Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Violets: breast health, first aid and they taste good, so cherish them.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -

Anyone who considers violets an undesirable weed should be the first with their backs against the wall when the revolution comes.

Weed? Pfffft. 

Violets are both food and medicine; they're a gift, a blessing, and sometimes a prophecy.

When I found our lawn producing (far) more violets than usual last summer, I took the hint and harvested the leaves like mad. Violet is a cut & come again plant, so the more you cut, the more you get - I like that in a plant ally. It was a lousy year for getting things to dry, so I made tinctures and infused oils; sure enough, over the course of the winter there came several occasions on which violet was very much a blessing to have on hand. Thank-you violet.

The wood chopping zone. Good place for violets.

Violets are moistening.

Violets are drawing.

Violets are dissolving.

Violets are cooling.

What does all this mean? Well, let's say you've been chopping wood and you get a splinter. But you don't notice it at first, and when you do, it's gone deep, under a calloused part of your hand. It's getting a bit hot and achy, but you can't get to it because it's sealed under that callous. If you smash up some violet leaf and bind it on somehow (you can simmer it, if you want, or just use raw), then the violet will moisten and soften the callous. It will draw out and cool the infection, possibly the splinter, too, at least so you can get to it, or it might actually dissolve it, if it's small.

Handy, eh?

Violet will do the same for anything festering & angry or weird and lumpy. Sometimes you can get small hard lumps under the sole of your feet. These things. I had one. The treatment options listed didn't exactly inspire my confidence in any MD's ability to help me:

"Asymptomatic fibromas may be observed. Painful fibromas may be treated with an off-loading insole or pad. Surgery is done for symptomatic fibromas when conservative treatment fails to give adequate pain relief. The recurrence rate is low for fibromas and significantly higher for plantar fibromatosis and in revision cases. Risks of surgery include wound complications, injury to local structures such as the digital nerves, and recurrence."

Mine was aching; although not excruciating, it was annoying and not going away on its own. Knowing violet's reputation for being 'dissolving', I decided to try some of the violet leaf ointment I'd made. I rubbed it on (in counter-clockwise circles) every night before bed, every morning, and whenever I thought about it. After several days it really began to shrink, and now? I can barely feel it, even if I press hard. Gone? No, but it probably would be if I'd kept up the treatment - not my strong point. If it bothers me again, I'll do the same. I'm happy with the outcome. In that case, it was the dissolving action. Nothing came to the surface, there was no infection to draw out, just a weird little lump, disappearing like magic.
Violet with selfheal. Self heal makes a nice addition to any herbal formula.

Violet is also the first thing to reach for if you have a scary little lump in your breast. Yes, really. Now sure, you can take that to your MD, and if that's what you want to do then I support you. But for some of us, that's the path of absolutely last resort. Midwives and other healers have long known the value of violet for those scary moments. Here's one herbalist's story (and there are others if you care to research it)

 "Years ago I went to dinner with a doctor friend. She mentioned that she had found a lump in her breast, not because she was probing, but because it was so large it stuck out. She had set herself up to have a mammogram the next week. Remembering that, according to Susun Weed, violet leaf “has an affinity for the breasts,” dissolving fibrous tissue, hardened calcium deposits, mastitis and “undiagnosed’ breast lumps, I sent her home with a violet leaf tincture to apply topically and take internally, three drops three times a day.

We met the day before her mammogram. The lump had shrunk so much she had to probe to find it. We both agree it must have been a cyst. The next day she called me from the hospital. They had biopsied and diagnosed it as the fastest growing cell cancer possible and they wanted to operate and remove the breast as well as the lymph nodes. The size of the lump indicated that it must have spread already. She refused treatment seeing the success of violet leaf. A month and a half later she had all sorts of tests done to diagnose the progress of the disease. Nothing anywhere. From there the story goes on but it usually takes an hour to tell verbally. Suffice it to say that strength is often hidden in the mildest of packages."

We're taught to be so afraid of cancer that anything odd about our breasts puts a chill in our hearts. Thing is, breasts can and do get all kinds of weird lumps and bumps, some cancer, some not. Did the woman above have cancer? Were her docs over reacting? We don't know. (I DO know that if you want to learn everything you can about looking after 'the girls', you should check out Susun Weed's excellent book "Breast Cancer? Breast Health!" )

Violet and a tiny chickweed/carpetweed flower among assorted groundcovers. Come to think of it, chickweed is also dissolving, it would be nice to combine with violet in a formula for the breasts.

