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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Skullcap Herb: A restorative relaxing nervine

Photo Credit: Traci Picard from Fellow Workers Farm

Scientific name: Scutellaria lateriflora, plus many other Scutellaria species. 
Common name: American skullcap
Family: Lamiaceae
Parts used: aerial portions
Plant Energetics: bitter, cool
Plant Properties: relaxing nervine, clear heat, anodyne, antispasmodic
Used for: stress, anxiety, pain, muscle spasms, insomnia, panic attacks, seizures, twitching, teething
Plant Preparations: tincture, tea, smoking herb, massage oil

Skullcap herb is an amazing plant for stress, tension, anxiety, nervousness and panic attacks. This article will give an herbalist's perspective on skullcap uses and skullcap health benefits as well as share tips for using skullcap tincture and skullcap tea. We'll even look at the effects when smoking skullcap.

Wondering where to buy skullcap tea? Throughout this article I have links to my favorite places to buy skullcap tea, skullcap tincture and even a place to buy skullcap smoking blends. Some of these links are affiliate links. 

Energetically american skullcap is a bitter herb with cooling properties, making it most useful for those with signs of heat. While doing research for this article I found many herbalists had favorite skullcap uses and decided to include many of those pearls of wisdom in this article. 

Skullcap uses in Herbal Medicine...

Skullcap for anxiety: a relaxing nervine…

If I were pressed to simply list one application for skullcap herb it would be its ability to relieve stress and anxiety. It works well in acute situations and can be taken over time to decrease chronic stress (along with lifestyle modifications of course). 

It works well for acute and sudden onset anxiety or panic attacks. For people susceptible to sudden onset anxiety or panic attacks, fresh skullcap tincture can be kept on them at all times. 

Experienced herbal medic, Sam Coffman, shares his reliance on skullcap herb for shock-related anxiety. 

Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.) and Passionflower are two that have never failed me as a formula to help someone cope quickly with shock-related anxiety. 
Sam Coffman
Plant Healer Magazine 11

Not just for acute cases, skullcap can be taken over time as a nerve tonic to support nervous system health in people who have been through prolonged periods of stress and feel like their nerves are constantly on edge. Again I like skullcap tincture for this and I often combine it with a fresh tincture of milky oats (Avena sativa)

As herbalists we have many relaxing nervines that are specific to anxiety. However, many of these herbs also promote drowsiness (e.g. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Kava (Piper methysticum), Hops (Humulus lupulus)). One of the benefits of skullcap herb is its ability to relieve acute anxiety without causing a lot of drowsiness. 

Skullcap herb is often best for those with signs of heat and excitation. This can manifest in different ways but some common characteristics include people who are easily overheated, who are more irritable in hot weather, tend to have “type A” personalities, a red tongue (possible yellow coating) and a fast or intermittent pulse. 

Sean Donahue explains this further: 

The excited tissue state is marked by over stimulation, hyper-reactivity, processes moving too fast, increased metabolism, and increased heat. The most common presentation I see of mental and emotional excitation is irritability and anxiety brought on by overstimulation, made worse by heat and brightness. Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) works wonders in calming this kind of excitation. The tincture will do nicely, but smoked Skullcap will enter the bloodstream more quickly. It combines nicely with Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) when circular thinking or spiraling 
thoughts are part of the picture. 
Sean Donahue 
Plant Healer Magazine 12

For muscle twitching and spasms…

Skullcap is also admired for its ability to reduce muscle twitches and involuntary muscle spasms. Many entries in the Eclectic literature state it was a favorite for “chorea” (involuntary muscle spasms) and was often combined with black cohosh  (Actaea racemosa) for calming these spasms. 

It is also used for premenstrual tension and cramping, TMJ pain and restless legs. 

Scullcap herb (Scutellaria lateriflora) – is a superb nervine that is especially effective for nervous people who develop tremors, palsies, nervous tics, bruxism, and muscle spasms. For people with ADHD it is indicated for irritability, repetitive movements, outbursts of anger, and oversensitivity to external influences. For this last condition use it with Fresh Oat, Rose petals, Sweet Birch, and Holy Basil. Scullcap needs to be used in significant doses over long periods of time, but it can be very effective when used correctly. 
David Winston
AHG Proceedings 2013

Skullcap Uses for Insomnia due to circular thinking…

Skullcap for sleep: As a relaxing nervine skullcap herb is commonly used to relax a busy mind at night to promote sleep. Another insomnia indication is for someone who has tense muscles and can’t relax enough naturally to fall asleep. Restless legs at night could also be calmed with skullcap (though I would also consider magnesium in these cases).

