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Blue Violets….”A blossom of returning light, An April flower of sun and dew; The earth and sky, the day and night Are melted in her depth of blue!” Dora Read Goodale

I read this article on violets (one of my most favorite flowers) at the Herbal Academy of New England’s website, and it was so enjoyable that I had to repost it… as I look out on the violets blooming in the yard!

The Virtues of Violets – Health Benefits of Violets

 

A few weeks ago, I looked around our 5 acres to see what may be sprouting after a long, cold winter. Soon I saw that my first little escaped and self-sown flowering plant had emerged. Guess which one. Violet! Perhaps cultivated for hardiness as well as beauty, the little johnny jump-up violets (Viola tricolor) had popped up after self-sowing the year before. They beat the dandelions! Now that’s pretty tough for a little violet. The many violets in eastern North America love to cross breed, making their identification difficult (Erichsen-Brown, 1979) with over 40-50 species depending on how you count. “Phew!” “That’s a relief,” I say. Why? When it comes to their medicinal properties, they are, for the most part, interchangeable. So, let’s pick just a few, and we’ll explore the health benefits of violets.

Health Benefits of Violets - Herbal Academy of New England

Getting to Know the Violets

The best known violets for medicinal purposes are the European varieties. The most popular is the sweet violet or Viola odorata. It is one of the violets native to Europe and it has been widely cultivated into many forms over the years (Gleason, and Cronquist, 1963). The petals are deep violet and vary to white. The flowers are quite fragrant. V. odorata is best known as a cough remedy especially for bronchitis (Hoffman, 2003).

Sweet violet’s sister is Viola tricolor which is better known by her common name: pansy. She is also a native of the Old World and has been widely cultivated and still is. Like her relatives, V. tricolor has been used as an expectorant, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Used both internally and topically, this violet is helpful for cystitis, rheumatic complaints, eczema, psoriasis, acne, and topically for babies with cradle cap (Hoffman, 2003).

V. tricolor2 - Herbal Academy of New England

Just for the record, who are our native violets? One is Viola papilionacea, and, the other is V.sororia. Both are called the common blue violet. There is also the lesser known V. pedata, the birds foot violet, that should be mentioned. Why? This species was the native plant species widely collected, and provided through the Shaker herbal medicine catalogues published between 1830-1895 (Miller, 1998). Now, this violet is on the threatened species list for New Hampshire and endangered list for New York from its over-harvesting. (USDA Plants Database). It differs by having a bird’s claw shape to its leaves, instead of heart-shaped. If you find this species, don’t pick it! (Instead, please, tell me!)

The common blue violets have deep purple blooms and heart-shaped leaves. These are the little blue violets that we may find in our lawns, (if we allow the grass to grow), and also in meadows and damp woodlands. Both species mentioned above; Viola papilionacea and V. sororia, have the same characteristics as their more popular relatives, as a remedy for coughs, colds and sore throats. These we may wild-harvest, mindfully. (That is, if you find more than 10 plants, then you may harvest 3-4 plants.)

Common Blue Violet © Rachel Ross

More on Violet Lore and Science

The accounts of their uses abound for all the violets. As far back as 1885, a study compared violet leaf vitamin C content to that of oranges and vitamin A content to that of spinach. From the basal leaves, if collected in spring, this early research reported that violets contain twice as much vitamin C as the same weight of orange and more than twice the amount of vitamin A, gram for gram, when compared with spinach! (Erichsen-Brown, 1979).

Early European recipes made syrup of the blossoms and traditionally it was used as a laxative for infants and children (Grieve, 1996). Sweet violet, also, has a long history of use as a cough remedy, especially bronchitis, and functions as an expectorant, as well as an anti-inflammatory (Hoffman, 2003).

Many of the older European-based herbalists, such as Grieve, who first published A Modern Herbal in 1931, and De Bairacli Levy (1973), note that violet has been used, historically, for the treatment of cancer. In America, there are accounts of Native Americans utilizing violet for cancer treatment (Erichsen-Brown, 1979). To my surprise, the American National Cancer Institute has been made aware of the folk uses of violets for cancer since at least the 1950s. (Erichson-Brown, 1979).

Have we studied this herb for further evidence of violet’s potential effects on cancer? Yes! One recent study concluded that an aqueous Viola extract (i.e. tincture) inhibited the proliferation of activated lymphocytes (Hellinger, 2014) as well as negatively affecting other hyper-responsive immune functions. This indicates that violets may be useful in the therapy of disorders related to an overactive immune system (Hellinger, 2014). This little powerhouse-plant is right here, in our back yards!

Violet Blossoms Are to Eat. Violet Leaves Are to Drink.

On the lighter side, violet flowers have been long used as “sweat meats,” by dipping whole flowers in a mixture of melted cane sugar, lemon juice, and egg-white and then dropping them into cold water to “set hard” the sugar coating (Grieve, 1996).

