Herb(s) of the Week: Violet
I’ve been having a passionate fling this week with Violet.
No, not Shrinking Violet from the Legion of Super-Heroes. (Of course, she never called after that magical weekend in Maine, but those fictional characters are so unreliable in relationships – not that I’m bitter…Call me Vi!)
But instead I mean the plant Violet (Viola odorata) aka Sweet Violet.
She’s been calling to me a lot lately including every time I make a tea blend I find my hand pulling toward her like a compass aiming north. I keep finding her everywhere I look. Not only the plants but the name, pictures, the scent, etc. So I felt it was well past time to write a little homage to her here.
Billie Potts in Witches Heal summed up my feelings and shift about violet as well:
“The sweet woodland violet was a charming spring ‘fairy food’ plant that I did not take too seriously as an herbal healer till recently. I owe this modest but powerful plant an apology.”
The flowers and leaves are most commonly used (avoid the roots because they are emetic – unless you enjoy that… who am I to judge) and have been a traditional remedy for such things as:
- Coughs, chest colds and congestion
- Breast and stomach cancer
- Good for digestive system stomach and bowels
- Good for, and has a special affinity with, the lymphatic system
One way I like to think about it is connected to an affinity I’ve seen in the wild. I’ve yet to see it in nature without some snails on the leaves. I’ve found snail shells in the dried I’ve bought from herbal supplies stores. (Heck I almost think snails should be part of the ID for the plant!) And just like how it is good for slimey/mucusey (so not a word but it should be) snails – it is good for anywhere there’s mucus in you (lymph system, respiratory, digestive, etc.) I’ve never seen any reference to it as such, but I find it balancing to mucus systems myself.
It’s great energetically and spiritually and serves to nourishes spirit, heart, as well as the body and the flower essence is used for shyness. And it was a traditional ingredient in love potions, but I can’t say I’ve tried that aspect of it myself – perhaps I should give it a try. It was also supposedly cultivated by monks as ward against evil. Overall it is a special friend to women but also a powerful one for men if they will let it work with them.
One of the best and most poetic descriptions of violet I’ve seen comes from the book Herbal Rituals by Judith Berger:
“Violet restores the element of comfort to its primary place as a potent, transformative power in easing grief and illness. Rocking us in her watery arms, violet leaf infusion loosens tightness in the lung area, coaxing sorrow out of the chest, receiving our tears as she soothes the broken heart. Once the heart has been unburdened of pain, violet leaves and blossoms keep the heart light by strengthening our emotional expressiveness. With violet as an herbal ally, feelings flow rather than hardening or becoming trapped in the tissues of the lungs, breasts, and belly.
Violet’s healing style follow the pattern of the April rain. Steady, rhythmic, and frequent, violet slowly nourishes the terrain of our bodies with vitamins and minerals.
Like the rain, violet cools and moistens the environment in which she is present, slowly dissolves hardnesses in the glandular and lymphatic channels with her flowing nature.”
I just love that and the rest of the section on violet is just as good (as is the book in general.)
But before I finish I found a couple of poems about violet that I wanted to share.
“A greedy girl
up from their roots”
Kaga no Chiyojo (1703-1775)
A violet in the meadow grew,
blushing quietly, quite unknown;
a pretty little violet.
A young shepherdess drew near,
with tripping foot and merry heart,
she came alone,
singing through the meadow.
If only, the violet mused, I were
the finest flower int he world,
just for a little while,
until the dear girl picked me
and pressed me to her heart ’til I died,
if only, if only for a quarter of an hour!
Alas! The girl approached
and paid no heed to the violet;
she trod it underfoot.
It sank and died, yet it rejoiced:
if I must die, at least I die through her,
through her, here, ‘neath her feet.
It was a pretty violet!”
Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832)
Interesting that in two very different poets from roughly the same time but two separate cultures were writing about women mistreating violet. Yet violet still gives. A tad co-dependent but so awesome. 🙂
References of Note: My favorite three were Herbal Rituals by Judith Berger (informative, poetic and beautiful), A Modern Herbal by M Grieve (great historical overview, growing tips and many wonderful preparation ideas) and Healing Wise by Susun Weed (much love for violet and many uses covered.)
In the more traditional reference vein the Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier and Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants by Matthew Wood cover what needs to be covered but lacking the passion of the first three. And I found The Magical Lore of Herbs by Marion Davies and Witches Heal by Billie Potts food for thought in a more energetic direction.
Lastly even though it’s an old site the American Violet Society has lots of fun stuff on it.
My Own Take: Violet is a gift of a plant with healing properties physical, emotional and spiritual. Really one to spend a lot of time with. It blends fairly well with other herbs – I’m loving it with hawthorn lately myself. It’s beautiful to gaze upon, splendid to smell, yummy to eat, healing and abundant. What more could you ask?