You know spring is here when you catch a whiff of Violets (Viola odorata). These beautiful flowers, which you may also know as Heartsease, are members of the Violaceae (Violet) Family.
In mythology Zeus had a lover named Ione (from which the word viola is derived). His wife, Hera was jealous and turned her into a white heifer. Zeus created violets to give her something lovely to graze upon. Wherever Venus and Adonis lay together a bed of violets was said to have sprung. Persephone, the daughter of the Earth Mother Demeter, was picking violets when Pluto kidnapped her to live with him in the underworld. Athens was once known as "the city of violets."
The leaf and flower have been used for thousands of years by millions of people as an antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic agent.
Violets have been used to improve acne, anger, asthma, bronchitis, colds, eczema, fever, fibrocystic breast disease, grief, headache, heartbreak, lymphatic congestion, mastitis, mumps, psoriasis, scurvy, sore throat, ulcers, urinary tract infection, varicose veins, and whooping cough. Apply a cloth soaked in violet leaf and/or flower tea to the back of the neck to treat headaches. The flowers are eaten as a breath freshener.
Violet flower essence helps those that feel lonely, despite being surrounded by others. It increases openness and helps shy aloof people that want to share but feel overwhelmed.
As long as the leaves are heart shaped, the leaves and buds are edible raw in salads or as a potherb. The flowers are edible and make a beautiful garnish. Freeze the flowers into water in ice cube trays for a touch of elegance. Violet sherbet, puddings, and candied violets are sweet delicacies. Violet tea is most often prepared from the leaves. Violet leaf tea is safe and gentle; it even can be used as a substitute for baby aspirin. Do not substitute African violets as a medicine plant.
Ancient Greeks wore crowns of violets to promote serenity and sleep. Ancient Romans would plant violets upon the graves of children. Violets are regarded as a symbol of innocence and modesty. Violet is the state flower of Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. Violet flowers are carried to bring good fortune.
Violet leaves and flowers contain beta-carotene, vitamin C, salicylates, the flavonoid rutin, mucilage, and the flowers contain essential oil.
Violets are pungent, bitter, and sweet, cool and moist and correspond to Venus, and the element of water.
Viola odorata is native to western Asia and Europe but is widely cultivated and naturalized. This evergreen perennial grows to about 6 inches in height and has heart-shaped leaves. The flowers are self-pollinating and purple, pink, lavender, or white in color. They usually have five petals, two on the upper portion, two laterals, and one on the bottom. Though flowers appear in early spring, the true seed-producing flower is inconspicuous and appears in autumn.
In gardening, violet leaves are used as a fertilizer for leaf crops. Some Native Peoples have soaked corn seeds in cool violet tea to prevent insect damage during germination.
In the garden, violet provides nectar for early butterflies. The plant prefers full to partial shade, soil that is rich in organic matter, and moderate to high amounts of water. There are over one hundred of the Viola genus. Most are perennial, though there are a few annuals in the genus. Viola. tricolor, also known as Pansy, also edible is one of the most recognized.