In early times violets were much valued as a cure for sleeplessness for which ailment the feet were wrapped in cloths soaked in an infusion and the herb was bound to the forehead. A circle
of violets used to be worn round the head to cure dizziness or a headache.
Sweet violet, viola odorata, is an attractive perennial plant with soft heart-shaped leaves and sweet-smelling flowers. It is a low-growing herb which gradually spreads over the ground by means of runners. One of the earliest of spring flowers, violets bloom from February to April. The flowers are usually a dark velvety purple, but there are varieties which have pale mauve or white flowers with the same familiar scent. Violets can be found growing wild on hedge banks along country lanes and they can be successfully grown in an open spot in the garden, giving a lovely splash of colour so early in the year.
Nowadays violets are rarely used in the kitchen except as a cake decoration, although they can be used in ice cream and a light syrup made with dried violet flowers adds a delicious flavour to fresh fruit salads and summer drinks.
Violets will grow well in medium to light ordinary soil to which compost has been added. Set out new plants in April a handspan apart and keep them well watered until established, especially in dry weather. Some well-rotted leaf mould set round the plants will help to keep the soil damp. To produce blooms in quantity, feed the plants with liquid manure just before they begin to flower.
The leaves and flowers are those parts of the herb used in the home but only the flowers are dried. These are gathered on a dry day and must be dried carefully to retain their colour and therefore their goodness. They are then stored in the usual way. The leaves are only used when freshly picked.
Violet flowers taken in the form of a decoction are a helpful remedy for feverish colds. The decoction is soothing and will relieve a headache brought on by too little sleep or too much to drink. It is soothing and pleasant to drink.
* To make the decoction: Add a cup of water to a teaspoon of dried crushed flowers in an enamel pan. Bring slowly to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. The decoction can be taken as required warm or cold and sweetened with honey. It will be found to be slightly laxative so should not be taken for any length of time.
A syrup of violets is an effective treatment for chest ailments, bronchitis, coughs and chesty colds. Use fresh flowers for the syrup where possible.
* To make the syrup: Put 3 large handfuls of flowers into a bowl and add ½ cup of boiling water. Cover and leave to soak for a whole day. Strain through a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, making sure to get all the liquid out of the flowers. Put the liquid into an enamel pan with 4 heaped tablespoons of honey. Heat slowly to dissolve the honey then bring to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat and when cool pour into a screwtop jar. Store in a cool place. The syrup can be taken I teaspoonful at a time. Violet syrup is a good gentle laxative to give to children. It is also soothing for a sore throat.
Violet ointment made with fresh leaves can be used to soothe and reduce swellings. It is soothing and healing and will soften sore and cracked lips and is good for relieving painful haemorrhoids (piles).
* To make the ointment: Melt 2 heaped tablespoons of pure lard or shortening in an enamel pan and add a handful of chopped leaves. Cover the pan and cook the leaves for 30 minutes over a very low heat. Strain immediately through a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and pour into small pots. Cover when cold.
A poultice can be applied to bruises and swollen joints to ease the pain.
* To make a poultice: Gather sufficient fresh leaves, wash and mash them to a pulp, either by hand or using an electric blender. Spread the pulp on to a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and heat the poultice between 2 plates over a pan of boiling water. When hot place over the affected area, cover with a dry cloth and leave in place until relief is felt. Renew the poultice as necessary.
A lotion made with violets will help to improve a dull complexion and can be used night and morning to cleanse the skin. It will leave the skin smooth and soft.
* To make the lotion: Pour ½ cup of warm boiled milk on to a handful of dried violet flowers, Leave to infuse for about 2 hours. Strain through a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, pressing all the milk out of the flowers. Store in a stoppered jar in a cool place or in the refrigerator and use within a few days. Dip cotton wool into the lotion to cleanse the face.
* Violets add a lovely perfume to home-made hair rinses. Make a decoction (see Medicinal Use) and leave it to cool before straining. Add the perfumed decoction to rinses made with nettle, horsetail or yarrow, before using on the hair. It adds a lovely fragrance to soft, shining hair.
Violets can be used for a relaxing, aromatic bath which is pleasant and soothing after a tiring day.
* To make a herbal bath: Make up a strong infusion by pouring 2 cupfuls of boiling water over 3-4 handfuls of dried flowers. Leave to infuse for 10—15 minutes then strain and add to the bath water.
A violet salve will help to keep lips soft and smooth.
* To make a lip salve: Make up a decoction of violets (see Medicinal Use) and leave to cool. Melt 1 tablespoon of beeswax slowly over a low heat. Remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons of almond oil and 2 tablespoons of violet decoction. Pour into small pots and cover when cold.