VIOLA OR WILD PANSY, OLD OWL IN PUNJABI - HEALTH BENEFITS
These flowers look as though they are faces, clowns faces and their name in Punjabi, buda oulu, means old owl as it is thought that it looks like an owl’s face. In English, it goes by a variety of names, such as Heart’s Ease, Love-in-Idleness and Love-Lies-Bleeding. Viola was a character in Shakespeare’s plays and he refers to the viola in Act 1 Sc.1 of “The Taming of the Shrew” when Lucento says to Tranio,
“O Tranio, till I found it to be true,
I never thought it possible or likely;
But now, while idly I stood looking on,
I found the effect of love in idleness;”
The wild pansy or viola is native to Europe, North America and temperate zones in Asia. There are more than 500 species of pansies, of which viola is the original. Most garden varieties of pansy have been crossed with Viola tricolor and these are Viola x wittrockiana, notably. The English word pansy comes from the French penser meaning to think, or pensie, a thought or remembrance. The violet is also a member of the pansy family. Its name “Heart’s Ease” seems to come from the idea that loving thoughts bring comfort, or thinking of one’s loved ones is comforting, like this little viola with its clown’s face.
The viola has been used in traditional medicine on the three continents for centuries, and was used by the ancient Greeks, according to Homer to moderate anger. Pliny wrote that the viola was used by Romans to prevent headaches and dizziness as well as being added to love potions. In Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” it is used in the love potion given to Titania which inspired her somewhat inappropriate love for Bottom the weaver who at the time had an asses head. Oberon asks Puck or Robin Goodfellow, the mischievous imp, to get him the wild pansy and describes it in this way in Act II scec1:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower, the herb I shew’d thee once;
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.”
Writing in his Herball in 1597 John Gerard said that the flower could cure infantile convulsions as well as chest and lung problems caused by inflammation and that it was also good for problem skin conditions. Like honeysuckle, violas contain salicylic acid as well as rutin, saponins, flavonoids, and a volatile oil, violine. The rutin and salicylic acid are thought to strengthen capillaries and blood vessels and rutin helps heal broken capillaries and prevents bruising. The salicylic acid and rutin are believed to be anti-inflammatory and useful in ointment for tender, sensitive skin. The plant is useful for its diuretic properties, and the whole herb can be dried for later use in tisanes. It is thought that it might help in the treatment of arteriosclerosis as it mildly stimulates blood flow around the body. The later English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper believed that the viola was a useful agent to cure venereal diseases. It has also been used as a mild sedative and to calm nervous complaints such as hysteria. The tisane below can be used as an expectorant and for bronchial problems, and also as a skin wash for eczema, skin irritations, rashes etc. You can also add a litre of it to bath water to soothe the skin.
Use 3 grams of the dried herb to one cup of boiling water and allow it to steep for 15 minutes before straining and drinking. You can drink this 3 times a day. For a skin lotion you should steep 5-20 grams of the herb in a cup of boiling water and allow to stand for 15 minutes and then straining. Allow to cool and use on irritated skin.
The viola is a protected wild flower in Britain but you can buy seeds and sow them in the garden or in flower pots. In Pakistan these flowers grow along the roadsides and in the countryside.
The petals are edible and the flower heads can be crystallized and used as decoration for cakes or whole for salad garnishes and in refreshing summer drinks. They can be used like violets, nasturtiums, the kachnar tree’s flowers, those of the red silk cotton tree (Bombax ceiba), borage and rose petals. Wild pansy flowers are good with ice cream, chilled fruit desserts and cold soups, as well as with natural yoghurt. They contain precursors of vitamins A and C and may be used in syrup with honey for coughs.