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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Emerging from Winter to find Violet


Botanical name: Viola odorata, V. tricolor, V. yezoinsis

Family: Violaceae

Parts used: flowers, leaves, roots (sparingly)

Properties: cool, sweet and moist, alterative, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, lymphagogue

Used for: hot inflamed tissues, sore throats, swollen lymph glands, cysts, breast health

Plant preparations: tea, syrup, tincture, food

My first experience with violet was on a retreat with Paul Bergner. We were hiking around the Mt. Hood area of Oregon when we came upon an open meadow. Delighted, Paul dropped to the ground exploring the foliage. All around him were plants with heart shaped leaves with small yellow flowers. He gently pulled out a plant from the ground, wiped off the mud, and began to nibble the roots. Because there was such an abundance of plants in that area, Paul invited all the students to do the same. 

I found a small plant and gingerly uprooted it. It tasted quite pleasant. Fresh, sweet, salty, and then... quite mucilaginous. (Before you eat lots of violet roots note that they are emetic in high doses.)

My first impression of violet was that it is a very delicate plant. It lays close to the ground, some small flowers looking up and some looking down. These flowers that you see in the springtime aren’t true flowers as they don’t produce seeds. Later in the year small nondescript flowers form underneath the leaves and fulfill the reproductive duties of a flower. It is commonly said that violets flower in the spring for the sheer exuberance of doing so. 

Don’t let violet’s delicate nature fool you, however. This plant is a powerful ally in disguise.  

For colds and flus
Violet is an important addition to your medicine chest during the cold and flu season. A syrup of the flowers can soothe an irritated and hot throat. It’s also a powerful lymphagogue that can relieve congestion and swollen lymph glands. Cooling and mucilaginous, violet can be used for a dry cough and for ear infections. 

Violets growing in the French Alps

To reduce cysts
Violet’s most famous use is to dissolve cysts, lumps, and fibrotic tissue of the breast. Herbalist Matthew Wood recommends a fresh poultice of leaves and flowers for cancers of the lymphatic system, breasts, lungs, and skin. I’ve heard many stories of oil infused with fresh violets being used for dissolving lumps of the breast or simply as a preventive. 

A fresh violet poultice can be used externally for a variety of reasons. Abscesses,
acne, arthritis, minor skin irritations, sores, and swollen glands are just a few of the possibilities. 

Violet eases pain. It is used externally and internally for pain associated with arthritis and it especially indicated for arthritis accompanied by dry hot tissues. 

I often recommend violet leaf infusions for people who have dry, rough and itchy rashes (sometimes diagnosed as atopic dermatitis or eczema). Along with other recommendations I've seen many people who have experienced this discomfort for years, watch in wonder as it all disappears. 

Viola palustrus

As food
Violet is a culinary delight. Its fresh leaves make for a delicious salad. Violet flowers are edible and gorgeous, making them a nice garnish to any meal. Besides visual appeal, the flowers can be made into a variety of herbal goodies including syrups, candies, and jams. 

Violets do more than taste good, they are also a nutritious addition to our diet. The flowers and leaves contain very high amounts of vitamin C - some say higher than any other plant. The leaves are also high in vitamin A. 

"it stimulates waste and secretion, relieves nervous irritability, and improves nutrition" 
John Scudder 
Eclectic physician

Violet for the heart
Another name for violet is hearts-ease. It has been used for the physical and emotional heart for thousands of years. Violet is high in a constituent called rutin. Rutin strengthens capillaries, prevents platelet aggregation, and is anti-inflammatory. 

Viola tricolor

Botanically speaking
The official violet used in medicine is Viola odorata, but as far as I know all members of the Viola genus will work in a similar manner. Viola odorata originally comes from Europe and has naturalized across much of the United States. The North American continent also contains many native species of violets. 

Viola odorata

Violets belong to a family of their own called Violaceaea. According to Tom Elpel, author of Botany in a Day, there are 16 genera and 850 species in the Violoaceaea family. The African violet, which is often grown in pots here in the US, is not a member of the violet family. 

Violets have irregular flowers with five separate petals. 

Pansy growing in my garden

The pansy is a cultivated violet whose flowers can be eaten as well. 

Violets have an exploding seed valve. 

You can easily grow cultivated violets like pansies in your garden. Wild violets grow abundantly in the northern hemisphere. Look for them in damp and shady meadows. 

Violet offers many different ways to explore its gifts. If you have access to fresh violets, try making a syrup, infused oil, infused vinegar, and a poultice. Add the greens and flowers to salads or garnish any meal for a beautiful and wild flare. 

If you aren’t able to find violets growing near you, you can order the dried leaf from Mountain Rose Herbs. Violet leaves make a great nourishing herbal infusion and can be used in this way for many of the benefits listed in this article.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Herbal Roots Zine Giveaway

If you haven't checked out the Herbal Roots Zine then I highly recommend it.

