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Archive for the ‘Violet’ Category

Here in the UK spring is springing, new life abounds and people are visibly more relaxed and open as the sun gently warms their faces. We have been out on the Downs, sampling the spring greens and enjoying all the sights and sounds of nature.

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What a lovely time of year this is, not least because of the swathes of violets that carpet areas of the woods and verges. Violet is surely one of our most treasured spring plants and is synonymous with the return of brighter days as the wheel of the year cycles round. I have written a few posts on violet before but this year I wanted to write a little more about why it is such a lovely spring tonic herb and how well its virtues are rooted in the season.

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Firstly violet is a wonderful herb for awakening the lymphatic system which functions, in simplistic terms, as a kind of waste disposal and treatment facility for the body tissues. It carries the lymph fluid that originates from blood plasma through a series of ducts and nodes which are also primary sites for immune activity. Lymph nodes become swollen when overloaded which we notice as hard or raised glands. Conditions such as sinusitis, ear problems and breast tenderness are all connected to under functioning lymphatics. The lymph tends to become quite sluggish over the winter months due to the fact that we move less, eat more and the cold contracts our vessels and thickens fluids. Spring is the most wonderful time to give your lymphatic system some love by moving your body, breathing deeply and enjoying spring greens like violets and cleavers. The lymphatic system has no pump of its own so is reliant on the movement of the muscles, the blood circulation and the breath to assist it around the body. It is in this relationship of fluids and movement that I see violet’s qualities coming to the fore.

Violet is considered a cooling, moist herb. When I consume the leaf and flower fresh or as a tea my first impression is of the demulcent quality it is famed for, but always there is a slightly astringent after effect, a subtle yet noticeable toning. The combination of soothing moisture and gentle tonification reflects the relationship between tension and relaxation that the lymphatic system needs to move freely and do its work effectively.

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Secondly it is rich in minerals and vitamins and helps to restore lost nutrients after the months of winter stodge (what another roast potato? I don’t mind if I do!).  It has that light, fresh greenness that our bodies crave when the warmer weather arrives and it contains plentiful vitamin A and C along with other antioxidants.

Next it can be helpful for sore throats and dry coughs or those where the mucus is sticky and not easily expelled, afflictions which can often strike at the change of season as warmer temperatures encourage bugs to multiply.

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Fourthly it is beautiful aromatic, a quality which uplifts and opens us physically, mentally and emotionally after we have been more closed in over winter. The fragrance on the wind helps us to breath more deeply, which in itself improves lymphatic flow and expulsion of toxins through the lungs.

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Finally, and somewhat metaphorically, it is a great herb for childhood which has long been associated with the springtime of life. It has a number of useful applications; as a syrup or honey in the over ones for coughs and sore throats or to ease mild constipation and also as an infused oil made into a salve or cream for easing dry skin conditions. My little one has been sampling his first violets this spring and has been enjoying the tea diluted in his beaker for the last few days.

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Violet tea made with the fresh leaf and flower turns the most beautiful colour – vivid green if you include mainly leaf and rich turquoise with the addition of more flowers.

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Violet is the perfect example of medicine that is more than the sum of its constituents.

Whist it is not perhaps the strongest acting of herbs when it is tinctured and bottled, though of course it still has valuable uses, when it is admired in the wild, eaten and drunk as part of a seasonal diet and appreciated for it’s beauty, violet is perhaps one of the best spring medicines we have. We tend to think about constituents and medicinal actions as something apart from how we experience the plant in our bodies – our senses being subjective and treacherous when compared to cold, hard science – but, much like spring itself, violets help you to feel well through their simple act of being.

You can read more about violets as medicine in this post here or see here for information about using them in a breast massage oil. Also here is a recent and informative post written by American herbalist Jim McDonald.

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One of my first attempts at botanical illustration – Viola odorata

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I love to make up blends of herbal oils and often give the people I see a little bottle of something to use externally alongside taking their herbal tinctures or teas. It could be a neck and shoulder rub, a stomach massage oil, a foot massage oil or something for helping to heal scar tissue. I believe that taking some time to massage a part of your body that needs some love and attention is a wonderful technique for healing as it brings our awareness to the places that need it and encourages an attitude of self care and nurturing. The blend I have given out more than any other is my breast massage oil so I thought I would share the recipe with you here.

Before I started to see clients I don’t think I was really aware of how many women suffer from sore or tender breasts, often with lumps and swellings, which can vary a lot with hormonal fluctuations throughout their cycle. The breasts are made up of glandular tissue (which includes lymph nodes and milk producing lobes), fatty tissue and fibrous or connective tissue. The lymphatic system does not contain its own pump so it relies on the movement of muscles to keep it flowing nicely around the body. As there are no actual muscles within the breasts themselves, massage becomes even more important for healthy breasts and lymphatics.

You can use any nice base oils to perform the massage but herbal infused oils add extra therapeutic value alongside that special something which I like to think of as the plant’s own consciousness. The base of my breast massage oil is violet (Viola odorata) infused in sweet almond oil, though a good quality, organic sunflower oil could also be used quite happily.