Any and all members of the violet family are useful, including those darling little wild pansies we call johnny-jump-ups, which are said, in herbal lore, to have an affinity for the heart. All violets have pain relieving and anti-inflammatory qualities, too.

Johnny-jump-up (seen here with creeping charlie and creeping jenny)

Of course, you can candy the flowers if you're ambitious, although mine tend to turn into little lumps they're still tasty. Syrups, for those who have a bumper crop of flowers, or 'violet sugar', simply the dried flowers pounded with sugar til it all turns delightfully purple. I prefer just to graze on one or two when I'm in the garden, they have a wonderful crunch to them. The leaves, when small and new are lovely as a nibble as well. If you like, you can put them into salads or even, at the last moment or two, into a soup. Don't boil them.

Violet leaves can be dried and used all winter as poultices, or you can make teas or infusions (long steeped teas). They offer moisture that's somehow wetter than just water alone can provide, soothing to a dry constitution. You can make a eye compress from the leaves you used for your tea, or put them in a home made facial concoction. That slippery quality helps with constipation, too, of course (along with a proper diet).

Another nice combination - slippery violets with strengthening horsetail under a wild rose, soothing and astringent. A mouthwash perhaps? When you gather your medicines, look to their neighbours, it's amazing the ideas you'll get.

I was very pleased with the infused oil that I made last summer, and will make more this year. I like to let the leaves get large and leathery before I make my oil, less moisture ensures better keeping qualities. The usual method applies here - chopped plant material picked on the third dry day in a row, I use olive oil but you can use whatever your favourite may be, make sure the leaves stay submerged, put your jar on a saucer in case of oozing and watch carefully for mould. Keep it out of the sun, and in 6 weeks, strain. From there you can combine it with other favourite oils or make balms or ointments for all sorts of things. I've recently learned that a teaspoon or so of coarse salt  added to the strained oil attracts any stray moisture and holds it in the bottom of the jar, so the oils keep better. Nice trick, I hope to lose fewer oils in our awful humid summers because if it.

Hey! That's not violet! No, it's the shiny new leaves and tiny almost-blossoms of wild grape. It works its way everywhere in our garden and apparently into blog posts now too .. 

As usual, I have barely touched the surface of today's featured plant. Also as usual, jim mcdonald has much more to say on the matter, and here's a quick word from Kiva Rose . Last but definitely not least, Susun Weed devotes an entire chapter to "Aunt Vi" in her book Healing Wise .

Now maybe someone out there can help me with something - I have scads of a variegated low-growing plant that I do not know the name of. Pictured below (with more violets of course). Can anyone enlighten me?

Violets with ?????

Addendum: It seems the above plant is Bishops's Weed (aka gout weed, as Navillus suggested). It seems it is also much detested by most people who have it. It's just right in that corner of our yard though, and playing nicely with its neighbours. So far.


  1. Roses are red.
    Violets are blue.
    Thanks for this post!
    Now I know what to do.

  2. No one can tell me,
    Nobody knows,
    Where the violet comes from,
    Where the violet goes.

  3. It could be goutweed. Love the taste of violet leaves. I have violet tincture in my arsenal now I will make some infused oil. I earlier made some violet cream but just simmered the flowers in some coconut oil and then left it to cool over night and strained it after 24 hours.

    1. Yes, it could be goutweed. Rather unromantic name, we call it Glebe weed after a Victorian era neighbourhood in Ottawa where it grows around the foundations of all the old houses.

      Well, clearly, with everything you are doing with your violets, you will be safe when the revolution comes! Good for you :-)

  4. Great post, doll! Better copy and paste this one to my notebook. Pretty sure unknown plant is variegated vinca. It's all under and around my deck.

    1. I don't think it's a vinca. This one has triangular stems, does your vinca have those?

      Follow those links I left too!

  5. Roses are red
    Violets are blue
    Christine eats flowers
    So should too.

    1. Ha! So much poetry. You'll be eating flowers soon too.

  6. I've just started reading your blog.The plant is called ground elder in the UK.Aegopodium podagraria.The romans used to eat it.

    1. Thanks Dave, so that's the (dreaded) ground elder is it? I used to read novels by Beverly Nichols, a gardener, and it was mentioned frequently and with unflattering adjectives. Yet it's lovely in the variegated form.