the happy medicine of spring violets

Every year there’s one particular plant that grabs my attention and won’t let go. I’ll start seeing it everywhere. And I get excited in that way you do when you have a new friend — even if it’s an old friend.

So far this year violets are my jam.

There have been at least one or two stray blooms on my backyard plants since around Thanksgiving. They kept going all winter, at least a little.

And this spring they’ve been completely full on. Walking by my house, sitting on the front porch or the back deck, their sweet smell fills the air.

(Not for nothing their Latin name is Viola odorata. As in odor. As in fragrant.)

The fragrance is not as dramatic as some other spring favorites like Daphne (D. odora). If you’re not familiar with sweet violets, the scent is reminiscent of a certain era of little old lady. And for a while, it hit me in a not great way.

But this year… well, this year I’m all about it.

Violet flowers are used in various ways for medicine.

To begin with, they are just … happy making. As herbalist jim mdconald notes, old herbals say violet “lift the spirit” and “gladdens the heart.” Herbalist Chanchal Cabrera points out that the technical term for this is thymoleptic.

In my practice, I use violet flowers mostly on the emotional level in the form of flower essences. Different species have different indications, but all are fundamentally gentle remedies that support folks who are sensitive and shy, need help communicating without losing themselves. (Read here about the essence of White Violet, V. renifolia.)

If violet flowers are generally comforting and soothing to the emotions in flower essence form, violet leaves have similar properties effects on the physical body.

Like their popular spring cousin nettles (Urtica dioica), violet leaves are a great source of vitamins and minerals, often one of the earliest greens available in spring. But where nettles tend to be drying, violets are moistening and softening.

This is a great thing if you live in a place with dry heat (woodstoves, yum), if you’ve got any kind of scratchiness (throat, digestive, lungs, joints) or if you tend toward dryness.

Violets are also a great spring green in another way, acting on the lymphatic system that’s the back channel of circulation. Think of it as the body’s sewer system, but with loaded with immune cells.

Supporting lymphatic system is like opening the windows after a house has been shut up all winter, and letting in disinfecting sunshine. (This is a great systemic support for folks who get seasonal allergies.)

In the garden, violets make a lush low and spreading carpet. They’re easy to grow, and some find them weedy. I gratefully accept their independence and abundance.

Add violet flowers and leaves to salads, or make them into tea or tincture. I often just nibble on them in the garden.

Soothing, moistening, softening and joy-promoting: There’s a lot to love about violets.


— Dr. Orna