Violets as Medicine

Meet Herb of The Year for 2022
violets growing in a sunny garden

A longtime staple of traditional herbal medicine, preparations made from the leaves or flowers have been used to soothe coughs and congestion, ease headaches, and promote sleep, according to the International Herb Association, whose “Herb of the Year” for 2022 is viola.

Medicinal Uses for Viola

These popular, edible members of the botanical genus Viola have come to the attention of medical researchers. Scientists are studying the antibacterial, anticancer, and other properties of viola. Here’s a sampling of the research to date.

  • Antibacterial

    The growing concern over antibiotics’ waning efficacy against pathogens and the lack of new medications have led to “the exploration of alternative sources of antimicrobial therapeutics,” according to the authors of a study into species of viola including V. inconspicua. They looked at viola’s cyclotides, stable peptides that exhibit bioactivity.

    Specifically, the researchers found “potent bioactivities against strains of the gram-negative bacteria E. coli and the highly virulent and multidrug-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae.”

  • Pharmacological

    Another species, V. betonicifolia, is known in traditional medicine circles for its pharmacological properties, including anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and antidepressant.

  • Nutritional

    Komal Rizwan and colleagues found “a good profile of micro- and macronutrients,” including vitamin C, in various parts of the plant. Calling for clinical studies, the authors said their review “suggests that V. betonicifolia is a promising source of pharmaceutical agents.”

  • Anti-Cancer

    A laboratory study of an extract of V. odorata against breast cancer cell lines and stem cells showed “anti-migratory, anti-invasion and anti-colony formation activity.” The researchers noted breast cancer cell death and decrease in the size and volume of tumors.

    Except in cases of high concentration, the authors said, their data “suggest that Viola odorata extract mostly targets cancerous cells, not normal cells.” These studies suggest that viola is worthy of further examination as a potential addition to the human arsenal against disease.

More Uses for Violets

Here are some ideas for harnessing the properties of this versatile flower.

Sources: 

A comprehensive review on chemical and pharmacological potential of Viola betonicifolia: A plant with multiple benefitsby K. Rizwan et al., Molecules, 8/19

Suppressive role of Viola odorata extract on malignant characters of mammosphere-derived breast cancer stem cells by S. Yousefnia et al., Clinical & Translational Oncology, 9/20

Viola: Herb of the Year 2022,” International Herb Association, www.iherb.org, 2022

Viola ‘inconspicua’ no more: An analysis of antibacterial cyclotides by N.C. Parsley et al., Journal of Natural Products, 9/19

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Nan Fornal

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