The skullcap tincture does not seem to be as strong outright sedative, but is often combined with stronger sedative herbs like Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Taking a tip from Paul Bergner I’ve found that strong infusion of skullcap tea can be a stronger sedative than the tincture, which gives more overt feelings of drowsiness. If you want to use skullcap for sleep, make a strong skullcap tea!

I see it most useful for people who constantly need to take charge. They make constant contingency plans and feel personally insulted when things don’t go their way. They may have insomnia and cannot initially fall asleep due to thinking about all the things they could have done differently that day. 
Skullcap Monograph

Here's a nighttime tea blend from Mountain Rose Herbs which includes skullcap tea as well as passionflower, hibiscus, lemon balm, hops, valerian and lavender. 

Skullcap Uses for Pain…

Skullcap herb is a mild anodyne herb and is particularly suited to relieving pain due to muscle tension. Historically it was used for numerous types of pain, including toothaches and menstrual pain. It was also used for irritability brought on by the pain of teething.  

Different Scutellaria species…

While Scutellaria lateriflora often gets most of the attention, many different species within the Scutellaria genus are used in similar ways, including S. galericulata, S. canescens, S. cordifolia. and others. 

Baical Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)

Baical Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) is a Chinese medicinal that is in the same genus but is used differently. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-viral herb that is commonly used for infections and fevers. 

Botanically Speaking…
Photo Credit

American Skullcap herb is a perennial herb that likes to grow in wet places such as near marshes, streams, and other damp areas. 

Here is the range map for Scutellaria lateriflora (sometimes called American Skullcap)

It grows from 60-80 centimeters in height and produces purple flowers that grow up the side of one stem from the leaf axils. 

This member of the mint family is not aromatic. 

Skullcap Photo Credit: 7Song

The Skullcaps (Scutellaria spp.) have a distinctive feature making them easier to identify. There is a distinctive cap (generally called a ‘protuberance’) on the upper side of the calyx (see photo). This part has given them both their genus and common name. A ‘scute’ is a plate or scales, similar to those found on lizard, alluding to the protuberance, as is the name skullcap. 
Plant Healer Magazine 11

Wildcrafting Skullcap…

Different species of skullcap grow across North America. While these plants aren’t explicitly endangered they could easily be over-harvested since they don’t grow in profusion. 

It’s important to keep ethical wildcrafting considerations in mind when harvesting this plant such as making sure there are well developed stands in the vicinity, leaving healthy populations behind and being respectful of the ecosystem it lives by, avoiding over trampling the area. 

Herbalist Darcy Williamson recommends the following harvesting techniques. 

Pick the flowering herb, taking only the top 2/3rds of the blooms, leaving the lower ones to form seeds. Be certain to harvest from a large, healthy colony and take only one out of every ten flowers.
Darcy Williamson

Plant Preparations…

Skullcap can be prepared as a tincture, tea, oil infusion or even smoked. Here are some basic suggestions for each preparation. 

Skullcap Tincture
Skullcap Photo Credit: Liz Butler
Skullcap extract is best tinctured when fresh. I prefer 95% alcohol at a 1:2 ratio but have seen other herbalists use as low as 40% alcohol. The standard recommended dose is 3–5 ml three times per day. I have not seen adverse effects when using larger dosages. As always, it’s best to start with the lowest dose and slowly work up until the individual’s dosage is found. 

Skullcap Tea 
A strong tea of skullcap is strongly sedative. If you are drinking skullcap tea for sleep then drinking a lot of liquid before bedtime isn’t a great idea. I recommend five grams of skullcap infused in 8 ounces of water for 15 minutes. This can be drank an hour before desired bed time. Total recommended dose per day is 6-15 grams. 

King’s American Dispensatory recommends the following amounts for skullcap tea: 

Half an ounce of the recently dried leaves or herb, to 1/2 pint 
of boiling water, will make a very strong infusion. 
Kings American Dispensatory

If you are interested in drinking a skullcap tea made with a blend of herbs I recommend Fairytale Tea from Mountain Rose Herbs. 

Often formulated
While skullcap is often used as a simple (as a single herb) it is also commonly formulated with other relaxing nervines or sedative herbs. While researching this article I commonly saw formulas with skullcap and the following herbs: 

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) 
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Smoking Skullcap
Many herbalists rave about the effects when smoking skullcap. It has the swift ability to resolve anxiety when used in an herbal smoking mixture. If you are interested in smoking blends check out my friend Erin's Pipe Tea Herbals store. 

