Saturday, 22 May 2010

Using Heartsease for skin conditions

The Viola species of plants gives us the delights of violets and pansies. In the last couple of months, tiny violets (Viola Odorata) popped up in the most unlikely places in my garden, and I also saw them growing at the side of paths.

Now the violets are gone, but have I have the pleasure of their rather showier looking cousin, the Wild Pansy (Viola Tricolor), also known as Heartsease. It has many names and is apparently still known in Warwickshire by the name, Love in Idleness. This has not popped up as a surprise, but rather is one that I planted on purpose.

Even before growing Heartsease, I was already using it in its dried form (both leaves and roots) in some of my skin preparations. This lead me to want to grow and explore this herb a bit more.

I've read a number of stories about the folklore around this herb:
  • It was said that an infusion of Heartsease would help to mend a broken heart.
  • That wearing Heartsease could make a lover think of you.
  • That picking Wild Pansies on a fine day or while they have dew on them would result in the death of a loved one - or rain.
In the "language of flowers" it is related to "thought", indeed the root of the word "pansy" is from the French word "pensée" and Wild Pansy is similarly referred to as Pensamiento in Spanish and Pensiero in Italian. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia says "There's pansies, that's for thoughts". And in Midsummer Night's Dream, Heartsease is used to make Titania fall in love with Bottom!

In herbalism, Heartease has long been used both internally and externally. According to Wikipedia "It has been recommended, among other uses, as a treatment for epilepsy, asthma, skin diseases and eczema. It has expectorant properties, and so has been used in the treatment of chest complaints such as bronchitis and whooping cough. It is also a diuretic, leading to its use in treating rheumatism and cystitis."

In skin care treatments, an infusion or tincture of Heartsease is used to help with skin problems such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, as well as for rough skin. I used it as an infusion (along with Comfrey and Plantain) in my Herb Gardener's Hand Lotion. In hair care products it can help to soothe the scalp (I will soon be launching a herbal hair conditioner that includes Heartsease).

I haven't yet tried using the tincture, and as the Heartsease in the garden is in full bloom I have picked both flowers and leaves and covered in vodka to make a tincture. If the plant was better established I would also include some roots, as these apparently contain the highest saponin content.
This is sitting in a cool dark place for 2-3 weeks before I strain it off. I plan to use it in creams and salves for some of the skin issues described above. A nice strong infusion of Heartsease added to a bath ought to have a calming and cleansing effect on the skin.
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