them if necessary then liquidise with some cold water. Leave the blended liquid for a short while before blending again then strain and drink.
It is important to use cold water if you want to extract the most mucilage from a plant. It is the mucilage which coats and soothes the dry throat and chest. It can also help with irritated bowels or be sponged on sunburn.
Violet is widely used in cancer. Wood says it is one of the few remedies with proven track record in cancer involving the breasts, lymphatics and lungs. Also in skin cancer.
The tissue states which call for violet are atrophy and stagnation . The specific indications for using the plant can be shown as follows.
Constitution, complexion, characteristic symptoms- children with swollen glands, dry skin and constipation
Mind, senses, nerves, emotions, personality – shy “shrinking violet”, shy, flabby children with moist skin and palms, recommended for grief and heartbreak and to improve memory and helps moderate anger
Head- severe headaches, eases headache arising from lack of sleep, inflammation of the eyes, infections in the mouth
Kidneys and bladder – gravel, urinary tract infection
Female – breast lumps, benign and malignant
Extremities – arthritis of the wrists
Skin – skin dry, sore, raw (external), eczema
Other – cancer of the lymphatics, breasts, lungs, skin (poultice of fresh leaf and flower is best), epilepsy & nervous disorders.
No matter how much you study and practice with violet, there is always more to learn and experience.