If you inspect the spring salad in the picture, you will see what we had to accompany Sunday’s lunch. Along with tangy red veined sorrel and cilantro (oh, and lettuce, of course), you will find sweet violet (or viola odorata) leaves with its blooms as a garnish. If the dainty flowered look is a bit much for the male members of the family, I have found topping the salad with a smothering of shredded cheese and bacon bits works wonders for their appetite, while they still get the nutritional benefits of the greenery!
As you can see, our asparagus bed has been overtaken by wild violets. It is hard to be too cross with them since I have discovered the goodness of violets. For instance, they are a storehouse of vitamin C as well as vitamin A: Gram for gram violet leaves contain twice the vitamin C of an orange and more than twice the vitamin A compared with spinach! Knowing that vitamin C is a delicate, easily damaged molecule, foraging in the wild for fresh eating sounds like a great option.
More than 300 violet species grow throughout the world, so there must be some growing near you, too. The blossoms and leaves of all those of the genus Viola, which includes the blue, white, or yellow flowered violets, garden pansies, and Johnny jump ups, are edible. This is not to be confused with the African violet, which is a houseplant from a totally different genus.
How do sweet violets taste? Young spring leaves and blooms are sweet but bland, and somewhat green tasting. Older leaves have better medicinal qualities, but also make a tougher chew.
An interesting fact: There is an explanation for the elusive “now I smell it, now I don’t” scent of a violet. It contains ionone, a compound that desensitizes the smell receptors in the nose temporarily until the nerves recover.
Violets have been used as gentle medicine for over 2000 years and include anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, sedative, and diuretic activities. They have skin soothing and moisturizing properties. If you’re just getting sick and your glands are swollen and sore -violet internally (raw, cooked, as tea, or tincture) and topically can be very helpful. Violets also have a long history as a cough remedy, and have been proven to help suppress the cough of asthma in this recent trial of 182 children.
If you are game to make your own cough syrup, here is a recipe you can follow. If you are making this for your child under 1 year of age, use sugar instead of honey because of the rare possibility of botulism spores in honey causing him harm. If you are anxious to make the syrup and aren’t able to find your own violet leaves, they are available at Mountain Rose Herbs.
In addition, violet leaves can even help shrink tumors! Recent studies have shown that the Viola genus contains exceptionally stable proteins named cyclotides, that are toxic to cancer cells.
Here is an interesting case reported by Lise Wolff, an herbalist from Minneapolis:
“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 agreed 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.”
If you are thinking, “I don’t believe this!” I will give you a peek into a few of the studies that have been done on the anticancer properties of the cyclotides discovered in viola plants. The reports are not easy reading, but I understood enough to go “WOW” when I saw them:
- Cyclotides: A Novel Type of Cytotoxic Agents
- Anticancer and chemosensitizing abilities of cycloviolacin 02 from Viola odorata and psyle cyclotides from Psychotria leptothyrsa.
Why wait for the pharmaceutical companies to extract the active agent and pattern a drug after it when it is free for the using from my garden “weeds”?
See you later—I’m off to harvest more violet leaves. 🙂