Massage oil
Skullcap can be used as an external massage oil to relax muscle tension and pain. The following recipe comes from Darcy Williamson from her excellent collection of 130 Monographs

Skullcap Massage Oil 
1½ cups flowering Skullcap tops
½ cup fresh Tall Sagebrush leaves
2 tbsp. dried Cottonwood buds
½ cup jojoba oil
½ cup sweet almond oil
Combine ingredients in a quart jar and cover loosely with several layers of cheesecloth. Allow mixture to stand in a warm place for three weeks. Heat jar in a pan of warm water for 15 minutes to liquefy oil, and then strain.
Darcy Williamson

Skullcap Side Effects
Skullcap side effects are rare and it is considered a safe herb that can be used by most people. 

Can you use skullcap while pregnant? The Botanical Safety Handbook says there is no evidence that skullcap is contraindicated in pregnancy and lactation but safety has not been proven. 

A few decades ago skullcap was wrongly accused of causing liver damage. We now attribute these claims to adulterated herbs. As always, it’s important to buy your herbs from reputable sources. (I buy most of my herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs because I know they independently test their herbs for contaminants.) 

In the late 1980’s several disturbing cases of purported skullcap-induced hepatotoxicity were reported (DeSmet 1997). In each case the products used were multi-herb formulas, and each contained what was purported to be skullcap. However, none were investigated for content and the botanical germander (also known as pink skullcap; Teucrium canadense), a known hepatotoxin  has been a relatively common adulterant of the skullcap 
market for decades and persists today 
AHP Monograph


Skullcap herb is a reliable relaxing nervine that is especially beneficial for people who have signs of heat and tension. It can be prepared in a variety of ways with tinctures and as a smoking herb, being most appropriate for acute situations and the strong infusion being best for promoting drowsiness. 

Herbalists use skullcap as a simple but also tend to formulate it with other relaxing nervines. Whether used by itself or in herbal formulas, skullcap is a favorite herb for relieving stress and anxiety. 

Further Resources
AHP Monograph

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Benefits of Coriander


Scientific name: Coriandrum sativum

Family: Umbelliferae (Parsley family)

Parts used: fruit/seed, root, leaf (cilantro)

Taste: pungent

Energetics: warming, drying, aromatic

Plant Properties: antispasmodic, carminative, antimicrobial, anti-fungal, diuretic, antioxidant

Plant Uses: culinary, gas, bloating, belching, hiccups, diarrhea, indigestion, anodyne, modulate blood sugar, UTIs, high blood pressure, optimize cholesterol levels

Plant Preparations: culinary, tea, pastilles, formulated with bitter herbs, curries, compress

Cilantro vs. Coriander
The Coriandrum sativum plant produces two distinct kinds of culinary and medicinal herbs. 

The leaves are commonly referred to as cilantro. They are aromatic and cooling in nature and have a decidedly different taste than the seeds. 

The fruit of the Coriandrum sativum plant are referred to as coriander seeds. They have a pungent taste that is warming and drying. Coriander seeds are a medicinal plant and a common culinary spice. 

This article focuses on coriander seeds. 

Coriander is reputably one of the oldest known medicinal spices and it has been used for at least 7,000 years. The spice was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen (Mars) and the seeds were mentioned in the Bible. 

The seeds were a common ingredient in love potions in the middle ages and it was an official medicine in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 until 1980.

During WWII the seeds were covered in sugar and sold as candy. They have also been used in a similar manner for kids with tummy aches. 

Coriander has a long history of use for preserving meat and it was often combined with vinegar for these purposes. Corned beef is a popular example of coriander spiced meat. 

Coriander seeds are used in distilling spirits, notably the French Chartreuse. It is also a common ingredient in Belgian beers. 

People in the US eat more than 900,000 pounds of coriander a year, most of which is found in meats such as sausages and also pastries and sweets. (Aggarwal)

It’s almost impossible to use too much coriander. (In North American cuisine, some recipes call for it by the cupful!) In fact, coriander can fix a lot of errors in cooking. If you’ve gone too heavy on a particular spice in a dish, add the same amount of ground coriander, which should correct the flavor. This works particularly well when you’ve overdone a strong spice such as clove or cinnamon. 
Bharat Aggarwal
Healing Spices

Medicinal Use

Coriander is a fairly straightforward herb but it does have a few surprising uses. 