Seasonally-minded local food restaurants that I have visited use violet blossoms to garnish a fresh spring greens salad or a fresh French Sorrel soup. Their petite deep purple blooms draw our attention to look at them mindfully.

Better still, Juliette writes that violet (blossoms and leaves) have been known to have a relaxing effect by “calming deranged nerves, improving weak memory and soothing restlessness” (De Bairacli Levy, 1973). See below for suggestions for herbal combinations for tea.

Violets are virtuous, vivacious, and valuable! Violets are unassuming but oh, so powerful! They herald our early spring blooms in the wild and garden. Their long history of medicinal use begs that we give them more crucial attention and recognition.

How to Use Violets

You can start with making tea! Fresh herbs or dried may be used. A little can go a long way. I usually use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for a cup of tea or 1 tablespoon per pint or 16 ounces of water. The easiest but less elegant way to brew tea is to put your loose tea into a canning jar, add boiling water and allow it to steep to your desired strength, then strain the herbs. Usually 5-10 minutes of steeping is enough.

Violet Leaf Tea

1 tablespoon of loose tea steeped in 16 ounces of boiling water for about 10 minutes. Strained loose leaves from the jar.

Violet Leaf Tea © Rachel Ross

A Spring Tonic Tea with Violet

Try combining equal amounts of the dried leaves of dandelion, nettle, red clover, violet and mint (peppermint or spearmint). This is a highly nutritious tea.

A Calming Tea with Violet

Combine violet leaves with blue vervain, linden leaf and flower and elderflower. (Garland, 1979) This won’t be sedating but instead will give you an “ahhh” feeling.

Mineral Rich Tea with Violet

Combine violet leaves with alfalfa, horsetail, oatstraw, red clover, hawthorn leaf and flower, chamomile, and raspberry leaves (Soule, 1998). This tea is packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, and calcium.

No side effects or drug interactions have been reported for violets. There are no reported risks for pregnancy or lactation that are noted (Brinker, 2010). Enjoy your violet tea!

Violets are best used as decorative garnishes when it comes to cooking as mentioned above. You may collect a few wild plant blossoms to decorate a salad or garnish a soup. Their blossoms are a beautiful bit of spring to find on your plate or in your bowl.

In the garden, you may want to plant a patch of perennial violets near your entry or add to a perennial border with other plants. Use pansies to circle a small tree in your yard. Or, keep your violets in pots on your sill or deck to admire. They’ll need some shade in the full heat of summer. Keep them watered, and you’ll be able to enjoy them for a good part of the season!

This post was written by Rachel Ross of Hillside Herbals. Rachel grew up between two nature sanctuaries and received a degree in biology and a Masters in Botany. Later, she acquired an RN, and MSN, and is now a practicing Certified Nurse-Midwife. She sees the plants as powerful allies to nourish, strengthen, calm, and heal. Her humble hope is to share this knowing with you.

Photos in this article are provided and copyrighted by Rachel Ross. 


REFERENCES

Brinker, Francis. (2010) Herbal Contraindications and Drug Interactions plus Herbal Adjuncts with Medicines. Fourth Edition. Eclectic Medical Publications, Sandy, Oregon.

De Bairacli Levy, Juliette. (1973) Common Herbs for Natural Health. Schocken Books. New York.

Erichsen-Brown, Charlotte. (1979) Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants; a Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes. Dover Publications. New York.

Garland, Sarah. (1979) The Complete Book of Herbs and spices. Frances Lincoln Publishers Limited. London.

Gleason, Henry, A., and Cronquist, Arthur. (1963) Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern  United States and Adjacent Canada.  D. Van Nostrand Company. New York.

Grieve, M. (1996) A Modern Herbal. Barnes and Noble Books. New York.

Hellinger, R., Koehbach, J., Fedchuck, H., Sauer, B., Huber, R., Gruber, CW., and Grundemann, C., ( 2014)  Immunosuppressive activity of an aqueous Viola tricolor herbal extract.  J. Ethnopharmacol. Jan 10;151(1):299-306.

Hoffman, David. (2003) Medical Herbalism; The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press. Rochester, Vermont.

Miller, Amy Bess. (1998) Shaker Medicinal Herbs; A compendium of history, lore, and uses. Storey Books. Schoolhouse Rd., Pownal, Vermont 05261.

http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=VIPE

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Sphagnum moss and wound care

As I wandered through my yard desperately looking for signs of spring, I have noticed that there is an abundance of moss.  In an effort to try to utilize as many wild things as I can, I decided to look in to the uses for this lovely little plant.  

