Viola Odorata

Sweet Violet

Botany

Sweet violet is a member of the Violaceae family and has vibrant purple flowers with five petals, and single lobed leaves shaped like a heart. According to Richard le Strange, author of “A History of Herbal Plants,” this genus is made up of hardy, herbaceous perennials, which are native to tropical and temperate regions, such as North and South America, the Mediterranean region, Asia and South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Growing Sweet Violet’s is easy as they are undemanding and fairly pest-free. The plant is low-growing, with a long taproot topped by a rosette of dark green, heart-shaped leaves (Van Horn, 1993). The Sweet Violet thrives in damp, moisture-retentive soil that is fairly rich in organic materials, and will tolerate a large pH range. Sweet Violets bloom most prolifically when they receive a good amount of sunshine, but will grow poorly if they receive too much heat or not enough water (Van Horn, 1993).

Chemistry

Fetrow and Avila (1999), list the chemical components if Violoa odorata as: myrosin, violamin, violaquercetin, gaultherin, an emetine-like alkaloid, 2-nitropropionic acid, and odoratine. They suggest that the leaf extracts of the plants were found to be comparable with aspirin in reducing pyrexia in animals, and that a significant reduction in temperature was noted. Duke (2002), suggested that extracts of the sweet violet may also be used to treat venous and lymphatic vessel insufficiency, capillary fragility, piles, and loss of visual acuity of vascular origin. 

Fun Fact

One interesting fact that Richard le Strange writes, is that at a point in time, the flowers were candied and taken as medicinal sweetmeats and that the young leaves could also be fried and eaten with either orange or lemon juice and sugar, and was of the opinion that they made a most agreeable herbaceous dish

History

The use of sweet violet dates back to 300 B.C. when Theophrastus recorded that gardeners were so skilled in the cultivation of the Sweet Violet, that the plants with flowers on were to be seen all the year round (Strange, 1977). Strange also stated that around this time, the plant would be bound to the head as a preventer of headache, or giddiness, and as a way of clearing hangovers. The name of the plant frequently appears in both Greek and Roman classics and it is mentioned by Homer and Virgil (Strange, 1977).  He goes on to say that towards the end of the nineteenth century, fresh Violet leaves were externally applied in hot compress or fomentations and also infused and taken internally for relieving the pain of malignant tumors or cancers (Strange, 1977). Along with a long history of use, the Sweet Violet is still used today in a variety of ways.

Uses/Pharmacology

Charles Fetrow and Juan Avila, authors of “The Professional’s Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Medicines, state that the Sweet Violet has been reported to have several therapeutic uses. Decoctions and syrups made from the leaves and flowers have been used as a cough remedy and sedative, and applied topically as an anti-inflammatory agent (Fetrow and Avila, 1999). Fetrow and Avila also state that the dried root can be used for the treatment of constipation and as an emetic. The extracts of the leaves and flowers are also often used in the manufacturing of perfumes (Fetrow and Avila, 1999). 

Dosing/Recipes

There is not a consensus on dosage of the Sweet Violet (Fetrow and Avila, 1999): various concentrations of extracts, decoctions and powders have been used, making the standardized dosage identification difficult. Duke (2002) recommends 1 heaping teaspoon of the flower per cup of tea 1-2 times per day and notes that the use of Viola odorat is regulated in the U.S. as an allowable flavor only in beverages. 

Contraindications/Interactions/Adverse Reactions

Large overdoses of sweet violet may impair circulation, cause dyspnea, gastrosis, and nervousness.

References Cited

1. Avila, Juan R., and Fetrow, Charles W. (1999). Professionals Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Medicines. Springhouse Corporation, Springhouse, PA.

2. Duke, James A. (2002). Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, 2nd Edition. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.

3. Strange, Richard le. (1977). A History of Herbal Plants. Acro Publishing Company, Inc., New York, NY.

4.USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 14 April 2012). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

5.Van Horn, Kathleen S. (1993). The Herb Companion: Growing Your Own Violets. Online. http://www.herbcompanion.com/Herb-Profiles/Sweet-Violets.aspx?page=6. Accessed March 27, 2012.