Viola Herb of the Year

It may be strange to think of violets as herbs, but long before they appeared in flower gardens they were valued for their medicinal properties. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Greek physician, Dioscorides, noted that violets have a “cooling” effect on inflammations of the stomach and of the eyes. The 16th century English physician, John Gerard, described more than a dozen medicines made from leaves or flowers. Many were used for hot fevers and for inflammations, especially of the lungs, liver, kidneys, and bladder.”

Herbalists today still rely on violets to treat coughs, colds and catarrh, chronic skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis, urinary tract infections, and arthritis and rheumatism. All these conditions involve inflammation in one way or another and violets have a special power to “cool” or reduce inflammation. Research has shown that extracts of violet leaves and flowers can be as effective as corticosteroid drugs in reducing inflammation – without nasty side effects. Not only that, studies show that violets can also reduce pain and repair damaged tissue.

Violets, and their cousins, heartsease and pansies, are widely planted in gardens for their masses of flowers, which can come in brash or understated colours depending on the variety. They do best in moist, well-drained, partly sunny locations, but they are surprisingly adaptable in less optimal situations. The edible fresh flowers are great fun to add to salads, soups and desserts. And candied flowers, made by coating fresh flowers with sugar syrup, are a special treat for kids and lovers alike. Although not all violets are scented, sweet violet (Viola odorata) is renowned for its “soft, powdery and romantic” scent, and has been used in perfumes for at least 1,500 years.

Whether for medicine, food, or fragrance, violets really are herbs. Let’s celebrate them – and enjoy them – as this year’s Herb of the Year!

Thanks to the Herb of the Year program of the International Herb Association, a program intended to educate the public about the value and uses of selected herbs, we at Richters are celebrating viola in 2022. Here are some of the most important and most loved viola varieties listed below.

BOOK: Viola, Herb of the Year 2022

The Violas include the violets, pansies, and Johnny-jump-ups, and are among the most loved flowers of the world. Some varieties form early spring carpets of blue, purple or white flowers, while others throw up masses of multicoloured smiling face-like flowers through the summer. Some are scented, many are medicinal, and most are edible. This book is a joyous celebration of everything Viola, the International Herb Association’s choice for Herb of the Year in 2022. Its enthusiastic members contributed 25 articles and many beautiful photographs and illustrations of these endearing herbs. Topics include botany and culture, history and folklore, art and literature, medicinal information, and recipes for the kitchen, bath, boudoir and apothecary. Order it now!

Here are the currently available varieties of viola!


(Johnny jump up) Old English favourite with charming small purple, lavender and yellow flowers. Flowers are edible and add a lovely touch to salads and desserts. Soak in cold water before garnishing. Folk medicine used to rely on the areal parts of heartsease for treatment of wounds, eczema and skin eruptions. Its anti-inflammatory actions calm irritated skin. Because of its expectorant and mucilaginous properties, it has also been used traditionally to combat respiratory symptoms that occur with bronchitis and whooping cough. Its diuretic properties help clear urinary tract infections. It has been recently studied for its ability to calm an overactive immune system by controlling white blood cell proliferation. Herb can be infused into a tea or extracted in a tincture. Order it now!

Horned Pansy

(Tufted violet) Showy native of the mountains of northern Spain with masses of edible dark purple flowers appearing in early summer. The showy purple flowers are edible! Their fragrance has a wintergreen overtone, and may be added to soups, fruit, potato salads, ravioli, and to desserts as a garnish. In milder climates, it can easily thrive into December and January. Pair over bulbs or use as a groundcover. Order it now!

Red Pansy

Brilliant red edible flowers for salads and desserts! A panel of experts rated pansies as among the best of all edible flowers in salads and desserts. The soft texture and unique flavour of the flowers were judged to be excellent. Try whole fresh flowers pressed into cakes and cookies before baking, or candy them in sugar. Research shows that red pansies in particular have the highest antioxidant activity among all the varieties of pansies available probably due to their high carotenoid content. Does well in most soils in sun or part-shade. Start seeds early indoors for spring planting, or better yet, start them in summer for fall planting and mulch for winter to come up early in spring. Order it now!

Wild Pansy

Rich in resveratrol! (European field pansy) The health benefits of resveratrol in red wine and red grapes are well known to many. But few know that the flowers of wild pansy have 50 to 100 times as much resveratrol as the skin of red grapes. This polyphenol protects the body against cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and slows the ageing process. There is no more fun way to take your resveratrol! Sprinkle the tiny edible creamy-white flowers on salads, open sandwiches and crackers with cheese or pate. The flavour hints of wintergreen, throwing a surprising and delightful loop to any meal. Easy to grow annual wildflower found growing throughout North America from Greenland to the Deep South of America. Order it now!

Manchurian Violet

Lovely native of China, Korea and Japan. Flowers in April and May are mostly purplish with dark veins. In traditional Korean medicine the flower extract is used to improve blood circulation and protect the liver. Studies show that the extract is a powerful anti-inflammatory for bronchitis, asthma, rheumatism, skin eruptions and eczema. It also promotes weight loss by suppressing fat synthesis. Used in cosmetics to lighten skin by blocking melanin production. Order it now!

Sweet Violet

Attractive perennial that marks the beginning of spring with attractive flowers appearing early in the season. Sweet violet flowers are well known for their delightful fragrance, having been used in perfumes, cooking, dyes and remedies throughout history. Sweet-scented, lavender-blue flowers are easy to candy, garnish deserts and use in salads, wraps and sandwiches. Interestingly enough, pigments from its petals are used to produce litmus papers, simple chemistry strips that test pH (acidity or alkalinity). Sweet violet has been used traditionally for a wide variety of ailments, including nervous strain, fatigue, menopause as well as digestive, respiratory and sleep conditions. Thrives in shady areas. Low growing, forming rosettes of dark green, heart shaped leaves. Order it now!

The Herb of the Year for 2021 was Parsley!

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