If you don’t have any violet infused oil (and now is of course the wrong time to be making it from fresh) you can use dried plant material infused into the oil using the heat method which I outlined in this post. I personally prefer the fresh oil because the flowers impart a delightfully gentle aroma but using the dried leaf will still be effective.

Calendula oil, which can be found in many health food shops, makes a lovely substitution, especially when mixed 50/50 with lavender infused oil which can be made from dried flowers all year round. A small amount of yarrow or chamomile infused oil makes a useful addition if there is inflammation. Rosemary infused oil can be added at about 25% if there is a need to increase circulation and many people also recommend dandelion flower infused oil. Rose infused oil is another delightful addition, though I tend to stick with a few drops of the essential oil as it has a stronger aroma which resonates so much with the heart and with feelings of self-love. You can also add castor oil which is useful for removing congestion but, as it’s ridiculously sticky, I’d keep it to around 5%.

If you really want to keep things simple then stick with a plain almond, apricot or coconut oil, all of which have wonderful healing properties of their own.

The recipe I use as an all purpose breast massage oil is as follows:

28ml Violet infused oil
2ml vitamin E oil
2 drops each geranium and rose essential oils
Combine all the ingredients in a 30ml bottle and use to massage the breasts regularly.

Geranium essential oil is one of the best oils for balancing the endocrine system so is lovely for sore breasts due to fluctuating hormone levels. It also has a very balancing effect on the mind and emotions too.

When massaging the breasts I like to do a combination of circular movements with gentle kneading and a sort of pulsing action which is great at getting the lymph flowing. There is a good video here which outlines some techniques for this lymphatic pumping action.

Another great tip for getting the lymphatics flowing well in the breast area is to splash them with cold water after a hot bath or shower. Alternatively you can alternate a few splashes of hot water (though not unbearable of course) with cold water for a few minutes.

Finally, (in something of an aside) while we are on the subject of lovely ladies with voluptuous breasts, regular readers of this blog may remember the rescue hens we adopted during the summer. One of them, the delightful Primrose, has shot to stardom and is appearing in the British Hen Welfare Trust’s 2012 calendar, having fought off hundreds of other hopefuls to become Miss June.

This is how Primrose looked when we first got her:

And this is her calendar girl shot, only a couple of months later.

All the money from the sale of the calendars goes to support the charity, so if you or someone you know is a hen lover, you can pick up a copy here!

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There is a small area of woodland near my house which is filled with violets at this time of year. If you stumble on them unawares they will quite take your breath away. Sometimes the smell is barely detectable but when the sun is shining and the breezes blow, it is utterly divine. I have harvested twice from this patch over the last couple of weeks in order to make an infused honey, an infused oil and a flower remedy. Coming home with a harvest of violet flowers is like carrying a bag of precious jewels, truly a privilege. Unless they continue to bloom so prolifically, I will seek another patch to harvest for a tincture as it’s so important to remember not to over harvest one area.

The sweet violet flowers we know and love are what is known in botany as chasmogamous flowers, those that display their stamens and style for  insect pollination, but many species of viola also produce tiny self pollinating flowers later in the year which are known as cleistogamous. This means that we can be a bit freer with our harvest than we might otherwise be but we should still remember that insects need the flowers for an early source of nectar and therefore not take too many. Also, a beautiful patch of wild violets is enjoyed by many passers by and its not fair to strip it bare.

As a herbal remedy Violet is used most often for it’s soothing, demulcent properties found in the leaf and flower. Being cool and moist they are particularly good for conditions where there is heat such as inflammation and irritated coughs. Culpepper wrote, “A drachm weight of the dried leaves or flowers of Violets, but the leaves more strongly, doth purge the body of choleric humours and assuageth the heat if taken in a draught of wine or other drink.”

Three species are used medicinally, Viola odorata, V. tricolour (the wild pansy) and V. yezoensis (the chinese violet).  The wild dog violet is one of the most common violets found in the UK but it lacks scent, unlike the odorata, though it is still mucilaginous.

Violets are also gently cleansing and decongestant and can be used safely for helping clear the chest and sinuses. Combined with their anti-inflammatory effects and their antioxidant content, this makes them particularly helpful for allergies. You can read Danielle’s fantastic post about treating seasonal allergies here.

They are also specific for a sluggish lymphatic system and make a very valuable spring tonic herb for getting everything moving again after a stagnant winter. This makes them helpful for breast swellings and mastitis and many sources recommend them for cancer treatment. Used as a poultice and taken internally as tea or tincture they were a traditional remedy for breast cancer. I think they resonate with this area of the body particularly as they are, to me, a remedy of the heart. It is with a slight sense of shame that I realise I left them out of my herbal hugs post back in January as they are certainly deeply comforting and loving in their energy. In fact Violets were used by the ancient Greeks in potions for love and fertility.