For digestion…
It is best known as a carminative herb. It has a pungent taste that is warming and drying, which makes it a perfect match for damp and cold digestive problems. 

Signs of damp and cold digestion include frequent bloating, belching, a heavy feeling in the abdomen, a cold feeling in the abdomen, loose stools with undigested food, a thick white tongue coating, scallops on the side of the tongue and fatigue. 

Coriander is an important corrigent herb. Corrigent herbs are added in small amounts to formulas to help balance them. Sometimes they are used to improve the flavor of a formula. Coriander is often added to bitter formulas to improve the taste. It is often added to laxative formulas to prevent the griping caused by herbs like senna and rhubarb. 

Regulate blood sugar… 
Coriander seeds have a mild effect on blood sugar levels and could be part of a larger protocol to help regulate blood sugar levels. 

For heart health…
Coriander seeds have numerous benefits for the heart. They have been shown to lower blood pressure, optimize cholesterol levels and they are strongly antioxidant, which can support heart health.

For infections…
Coriander is a mild antimicrobial herb. It’s been shown to be effective against fungal infections like candida. It’s also both diuretic and antimicrobial, making it a great herb for urinary tract infections.  

I’ve seen many references to coriander being used for cold and flu symptoms. Being a pungent spice we can surmise it would be beneficial for wind/cold fevers and mucus congestion. I have not found any contemporary references to herbalists regularly using coriander for colds and the flu. 

For cancer…
Coriander has been studied for its ability to prevent cancer. Promising results have been shown for preventing colon cancer. Another interesting study showed the roots as having strong antioxidant activity that could “prevent oxidative stress-related diseases”.

Botanically Speaking

Native to the Mediterranean, coriander is now found growing wild as well as cultivated all over the world. 

Depending on the climate it can grow as an annual or as a biannual. It grows from 2 to three feet high. 

The aromatic leaves (called cilantro) are compound and made up of leaflets. They grow in an alternative pattern. 

The flowers grow in an umbel and have five petals and five stamens. 

The fruits are round and a dull yellow or tan color. They measure about 2-6 mm. Coriander fruits are commonly referred to as the seeds. 

Plant Preparations

The most common way to use coriander is as a culinary spice. It is frequently used in curry mixes and North African cuisines. For best results buy the whole seeds and then grind them up fresh. The whole seeds are often roasted before grinding them. If you want to buy ground coriander buy them from a reputable source and only buy in small quantities. Ground coriander loses a lot of its flavor fairly quickly. 

Besides culinary use there are a number of other medicinal preparations for coriander seeds. 

They can be used externally as a poultice or a compress for menstrual cramps, arthritic joints, and headaches. 

Seeds can be ground into a paste and used on mouth and skin ulcers. (Khalsa, Tierra)

It is frequently added to other formulas to help improve the taste or to prevent intestinal spasms (common with laxative formulas). 

The seeds can be made into a tea. A cold infusion is recommended or a hot infusion that is covered immediately. 

The recommended dosage of coriander is  2.5 - 5 grams (Khalsa)

Coriander roots are also edible and are used in Asian cuisine. 

Special Considerations

Coriander seeds are considered safe for most people; however, a small number of people are severely allergic to coriander. 

People who are on blood-regulating medication or using insulin should have their blood sugar levels monitored if they are regularly taking coriander as it could lower their blood sugar levels. 


Coriander is a common culinary spice that has been used by humans for thousands of years. Its main use is for stagnant and cold digestion and has long played an important role in balancing formulas. Besides being used to support healthy digestion, coriander also has many benefits for the heart and for regulating blood sugar levels. 

Cited Resources

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lemon Balm Iced Tea Recipe Card

Do you have kids in your life? 

Herb Fairies is an amazing resource for inspiring children to explore herbalism. 

This book club was creating by my friends and affiliate partners John and Kimberly from LearningHerbs. It's a complete book club with stories, activities, journals and other inspiring ways for your kids to learn about plants and their remedies. 

When I first read the HerbFairies stories I was inspired to create an herbal cookbook to to along with the stories. For the next week only you can download an ebook with 13 recipes that are perfect for making with kids.  

You can download a free herbal cookbook I wrote for a limited time by clicking this link. 

I also have a special recipe card for you to download today. Here's a sneak peak at some of the fun recipes and activities included in the HerbFairies book club. 

Click on the image below to download your recipe card. 

