Although violet's prominence is largely based on folkloric use, recent clinical trials have reinforced the herb's reputation as a versatile healer. Violet's action as a bronchial remedy stands out. The flowers, leaves, and root of the plant contain saponin, known to encourage expectoration. Violet works internally as a treatment for respiratory-tract troubles such as excess mucus, coughs, cold symptoms, and inflammation, making it a valuable companion as we head into the cold and flu season. The plant's antimicrobial properties were noted as far back as the 12th century by the German herbalist Hildegard von Bingen. She observed that a violet-juice salve helped cure diseased tissue, wiping out what she posited were tiny, unseen organisms -- better known today as bacteria. Modern clinical trials have since shown antibacterial effects in several species of violet.
Even more intriguing is the plant's promise as a cancer treatment. The cyclotides, or special proteins, violet contains seem to inhibit not only HIV but also malignancies, tumors, and cysts. Although not a cure, violet has active ingredients that may help soothe inflammation in mouth cancer, and many herbalists have long recommended using violet as a way of shrinking tumors, particularly in the breast. Some facing cancer have found success using violet both as an infusion and as a poultice. Of course, prevention is always the best medicine, and violet earns a well-deserved place as a daily "blood-purifying" tonic. In helping the body rid itself of metabolic waste and bacteria, a violet infusion may benefit other conditions, such as acne and eczema.
Make violet part of your daily routine. You'll give your body that last boost it needs to make it through winter.
Fill a quart-size mason jar with clean, freshly picked violet leaves or 6 teaspoons dried violet (available at herb stores or online; try mountainrose.com). Add boiling water and cover. Let sit overnight. Strain and discard leaves. Drink at room temperature throughout the following day.
Text by Rosemary Gladstar; photo by Jonahan Kantor