I use this monthly zine a lot with my young herbal apprentice Tova Rose. She loves the stories, songs and activities. I love being able to quickly create meaningful content for our weekly meetings.

To celebrate Herbal Roots Zine's one year birthday Kristine is giving away a #1 year subscription!

You can check out the contest and Herbal Roots Zine here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Don't miss it!

We hope this short promotional clip of the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference is seen far and wide. I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to share this clip on your blog, facebook, dinner table, etc. :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Rosemary has a rich history thatspans more than a millennium. It has been used in cooking for flavor and preservation, as a medicinal tea, as well as a token of loyalty, friendship, and remembrance.

Rosemary’s nomenclature, Rosmarinus officinalis, means “dew of the sea”, perhaps because it is often found growing near the oceans. The common name is derived from an association with the Virgin Mary. It’s said that on the family’s flight to Egypt, a rosemary bush sheltered and protected the family. When Mary laid her cloak upon the bush the white flowers turned blue and thus became the “rose of Mary”.

Most of you will probably identify this herb by its smell and taste: aromatic and spicy. Rosemary tends to be warming and drying and is often used for cold conditions.

As the herb of remembrance, Rosemary has been used to increase memory and brain power by scholars for thousands of years. Students can keep a fresh sprig of this herb to smell while they study and again if they are taking a test.

Scientific research has validated this traditional use by testing student performance with the aid of rosemary fragrances and without. Those smelling rosemary while being tested felt more alert and brighter and performed better than those who went without any fragrance.

You could call Rosemary the Queen of Anti-oxidants, as she boasts at being one of the strongest herbal anti-oxidants. In other research, scientists have pinpointed that Rosemary contains the constituent carnosic acid, which can prevent free radical damage in the brain. Carnosic acid has been shown to protect the brain from stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other effects of aging on the brain. Furthermore, as a circulatory stimulant it can dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow to the brain.

As a nerve tonic, rosemary can gently give us a little boost when we need it. Not quite a relaxing nervine like lavender, nor a stimulating nervine like coffee, rosemary is somewhere in between, increasing our mental functions without too much overt stimulation. Its action on the circulatory system can release internal pressure and gently reduce tension. It has often been used for hypertension.

Rosemary has quite the affinity for the head. It has been used topically to stimulate hair growth, or to maintain healthy hair. To stimulate hair growth an essential oil of rosemary is used, while many people swear by vinegar infused with rosemary as hair rinses for vibrant and healthy hair.

Herbalist Gail Faith Edwards used an oil of rosemary on her children’s heads whenever lice were rampant at school. She reports that it would keep the lice away, but wouldn’t get rid of it if already infected.

In the 14th century, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary used rosemary infused in wine externally to successfully relieve pains from rheumatism and gout. Now called Queen of Hungary Water, it has been usedfor hundreds of years, not only to relieve pain, but also to embellish beauty.
Today, rosemary essential oil is added to another oil base and then rubbed on arthritic joints to increase blood circulation and decrease pain.

Like other culinary herbs in the mint family, a cup of rosemary tea can ease slow digestion that is causing gas, nausea, cramping, or bloating.

Rosemary blends really well with various meats. Before the widespread use of refrigerators, rosemary was rubbed into meats to prevent them from spoiling, indicating it has strong anti-bacterial properties. Modern research has shown that marinating meats with rosemary prevents the meat from forming carcinogenic compounds known as HCAs (heterocyclic amines) when meat is cooked at high temperatures.

Rosemary is a strong anti-bacterial herb. You can use the tea or diluted tincture as a wash for wounds or fungal infections.

Its astringent properties lend it well to a swollen sore throat. Simply sip on rosemary tea or infuse the fresh or dried herb into a honey and take it by the teaspoonful. Hot rosemary tea is also a warming or stimulating diaphoretic that is useful for the first stages of a fever when you feel cold and are shivering.

Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean and is cultivated in gardens around the world. With the right conditions this woody perennial shrub can grow as high as six feet and dense enough to form a hedge.

It boasts fragrant evergreen leaves that resemble needles you would find on an evergreen tree.

A member of the mint family, it has square stems and opposite leaves.

It readily flowers and depending on the climate may even flower all year round. Rosemary’s flowers can range from blue to white to pink depending on the variety. As a member of the mint family, they have “lipped” flowers.

For many years we bought a small potted rosemary tree during the holidays instead of the traditional cut tree. Growing up I always appreciated having a living tree to admire during the holidays. These rosemary trees can easily be found online if you don’t find them being sold near you, however I would suggest finding one that has not been grown with commercial pesticides and fertilizers if you plan on using the sprigs in cooking.

If you'd like to star incorporating rosemary into your life you can try sipping some rosemary tea or try a vinegar hair wash. Rosemary infused in white wine makes a fantastic beverage, or even a marinade for meats. It can also be used as a tincture, or infused into honey. Combine the two of those mixtures and you've got a spicy rosemary elixir.
I'd love to hear how you enjoy your rosemary.

Further resources on Rosemary