Learn more about HerbFairies and download your free cookbook by clicking the image below. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Create the best day ever!

The Herb Fairies are here! 

Do you have kids in your life? 

Would you like to share your love of herbs with them? 

Herb Fairies is a magical tale about plants and their remedies that inspires kids to learn about herbs.

These stories were written by my friend Kimberly Gallagher, and are a fun and beautiful way to inspire the kids in your life to be interested in herbs. 

I know how much kids love these because I've seen it with my own eyes. 

While I don't have kids of my own I am an honorary auntie to Pearl who is six and a mentor to Tova who is almost 13. I've been reading these stories to Pearl and Tova for years and they both adore them. 

Last year I was spending some time with Pearl and she was coming down with a bit of a cold. She requested that we make elderberry syrup (happy to oblige!) and then we read Herb Fairies together. 

When her mom returned home that day Pearl exclaimed, "I had the best day ever! We got to make elderberry syrup and read Herb Fairies." 

I am so glad that is what makes for a "best day ever". I was also so proud Pearl knows about elderberry syrup and how much it can help her when she is sick. That is pretty cool! 

I first started reading the HerbFairies series while Kimberly was in the first stages of writing them. I was so impressed with the books that I was personally inspired to write recipes to go along with each of the stories. 

You can now download your own copy of the HerbFairies Cookbook which includes 13 of these recipes here...  


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Violet Herb - A guest post by jim mcdonald

I am very honored to be hosting this guest post from Michigan Herbalist jim mcdonald.

jim is one of my favorite herbalists to learn from. He has a rare gift of sharing his unique herbal insights through wonderful analogies and his eclectic wit. Spending time with jim means a lot of laughing as well as gaining insights into the plant world you don't hear anywhere else. 

jim offers a Four Season Herbal Intensive that gives students a core foundation in herbal energetics in western herbalism with a strong focus on bioregional herbs. 

Participants will learn how to become herbalists who make their own herbal preparations to address the health and wellness of themselves and their friends and family from the plants that grow around them 

If you are interested in expanding your herbal knowledge I highly recommend studying with jim. He has a limited amount of spaces left in his herbal intensive, contact him ASAP if you are interested.

Scientific name: any of numerous Viola species 
Family: Violaceae
Energetics: cooling, moistening
Foundational actions: primarily demulcent; astringent, bitter as indicated by taste.  Some species have aromatic flowers.

Here at my home in southeast Michigan these early March days have gotten warmer, hinting of the coming Spring, but there’s still a few feet of snow covering everything, making the promise of tender green leaves feel farther away than perhaps it is.  Recently, I’ve taken to standing at the top of my ice covered driveway and looking under the 5 feet of plowed up snow, beneath which a multitude of violets are sleeping.  I’m seriously feening those violets.  

There are many species of violet, and as a genus they are prolific… the USDA website indicates Viola species grow in every state and province in North America, though it’s important to note that 33 species are threatened or endangered in at least part of their range.  Fortunately, most species tend to grow in abundant stands, covering the ground with their (often) heart shaped leaves and welcoming spring with their delicate blossoms.  Despite the common name "violet", they flowers range from the palest of blues to white and yellow in addition to the light purple “violet” we imagine.  The heartsease pansy, Viola tricolor, offers three colors in one, but I’ve not yet seen it growing in the wild in the part of Michigan in which I live.  Interestingly, the springtime blossom of the violet isn't a reproductive flower - these appear in late summer and are an inconspicuous green.  The violet's spring blossoms have therefore been seen as a celebration of life and the rebirth of Spring, and are believed to banish despair and "comfort and strengthen the heart."

I collect leaves and flowers each spring, and have found that if you keep picking them, new leaves (though not flowers) keep growing; therefore, the plant is available for year round consumption.  Lise Wolff, of Minneapolis, prefers to collect older leaves in the summer.  I find violet sensitive to degradation, so be sure to store it in glass away from heat or light.  The demulcent and nutritive qualities are more stable, its lymphatic actions seem less so.  Violet seeds and roots contain a constituent that acts as an emetic, and are not regularly used.  As mentioned above, there are threatened and endangered viola species.  Know the status of what you collecting in your area.  “There’s a lot of them” doesn’t cut it; you can find local abundance amidst regional scarcity.