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There mainly are 2 types of moss – sphagnum moss and sphagnum peat moss. While sphagnum moss is the living top layer of a sphagnum bog, sphagnum peat moss is dead residue beneath this live layer. Hence, before harvesting the sphagnum peat moss from the lower levels of the bog, the harvesters must first remove the top few inches of the live sphagnum moss.  (photos and information from http://www.gardeningoncloud9.com/200903/sphagnum-moss-peat-moss/)  Here in north western Pennsylvania, this is a very common type of moss, found in woodland and marsh areas.  
According to Grieve in A Modern Herbal (written in 1931, and the War that is referenced is World War 1). Every part of the moss is permeated with minute tubes and spaces, resulting in a system of delicate capillary tubes, having the effect of a very fine sponge. The cells readily absorb water and retain it. The water can be squeezed out, but the Moss does not collapse and is ready to take in fluid again.  … The presence of these capillary cells makes Sphagnum economically useful. In horticulture, long before the war, this Moss had a marketable value, in combination with peat fibre, being widely used as a rooting medium for orchids, on account of the remarkable manner in which it retains moisture, a handful when wet being like a sponge, and when chopped and mixed with soil in pots preventing moisture passing too quickly through the soil. … And though it is only in quite recent years that Sphagnum Moss has come to the fore in the dressing of wounds, bygone generations recognized its value for this purpose. A Gaelic Chronicle of 1014 relates that the wounded in the battle of Clontarf ‘stuffed their wounds with moss,’ and the Highlanders after Flodden stanched their bleeding wounds by filling them with bog moss and soft grass. Stricken deer are known to drag their wounded limbs to beds of Sphagnum Moss. The Kashmiri have used it from time immemorial and so have the Esquimaux. An old writer says:’the Lapland matrons are well acquainted with this moss. They dry it and lay it in their children’s cradles to supply the place of mattress, bolster and every covering, and being changed night and morning, it keeps the infant remarkable clean, dry and warm.’

The growing plant, with its underlying layers of withered stems and leaves, is collected, picked clean from other plants, pineneedles, etc., and dried. It is then lightly packed in bags of butter-muslin, which are sterilized before being placed on the wound.

Sphagnum Moss has important advantages (as an absorbent) over cotton-wool. Many materials, including other kinds of moss, are equally soft and light, but none can compare with it in power of absorption, due to its sponge-like structure. Prepared Sphagnum can absorb more than twice as much moisture as cotton, a 2-OZ. dressing absorbing up to 2 lb. Even the best prepared cottonwool lacks the power to retain discharges possessed by Sphagnum. A pad of Sphagnum Moss absorbs the discharge in lateral directions, as well as immediately above the wound, and holds it until fully saturated in all parts of the dressing before allowing any to escape. The even absorption of the moss is one of its chief virtues, for the patient is saved a good deal of disturbance, since the dressing does not require to be changed so frequently.

In civil hospitals, in times of peace, the deficiencies of cotton-wool are not so much noticed, the majority of wounds being those made by surgeons under ideal conditions, but for a variety of reasons the wounds of our men at the front were of such a suppurating character as to require specially absorbent dressings, and overworked doctors and nurses constantly expressed themselves thankful for a dressing that lasted longer than cotton-wool. Time and suffering are saved, as well as expense: the absorbent pads of moss are soft, elastic and very comfortable, easily packed and convenient to handle.

—Preparation of the Dressings—The moss after being dried and carefully picked over is now ready for the dressings. All used in home hospitals is put up loosely in small, flat muslin bags, of a fairly close but very thin muslin, the bags only being loosely filled (as a rule 2 OZ. of the moss to each bag, 10 inches by 14 inches), as allowance has to be made for the way in which the moss swells on being brought into contact with moisture.

Sphagnum Moss pads are supplied both plain and sterilized (sublimated), some hospitals preferring to sterilize them themselves, but a considerable proportion being sterilized at the depots and sent out ready for use. The filled bags are passed through a solution of corrosive sublimate by a worker in rubber gloves, squeezed through a little mangle and dried again, that they may return to the specified weight, for after the bath they are 2 OZ. too heavy. The object of sublimating the moss is not for any antiseptic effect on a wound (as of course it does not come into direct contact with the skin) but to neutralize the discharge which may come through the inner dressings.

For use in field-hospitals, etc., the moss is packed in compressed cakes cut to a certain size, which are more conveniently packed for sending abroad than the soft dressings, these small slabs being also placed, each in a muslin bag, very much too large for the size of the dry cake put in them, for obvious reasons. There was a munition factory in Scotland, where much of the moss was sublimated and part of it compressed by hydraulic power into these cakes. The very hydraulic press which one hour was molding shell bases, was in the next devoting its energy to compressing the healing cakes of Sphagnum Moss.

Sphagnum Moss was also used during the War in conjunction with Garlic, one of the best antiseptics. The Government bought up tons of the bulbs, which were sent out to the front; the raw juice expressed, diluted with water, was put on swabs of sterilized Sphagnum Moss and applied to wounds. Where this treatment was adopted there were no specific complications, and thousands of lives were thus saved.

http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mossph54.html