Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Violet Medicine, Nestling into Spring and a Garment of Weeds

I recently discovered that the leaves and flowers of violets are edible, and especially good for gently cleansing and detoxifying the body—thus perfect for a spring clean. They grow all over the place in our garden, the friendliest (and now most useful) of plants. So every day or two over the past few weeks I have been drinking a mug of violet tea (a subtly mauve liquid with the merest hint of green), and munching on a few of the bright heart-shaped leaves. Both the tea and the young leaves are fresh and mild-tasting, so not at all difficult to consume.

Violet is the diminutive form of the Latin Viola, the Latin form of the Greek name Ione. There is a legend that when Jupiter changed his beloved Io into a white heifer for fear of Juno’s jealousy, he caused these modest flowers to spring forth from the earth to be a fitting food for her, and he gave them her name. Another derivation of the word Violet is said to stem from Vias (wayside). (Maud Grieve, A Modern Herbal, 1931, p. 834)

Mythological derivations aside, I have found these ‘modest flowers’ to be of particular help at this time, a ‘fitting food’ to calm and cleanse body and mind, and bring me back to myself (an ongoing process), in readiness for going deep into the spring that gets stronger and closer by the day, and welcoming whatever the season brings.

Other purplish flowers have also beckoned to me: rosemary, which I have taken cuttings of and dried, in readiness for use in herbal potions for hair and skin; and lavender, as I rest with a lavender-scented pillow gently weighing down my tired eyelids.

Purple is a colour I particularly associate with the sacred, with Spirit, so I am seeing it as an ally at this time, revealing itself through these spring flowers which can heal both internally and externally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. 

Not long ago I came across a fallen bird’s nest on one of my frequent walks (two in fact, a very short distance from each other, though I only brought one home to photograph). Both were empty, and neither had any sign of broken eggshell, either inside or nearby, so I assume (hope) that they had fallen before they had had a chance to be used. Being palm-sized (and my hands are small), they were probably made by a honeyeater, or another very small species, and were beautifully constructed from pine needles, bits of some kind of nylon twine/thread, and, in the case of the one I brought home, lined with downy feathers. 

It made me think of how all creatures have a nesting instinct, a desire to make or dwell within a place that is home. The animals manage it quite effortlessly, while we humans tend to have much more difficulty. As Jeanette Winterson wrote in Written on the Body (1992):

Very few people ever manage what nature manages without effort and mostly without fail. We don’t know who we are or how to function, much less how to bloom. Blind nature. Homo sapiens. Who’s kidding whom? (p. 43) 

Finding the nests seemed an apt reminder to further nestle myself into spring, and into this land that is my home, and to let it energise and inspire me. Perhaps I am already nested here, more than I consciously realise. 

It’s so easy sometimes to get carried away by my own trivial human worries, and to forget that nature carries on regardless, and that I am one small part of her constant unfolding. She is always there to help me, if I let her—medicine emerging through violets or bird’s nests, mist over the mountains or a magpie singing in the rain. It is Mother Nature who can show us how to bloom.

I am also pleased to reveal that after several months (!) of doing, undoing and redoing, I have finished knitting a cardigan. Hurrah! As the colour of the wool was rather unpoetically named 0098, I have decided to refer to it as my ‘Donegal cardigan’, after the make of yarn (and because the colour makes an Irish connection apt). Though I could also call it my cardigan of weeds, for it is far from perfect, and a little weedy in appearance. Though I’m sure it will serve me well as a light garment for this in-between season, a fitting article of clothing for wandering into spring’s wild weediness.

And here is a galah. Just because.


  1. Beautiful! I love your cardigan and your just-because Galah. And the info about violets is most welcome. As we are just deepening into autumn here we won't have violets for a while but we had lots in our garden earlier in the year so I will look forward to gathering some in the spring. And I like the thought that you are sipping violet tea on the other side of the world. Somewhere, there is always a kettle on.

    1. Thanks, Jacqueline. It's such a relief to have that cardigan finished—the button band was a nightmare!—but I got it done in time for spring. I saw the galah on my walk this morning, and decided to include him/her in this post, because who doesn't love a galah? And yes, there's always a kettle on somewhere. Where would we be without our hot beverages of choice?

    2. Oh, there must always be tea! I don't really even know what a galah is and I love them. Thank you!

    3. All you need know about galahs is that they are (mostly) pink. Who cannot love a pink bird? (Though 'galah' is also Australian slang for a stupid person.)

  2. I love violets! Enjoy them, in your Spring. I have to wait through Autumn and Winter, to see them again. :-)

    "We don’t know who we are or how to function, much less how to bloom."

    Oh so true! At 79, I am still trying to discover the True Me. I have functioned. But still don't know how to fully bloom......

    Beautiful Galah! Yes, just because.

    Spring/Autumn blessings,
    Luna Crone

  3. Beautiful words and images, thank you :) LOVE the bird's nest - what a treasure! And your cardigan - just gorgeous!! The perfect garment for a weedwife :) x

    1. Thank you, Claire! I've been going through a green phase, so I am very happy with my new cardigan. Though I'm still learning how to be a weedwife.


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