Medicinally, “violets” (on the whole, members of the genus seem broadly interchangeable) are exemplary in demonstrating that immense benefit needn’t be associated with the dramatic strength and medicinal intensity… something we should all try to keep in mind.  On a foundational level, violets nourish.  First and foremost: eat them.  They’re delicious; when the leaves are young and tender they’re sweet and green tasting; as they get older, some species develop more bitterness, perhaps some astringency.  Add them liberally to salads, and pluck some out of the ground whenever you walk by.  Oddly, for all the popularity of nourishing infusions in the herbal community, violets are still, in my opinion, too rarely prepared as such.  Violet is rich in minerals, and especially abundant in vitamins A & C. They’re a perfect alternative or addition to those who try nettles, and find its diuretic effect too drying for their constitution.  Whereas many will suggest adding marshmallow or licorice (licorice has never sounded even remotely tasty to me), I find violet a much better compliment.  Indeed, it might be the case that those with drier constitutions should think in terms of adding some nettle to their violet infusions.  To most effectively extract the nutrition from violets, add an ounce of dried leaves & flowers to a quart of water just off the boil and steep overnight.  A wondrous sippin’ tea can be made by steeping any arbitrary amount of fresh or dried leaves/flowers in hot water till cool enough to sip.  Although nutrients are probably less efficiently extracted from the fresh plant, the tea just tastes wholesome and healthful.  Mince up the fresh leaves fine to optimize extraction.   

Oh, wait… how do you know if you have a dry constitution?  That’s a good question.  Is your mouth frequently dry?  Your throat?  If you get a head or chest cold, do your mucous membranes tend to feel dry and tight, as opposed to stuffy and congested?  Is your skin dry?  Do you tend to have darker, stronger smelling urine?  Those are good indicators.  Of course, hydration is important, and getting enough good quality fats and oils in the diet.  But violet will help in addition to that, especially for dryness of the mucous membranes.

Violets contain a mucilage that accounts for a substantial portion of its medicinal merit, and this quality can easily be experienced by simply munching on the plant's delicious leaves and flowers, which will release the slippery mucilage... the more mucilaginous, the more potent the medicinal virtues associated with that.  Mucilage coats, soothes and lubricates tissues, which will ease the pain of inflammation and promote the healing of those tissues.  The fresh leaves can be chewed for a sore throat (try keeping a wad in your cheek, the way some people chew tobacco), or a tincture or tea of the plant used.  The mucilage also helps to loosen and expel mucous from the lungs when it’s too dry for coughing to expel.  A mild tea of fresh or dried violet leaves can be made into a nasal rinse by added ¼ teaspoon salt per 8 ounce cup of well strained tea, and it is wonderfully soothing when dryness accompanies inflammation of the sinuses.  This same preparation can be used as an eyewash and is really quite impressive; use it when the eyes are dry and blinking feels like someone’s scratching sandpaper over your cornea.  For both eye and nasal rinses, it combines well with a slew of other herbs, from plantain to strawberry leaves to purple loosestrife (I almost always use plantain).  Violets have a reputation for acting as a laxative; this results from the mucilage helping to lubricate the intestines, helping to ease the passage of stool if it is inhibited by dryness.  Along the way, it will help soothe corollary inflammation.  To really manifest violet’s full potential here, infusions are preferable to tinctures, as they provide a volume of liquid to bathe and coat the tissues of the digestive tract.  Topically, violet oil or salve helps ease the discomfort of hemorrhoids: apply liberally.  Sits in violet infused sitz baths are likewise helpful.  Chewed violet leaves, perhaps with a bit of honey, can be applied to corns and can sometimes soften calluses and tough skin.  They would also make an appropriate poultice for any hot, inflamed swelling, be it bite or boil.  

Violets also seem to act notably upon the lymphatics, and are quite useful in acute congested states.  If you’re just getting sick, your glands are swollen, tender and hot to the touch, violet internally and topically can be immensely helpful.  I have a tendency to use a tincture of the fresh plant for internal use, though I may add this to a tea of the dried leaves and flowers, especially if the tonsils are swollen and inflamed.  The topical applications usually feel immediately soothing.  Violet can address older, chronic, “stuck” lymphatics as well, as it “softens” hardnesses to resolve blockage.  So, those swollen, tender and hot-to-the-touch glands?  They’re not tender and hot to the touch anymore, but they are still swollen, and they feel hard when you press on them.  In such cases, I feel violet combines well with a small amount of poke; like violet, internally as tincture (1-3 drops of poke mixed into squirt of violet) and topically infused violet oil with no more than ¼  part fresh poke root oil.  Poke on its own is irritating and instigating and not infrequently causes inflammation; violet balances and buffers that effect while assisting in the resolution of the congested lymph gland.  

