Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Viola odorata

Well it's now April, so it is time for the herb of the month!* I picked one of my favorite herbs for this month for a couple of reasons. First of all violets just started popping up in the lawn and because my father is suffering from bronchitis. (coincidence? I think not!)

Viola odorata is a small little purple flower with four petals and heart shaped leaves. It likes shady wet places and often hides in lawns (if you don't spray nasty chemicals on them anyway). It starts to bloom mid-march to mid april depending on the weather and what area you live in. I wait impatiently every year for them to pop up and if I am not quick they are all gone by the time I get out to harvest them (I am afraid that with all this snow that keeps covering them up I will miss them again this year). Hopefully tomorrow will be nice enough for a first harvest.

Violets are expectorant (make you spit and move phlegm out of your lungs), alterative (get your lymph moving and clear out the blood), anti-inflammatory, and diuretic (make you pee). The actions together make for an excellent remedy when sick with Bronchitis (especially), colds, coughs and influenza, for they move your immune system through the body and remove waste from the blood and urinary tract more quickly. Violets have also recently come into the scientific spotlight as one of only a handful of herbs that contains a substance called cyclotides. These compounds are disulfide rich proteins that make up an exceptionally stable ring structure that are being explored for therapeutic use in HIV and cancer drugs. You can read more here on the website.

Violets are one of the wild edibles that should be on your stop, pick and eat list. Violets are rich is ascorbic acid and minerals that are especially needed in the spring to get us over our winter deficiencies. Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C is a highly unstable molecule that is easily lost by exposure to heat, light or air, but if you eat fresh (just picked less than 2 minutes before) it will not be degraded.

Violets heart shaped leaves are a reminder that violet is also used to ease the heart. In fact one of violets names is hearts-ease (usually referring to the Viola tricolor species). Violet has been used through the centuries to cure the broken heart and to lighten moods.

The leaves and flowers can be made into a tea (2 tsp to 1 cup of water, let it steep for 10-15 minutes) or as a 40% alcohol tincture.

A good way to make yourself remember that violets are used for bronchitis would be to make them into a cough syrup. I took this recipe from Judith Berger's Herbal Rituals:

Violet Blossom Syrup
lots of violet blossoms
1 quart jar
boiling water

Gather lots of violet blossoms. Fill your jar halfway with blossoms and fill jar with boiling water. Let steep for 2 hours and strain out blossoms (keeping the liquid. Put the liquid in a pan and reduce by half (on low heat). Add honey to taste and 2 teaspoons of brandy as a preservative. Use by the teaspoon for bronchitis, sore throats and sore hearts.

You can also combine it with other herbs, such as thyme Thymus vulgaris for its warming and anti-viral activity; garden sage Salvia officinalis for its cleansing and ability to break up phlegm; and black elder berries Sambucus nigra for their anti-viral activity and ability to induce a fever (febrifuge).

Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman
Herbal Rituals, Judith Berger

*No I didn't put up an herb for March. Sue me!

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