Viola: Herb of the Year!
By Brad and Susan Emery
Did you know violets are herbs? I had no idea that violets are herbs and that they are valued for their medicinal properties. It was the Greek physician Dioscorides who noted violets have a ‘cooling’ effect on inflammation of the stomach and of the eyes. The 16th century English physician, John Gerard, described more than a dozen medicines made from the leaves or flowers. These were used for hot fevers and inflammation.
Today, herbalists still rely on violets to treat coughs, colds, skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis, urinary tract infections, and arthritis and rheumatism. And why not, since they have been known to help reduce inflammation? Research has shown that extracts of violet leaves and flowers can be as effective as corticosteroid drugs in reducing inflammation. All naturally. Plus, other studies have shown that violets can also reduce pain and repair damaged tissue.
So, if you plan to grow violets and haven’t yet, here are some tips. They do best in moist, well-drained soil, in a partly sunny location – but they can be surprisingly adaptable. I think the reason I’ll grow them is because the fresh flowers are edible. They are fun to add to salads, soups, or dessert. You can even candy the flowers, made by coating fresh flowers with a sugar syrup. I definitely want to try that out.
Not all violets are scented, but the sweet violet (Viola Odorata) is renowned for its ‘soft, powdery, and romantic’ scent and has been used in perfumes for at least 1,500 years. Regardless how we use them for medicine, food, or fragrance, violets really are herbs. Pretty and practical.
Susan and Brad Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society.