Violet is especially well noted for its ability to resolve swellings and hardnesses in the breasts.  Being abundant in lymphatic tissue, this makes sense, and I’ve used violet oil topically for fibrosyctic breast conditions, plugged milk ducts and mastitis.  Occasionally, if it needs something more active, I’ll add poke root oil, as above, but not as a rule… I often find violet is fine on its own and doesn’t need to be pushed to immediate action with stronger herbs.  I feel it’s important to massage the oil in, and not just rub it on, as the massage itself will assist in clearing congested lymphatics. 

There are numerous references in herbal medicine to the use of violets to treat cancer.  Hildegard von Bingen stated that it "dissolves hardnesses" within the body, possibly referring to tumors, but also possibly to fibrocystic breast conditions.  Hildegard made an ointment of violets with olive oil and billy goat tallow... this would no doubt be an excellent preparation (animal fats are as good as and sometimes better than plant fats and oils in extracting and delivering an herbs virtues), but as billy goat tallow is somewhat hard to come by nowadays, beeswax can also be used, though lard or tallow from other sources is an excellent option (look for ethical sources on Local Harvest.  Tobyn, Denham and Whitelegg state in “The Western Herbal Tradition” that the earliest reference to explicitly refer to cancer is from 1902.  Maude Grieve’s “A Modern Herbal”, in 1931, makes reference to the use of violets in treating cancer of the throat and tongue through consistent use of the strong infusion, and a salve or poultice applied externally to tumors.  From there, references abound, but frequently without any specifics or citation.  I think it need to be understood that cancer is a complex systemic disease, and we would be naive to assume that violets, or any other treatment, would be a "cure" for any or everybody’s particular case.  The “______ cures cancer” mindset is a perilous one to fall into.  Cancer isn’t one thing; there’s a huge difference between a lymphoma and breast cancer, both in the nature of the illness and in how it’s treated.  Also, we need to remember that if we’re practicing holistically, we should be focusing on individual people, not the names of illnesses.  This doesn’t mean violet might not be appropriate.  It doesn’t suggest you shouldn’t try it, if a situation indicates the use of violet.  In fact, the toll of cancer (and its treatment) often presents a state that does indicate the use of violet.  Let’s just remember to beware of the perils of name-association herbalism, and of simplifying complex conditions which necessitate nuanced and personalized care.

Violets, like meadowsweet, wintergreen and birch, contain methyl salicylate, from which aspirin is derived, though this it seems to exist in lower levels than these other herbs.  Nicholas Culpeper declared that violets "easeth pains in the head caused through want of sleep."  Johann Christopher Sauer, a colonial herbalist, suggested applying an infused oil of violet and rose for a “feverish headache”.  Freshly crushed leaves were applied similarly, as was the use of teas and syrups of the flowers, to various body parts to relieve all manners of pain and discomfort.   But to simplify this down to “Oh, you can use violet a headache instead of taking an aspirin/acetaminophen/ibuprofen” is too reductionist… you simply can’t reduce the action of a plant down to the actions of an individual constituent.  Violet does contain methyl salicylate, yes, and so will possess some pain relieving and anti-inflammatory action on account of it.  But violets use as a food staple suggests that this is not a predominant action; also pure methyl salicylate smells strongly or wintergreen: is that a predominant scent in your violets?  I’ve noted that it’s more likely to be present in older leaves, but even then it’s subtle.   If we consider traditional accounts of pain relief using violet, they are always connected to heat, and while its salicylic acid content likely plays a role in this, it’s not the beginning and end of it.  If addressing a headache, perhaps tinctures of wood betony (for tension in the head/mind) or passion flower (for relentless brain chatter) in violet tea would be a better course of action than in thinking of violet as “nature’s aspirin”.

