Parts used medicinally: Aerial parts.
What is Heartsease?
March is the perfect time to learn about this popular little flower as it will be emerging from the warming earth very soon. It is a wildflower in Europe and North America growing on wasteland, fields and hedgerows. Heartsease is rich in folklore and in both Roman and Greek mythology it is associated with love. Early Christians also saw the three coloured petals as a symbol of the Holy Trinity and King Arthur and his knights at the round table believed the lines on the petals foretold their future.
The flower is one of the oldest favourites in the English garden and the affection for it is shown in the many names that were given it. Here is a list of the wonderful and evocative alternative names for Heartsease: Wild Pansy there’s love-in-idleness, love-lies-bleeding, call-me-to-you, kiss-her-in-the-buttery, kiss-me-love-at-the-garden-gate, kiss-me-quick, johnny-jump-up, monkey’s face, three-faces-under-a-hood, two-faces-in-a-hood, cuddle-me and stepmother (The story is that the large bottom petal (the stepmother) sits on two sepals, the two petals on either side of the bottom petal are the daughters and they each have their own sepal. The two petals at the top are the stepdaughters and they share a single sepal and are in the back of the other petals.)
This annual plant has beautiful violet, blue and/or yellow and cream flowers that emerge in Spring to Autumn and grow to between 7-30cm tall. It grows from seed, self-sows and prefers rain, cooler temperatures and is frost resistant.
Today, many of the medicinal uses of heartsease lack rigorous scientific study but boast strong anecdotal evidence.
- Anti-inflammatory: heartsease is used today as a purifying herb for skin conditions both internally and externally (as compress) for eczema, cradle cap, acne and psoriasis.
- Expectorant: this herb has mucilaginous and demulcent properties making it a valuable remedy for inflammation of the lungs and chest causing coughs, phlegm or bronchitis.
- Diuretic: heartsease increases the amount of urine you produce and is consequently used to treat rheumatism, gout, arthritis and cystitis.
- Anti-microbial: research has shown it has antimicrobial activity against a range of gram positive and gram negative bacteria with good activity against Staphylococus aureus, S epidermidis, and antifungal activity against Candida albicans.
- Anti-tumor: both Heartseases and its close relative Sweet violet (Viola odorata) have displayed cytotoxicity and strong activity against myeloma and lymphoma cancer cell lines.
Ways to Use Heartsease at Home?
- Use the dried or fresh herb to infuse and add to a bath to soothe itchy eczema prone skin.
- It is often added to cough syrups.
- Mash up heartsease and apply as a poultice to treat skin problems including cradle cap, eczema and psoriasis.
- Drink an infusion of heartsease leaves for its diuretic action, helping to treat cystitis and rheumatism.
- The delicately perfumed fresh flowers can be added to salads, frozen in ice cubes and crystalised for use in baking.
- Place a flower in a book to make a herbal bookmark that develops a scent as it dries.
Large doses can cause nausea and/or vomiting.
Asthma and diuretic medications
Did You Know?
In ancient days the plant was used for its potency in love charms, hence perhaps its name of Heartsease. It is the flower that plays such an important part as a love-charm in Shakespear’s Midsummer Night’s Dream- “the juice of it, on sleeping eyelids laid, will make a man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees.”
If you are pregnant/breastfeeding or on drug medication, be sure to consult with a professional before trying these remedies.