Viola is a quiet, little magic. She springs up in fields, lawns, and at the edges of forests. Before her companions begin to bud, she’s blooming away, gathering in the cool, damp spring days. In spring’s quiet while everyone else has yet to awaken, Viola works her magic.
Violas come in a variety of colors and shapes. The ones herbalists are most sweet on are a species called Viola odorata, although we may well fall in love with some of her close cousins, too. Viola odorata sports blue blossoms. Viola tricolor, like the ones in my garden, bloom in deep purples, sometimes sporting a few yellow or white petals. Sometimes they’re called Johnny Jump-ups, Hearts-ease Violets, Sweet Violets, or Pansies by garden centers, sometimes just plain violets. Part of what makes V. odorata and her medicinal cousins particularly special is her scent.
The Scent of a Violet is Magical
I once heard the scent of violets described as ephemeral. There and gone again. Hearkening to an age that’s already passed beyond the veil. Kathi Keville echoed that particular sentiment in her description of V. odorata in The Aromatherapy Garden, or at least the old-timey scent that draws you into the garden but somehow disappears as soon as you seek its source part.
When I work with Viola, I’m reminded most of the indelible nature of the Fae. Not the Regal and stern Sidhe or the trouble-loving phoukas of my acquaintance. Violas remind me of the Ladies of Titania’s court in Shakespeare’s Mid-summer Night’s Dream. They’ve got presence, yet one might so easily overlook them if one’s not paying attention.
That’s what Viola magic is about, though, isn’t it? There is great power in small things. Viola teaches us that with her scent, which has the power to summon up memories you didn’t even know you had just before it fades from your grasp. She teaches us that with her small, easily overlooked form, which fades into the background of field or forest edge if you’re not attuned to her magic as surely as her scent fades away. She teaches us that with her affect on our bodies when we take her medicine internally – her cooling and moistening nature is soothing, gentle, re-assuring…and powerful enough to dissolved tumors and cysts without forcing us to re-digest whatever created them in the first place.
Viola may seem like a simple herb for old-fashioned grannies who don’t have access to more powerful magic. I assure you that to work with Viola on any project is an honor greater than many others you might experience. She’s got a lot of power, that weedy little one, and she’s not afraid to use it. She’ll spread across an entire lawn in just a few seasons, take over your flowerbed in a year, and even consider re-wilding your pathways and sidewalk given the opportunity. And she’ll do it all with the utmost care. Viola’s magic may be powerful, but it’s also gentle.
When you’re in need of the kind of energy that moves with compassion and care, that transforms without disrupting, that works largely without anyone really noticing, Viola may be the perfect partner for the job. She brings a light-footed approach to whatever project you’re working on, helping you move as you need to move, accept help where help is needed, and hold your own even when you might feel a little overlooked yourself.
Making Viola Medicine
Viola flowers and leaves can be dried for later use, extracted into alcohol or vinegar or oil for later use, and eaten fresh or made into a lovely tea. Viola medicines are cooling and demulcent, or moistening. They offer a great deal of relief during summer’s hot months; many herbalists gather violets and freeze them in icecubes specifically for the purpose of cooling their tea and themselves on the hot afternoons of summer’s dog days. They also make a good addition to formulas for colds and flus that include hot and dry symptoms, like fever or a dry cough.
Violas grow well from seeds and starts. They like a sunny location but can handle part-shade. They prefer slightly more moist conditions but can handle some mild drought once established. The violas in my garden bed are shorter and more compact in the area where they have less competition for sunshine, taller and a little more open in the areas where they’re bounded by larger plants, like my Ruta gravolens. The shorter violas in my garden tend to sport more yellow and white in their blossoms than do my taller violas, though they all began with the same single seed packet I purchased from Strictly Medicinal Seeds a few years ago.
Getting to Know Viola
The best way to get to know Viola is, as Rosalee de la Foret and Emily Han suggest in Wild Remedies, to spend some time with her. Look for V. odorata at your local garden center either as a start or in seed form. She’ll grow in a pot on patio as well as she will in your garden, if you give her a little of the attention she desires. A splash of water daily, some direct sunshine for at least part of the day, and the respect of giving her your full attention when you’re working together is all she really wants. In trade, she’ll show you how to slow down and treat yourself with the same loving care, how to alter enough to suit your environment without giving up so much of yourself you feel unrecognizable, and the confidence to make all the changes you desire whether or not the rest of the world bothers to notice.
And, if you’re lucky, she’ll show you how to step through the veil, become ephemeral at will, and dance with the sweetest of the Fair Folk.
Viola increases Kapha while decreasing Pitta and remaining Vata neutral. Viola Odorata is ruled by Venus, according to Nicolas Culpepper, and is cooling and moistening in nature.