I also like to use violet as a skin remedy. Both the odorata and the tricolor, better known as heartsease, which flowers a little later, are very valuable in oils or washes for a variety of skin ailments. Their cooling, soothing and protective properties can be used on both dry and weeping eczema as well as acne and irritated, itchy skins. The leaves and flowers contain volatile oils and saponins both of which are extracted well in an infused oil which can then be made in to a lovely cream. I like mine combined with chickweed, speedwell or lavender infused oils depending on the person it is for. For acne treatment I would use it as a wash rather than an oil based preparation.

The flowers and leaves are a very gentle laxative and are often given to children in syrup form to ease their bowels. The root however is a strong laxative and purgative and in high doses will cause vomiting, so be wary.

Also be sure not to use the house plant, African violet, which is poisonous!

The flower remedy is a particularly special preparation which holds many great lessons for us. It is for those who have a very pure vision of the way they feel the world should be. It is a remedy of the imagination, for promoting and holding a clear and positive vision and returning us to a sense of child-like joy and wonder that can heal despondency and the fatigue caused by living in a challenging world.  The sweet violet helps us stay centred in the place where love and imagination has the power to manifest physically and create a better world as a result.

The upper petals are open to give and receive but the perfect gold centre is protected, so the visions held cannot be compromised by the challenges of this world. The fine veins running through the petals are like nerves, indicating the extreme sensitivity of the violet personality. Their heads seem to hang heavy indicating how weighed down these folk can feel by the suffering they see around them. They grow close to the ground indicating how the remedy can help in grounding our dreaming into the here and now and stabilising us when times are tough. The large heart shaped leaves unfurl from the centre enabling us to open our hearts to all life’s experiences whilst remaining equanimous, grounded and free.

A perfect remedy for our troubled times, the violet is one of my favourite flowers.

It was truly a blessing to have such a bright sunny morning for making my flower essence. I’ve spoken to flower remedy makers who do theirs whatever the weather but I find there’s nothing like sunshine to result in a wonderfully energised remedy. You can read my post on how to make your own flower remedies here.

Violet infused honey is such a treat and you can leave the flowers in to add a decorative and delicious touch to your food. It has many of the same properties as the syrup but is simpler and better for those who seek the medicinal benefits of honey rather than using sugar. An added advantage is that you don’t have to heat the flowers or honey at all so none of the antioxidants or vital enzymes will be destroyed. I had thought I wouldn’t bother at all with a syrup this year but Sarah Head posted such an enticing recipe here which involves a magical colour change, so I might have to do a small batch after all!

To make the honey just fill a jar with violet flowers, cover with a reasonably runny raw honey and stir with a chop stick. let infuse for a fortnight or so and then enjoy. The flowers tend to float to the top so just turn the jar or give it a stir now and again to ensure everything is well mixed.

The violets have also been gracing my food regularly over the past couple of weeks and I find nothing more cheering than their beautiful colour mixed here with the leafy greens of my lunch which consisted of quinoa, walnuts. sunflower seeds, cleavers, tender new hawthorn leaves, viola flowers and lemon juice.  It was a delight for all my senses.

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Today was beautiful. The sun shone all day and the world seemed a more cheerful place as everyone stopped to enjoy the fresh, spring air and the warmth on their faces. I spent the afternoon reading in the sunshine after gathering a bagful of spring delights. This evening has been both productive and fun as I’ve whipped up some more goodies for the medicine cabinet accompanied by my trusty familiar.

There was an abundance of violets in the woods today, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place, so I gathered enough to make an infused oil and a syrup, with a few extras to sprinkle on this evening’s salad. I plan to make the oil into a skin cooling cream, with infused lavender and chickweed oils, after letting it steep for a few weeks. I’m making the syrup with honey rather than sugar, which is more traditional, because its health giving properties are so superior. I’m doing it more or less according to Susun Weed’s recipe which Sarah Head included in her post for last month’s blog party here. I think Violet, Viola odorata, could happily be renamed Viola adorata, as she is just the most adorable plant around. :)

The infusion for the syrup yielded the most beautiful coloured liquid.

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And the oil also looks promising. I used sweet almond oil as the base as its fairly light and therefore good for making creams. Also it doesn’t have a strong smell like olive and unrefined sunflower do.

Violet Infused in Sweet Almond Oil

I also made a delightful cleansing and cooling tea with lemon peel and viola flowers.

Violet and Lemon Tea

Cleavers were also out in force, vital and green, so I picked a bagful, enough to make a vinegar, the succus that I mentioned in my previous post on Cleavers and an extra few to add to a green juice to revive us when we got in.

The succus is just divine. Often, when you mix two flavours, one will predominate but this is an exact mix of the grassy green, cleansing taste of cleavers and the sweet earthiness of honey. The colour is also incredible, a deep, emerald green that reminds you of the forests where this remedy originates.

I have heard that the placebo effect accounts for something like 40% of the healing effects of all medicines. If this is true I think it must be especially so for medicines you make yourself. The simple pleasure and creative joy engendered by this most vital of skills must be half the goodness of the finished remedies as they are full to the brim of gratitude for the healing potential of nature and deep love for those you wish to share it with.

Cleavers infused vinegar, Cleavers succus, Viola infused oil and Viola infusion for syrup

Not bad for an evenings work. :)

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