Violet also exemplifies a quality that we simply don’t have a good term for.  Here are a few phrases you’ll find in old herbals “soothes/lifts the spirit”; “strengthens/gladdens the heart”… it’s tempting to try an insert the term nervine.  But violets aren’t really nervine.  Not quite.  Or (and I’ll preface this with an “edag!”) antidepressant.  But that’s not right either, and on the whole that’s not a helpful “action” to apply in herbalism.  What violets do for the “spirit” or “heart” is what they do for the rest of the body; they nourish, strengthen and soothe.  And, I find the physical indications for violet play out here as well.  Hot, dry temperaments (like the humoural choleric temperament) that tend to get frustrated and angry (we say “hot headed”) are particularly soothed by it.  Kids who respond to stress with screaming and yelling till they’re red in the face.  That.  Oh, and it’s not only kids who do that.  Here, violet isn’t the best acute remedy (though it does compliment skullcap well), but is better suited to a brew when you can see an outburst looming, or have noticed such events increasing in frequency… maybe as a deadline nears?  Violet is also good for people who react to stress (or perhaps life in general) with rigidity.  Violet softens.  It inspires flexibility.  Some “give”.  If the person needing it is cool by constitution (cold and dry as opposed to hot), simply add something warming (spicy or aromatic) to offset its cooling nature.

Reviewing the virtues of violet, the degree to which it is undervalued seems apparent.  William Cook, the Physio-Medicalist didn’t mention violet in his Physio-Medical Dispensatory.  Nor did the eclectic Finely Ellingwood in his American Materia Medica.  Felter and Lloyd, in King’s American Dispensatory, do address it, but offer very little information, and seem to apply the emetic properties of the seeds and roots to the plant as a whole.  So perhaps these omission played a role.  It’s not like there’s a lack of conditions characterized by heat and dryness.  It’s not like violets are obscure or difficult to find.  It’s not like tradition didn’t laud their virtues.  It’s not like there aren’t a whole lot of frustrated angry cholerics that could use some softening and gladdening.  Maybe the humble viola are just too gentle, maybe they don’t act quickly or forcefully enough?  It’s a question not only to ponder when thinking about the population at large, but also for the herbal community, where we rely on our nutritive staples but also seem increasing fascinated by the strong medicine drop dosage plants.  Paul Bergner shares that "In medieval Baghdad, the “license” to practice medicine was given as permission to practice in the marketplace… One of the rules was that an individual would be disqualified from the practice of medicine if they were observed to 'use a strong herb when a mild herb would suffice, used an herb when a food would suffice, or use a food when simple advice about lifestyle would suffice.”

I put forth violet as a mild herb and food that will more than suffice.

an assortment of admirable preparations…
Poultice: crush fresh violets and apply topically; dried violet can be blanched in hot water to reconstitute 
Fresh violet tea: mince an arbitrary quantity of fresh violet leaves and/or flowers in hot water and steep till drinkable.  Yum.
Dried violet tea: do the same as above, but with crushed dried violet
Cold infusion (to extract mucilage most efficiently): steep 1 ounce of dried violet in 1 quart cool water for 3+ hours.  Strain and drink..
Nourishing violet infusion: pour a quart of boiling water over 1 ounce of dried violet.  Steep 4-8 hours, strain, and drink (you’ll get mucilage from this preparation as well, as it will be extracted after the water cools).
Nasal/eyewash: infuse violet in water (cool water will extract more mucilage), and strain through a coffee filter to ensure no floaties (which are fine for drinking but not so fine for pouring onto your eyeball).  To each 8 fluid ounce cup, add roughly ¼ teaspoon salt.  Stir till the salt is dissolved.  Use as an eyewash, in an eye cup, in a nasal spray bottle or neti pot.
Violet flower syrup: “To 1 lb. of Sweet Violet flowers freshly picked, add 2 1/2 pints of boiling water, infuse these for twenty-four hours in a glazed china vessel, then pour off the liquid and strain it gently through muslin; afterwards add double its weight of the finest loaf sugar and make it into a syrup, but without letting it boil” (from Grieve).  You can also use honey; Tobyn, Denham and Whitelegg state “Honey of violets is more cleansing and less cooling; sugar of violets works the other way around.”
Violet oil: wilt fresh violet leaves/flowers, and infused in your choice of oil or fat for a few hours to a dayish over low heat.  Violets frequently spoil when infused in mason jars in the sun because of their high water content, and even stovetop extractions can go off if any residual water isn’t removed before bottling.  Check out Henriette Kress’s “Troubleshooting Herbal Oils tips here for tricks and tips to avoid this potential bummer.  Many tradition sources laud a combination of violet and rose flower infused oils… try it.
Tincture: make a simpler’s tincture by mincing fresh violet leaves and/or flowers and covering with 100 proof vodka in a mason jar.  Macerate at least two weeks.  Or, if you prefer, add 2 ounces of grain alcohol to every one ounce of minced fresh violet in a mason jar.  Macerate as before.  I probably wouldn’t tincture dried violets, though I imagine very recently dried violet might be fine.


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