April 9, 2014

Weeding and Gathering: Heartsease

Viola tricolor or heartsease, a common "weed" in my garden.

It's definitely time to switch up my chore routine. In winter, I do outdoor work in the afternoon. In summer, I do outdoor work in the morning. It all has to do with the coldest and hottest parts of the day!

The other day, my morning chore was weeding my lettuce and multiplier onion bed. My fall planted lettuce (mesclun, actually) was well established, but the spring planted lettuce was just beginning to sprout. It was being shaded out by violets and heartsease, so I needed to get a little light to it.

Multiplier onions, lettuce, violets, and heartsease

I confess my definition of "weeds" has narrowed considerably over the years. Besides companion group planting, I find myself leaving volunteers and any other plant I learn is beneficial in any sort of way. The result is rather hodge-podge, messy looking beds, but oh well.

When the lettuce needed sunlight and room to grow, I pulled and saved the heartsease to dry for my herb cabinet. These common little flowers (also called johnny jump up or wild pansy) have both medicinal as well as culinary value and so are worth collecting.

The whole plant can be used and is collected while in bloom. It can be used in infusions (tea), tinctures, poultices, and creams. It acts as an expectorant, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmatic, diuretic, and anti-rheumatic and has a laxative effect. Common medicinal uses include treatment for respiratory problems (cough, asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough), joint complaints (rheumatism, inflammation), urinary problems (cystitis, bedwetting, bladder stones, kidney weakness), as a spring tonic to strengthen circulation and metabolism, and topically for skin complaints (rash, acne, eczema, psoriasis, and cradle cap). For more complete lists:

Heartsease at Remedial Herbs 
Heartsease at Botanical.com

The flowers are the focus of it's culinary use: salads, garnishes, frozen in ice cubes.

Violets (Viola odorata) are in abundance at the moment as well! We have them all over the place. I reckon they should be next on my list for foraging and gathering.


Ngo Family Farm said...

Well at least your weeds are beautiful! Can't say that about mine so much ;)

Sarah said...

Those are so pretty! We have violets that are ALL over but I haven't seen anything like this!

Frugal in Derbyshire said...

Like you, I have altered my definition of weeds over the years. Some from lazyness I guess, but mostly from a realisation that some volunteers are beneficial to the our rabbits, chicken and ourselves. I love your heartsease.
I am unlikely to feel affection for couch grass however, even though the rabbits love it!

Leigh said...

Jaime, only some are beautiful! And only when in flower. :)

Sarah, they are cousins to violets, actually.

Gill, it's interesting how animals can change our perspective of "weeds," isn't it? But like you, my truly weediest weed is a grass too! And it's everywhere! Aaarrgh.

Mama Pea said...

Very interesting! Our johnny jump ups never grow tall as yours seem to but rather stay short and spread out in clumps low to the ground. (I know, I can hear you saying, "Because they're trying to stay close to the ground where the warmth is!" Hmmm, maybe that's it.) I rarely see them in our field garden but they are prolific in the raised beds. One year I transplanted each one I found and filled a raised bed of them exclusively. It made a lovely bed.

Izzy said...

Can't say I've ever seen the heartease before. I'll be looking harder next time I'm at The Compound.

Leigh said...

Mama Pea, LOL. There are also quite a few varieties of this plant. I have one in the garden which has all white flowers.

Izzy, it's a tiny little thing and easy to overlook. They are a sweet addition to the yard.

Farmer Barb said...

Johnny has been Jumping Up around me for decades and I never knew what it was called or that it could be used! Yea Leigh!

Lynda said...

I don't have wild viola's, so I buy seed and plant them everywhere. I do have violets...tons of them. My aunt gathered some wild ones from Mt. St. Helen's before the eruption and I have those in my yard...a very dark purple color with huge blooms...they make a lovely violet jelly.

Mark said...

I may have to be altering my definition of "weed" too. Between you and Tracy at 'The Yellow Rose of Texas' my weeds are turning into volunteer garden crops. I'm not sure we get these here, and it's too early to see them anyway. We're just getting the last of the snow off the north-facing hillsides and not getting a lot of getting a lot of new growing things yet. I'll watch for Heartease when thins start to grow.

Kev Alviti said...

I always usex to love to see a field of buttercups until I had a garden full of them! I've got lots of clover growing in the veg garden which is no bad thing.

Nina said...

sigh... it looks like summer there... I'm starting to get a bit envious :)

Frank and Fern said...

Great information! Thank you. I am trying to learn more about the common plants in our area and their uses. We have both of these here and violets in abundance - purple and yellow.

Thanks for teaching me more today, Leigh.


Renee Nefe said...

I love violas and pansies but getting them to grow here is difficult. I think the birds or the mulch keeps them from reseeding here. I'm going to keep trying though.
I got a idea today to try for pest control. I got the idea from the news...that pepper poisoning that happened at a school near me. I'm going to try getting the peppers and spreading the oil from ground peppers over my mulch to see if that keeps the deer and neighborhood cats out of my flowers. I'm also going to try it on areas that we want our dog to stay out of as well. I hope that she isn't too dumb and ends up hurting herself with it.

Leigh said...

Barb, it's amazing how useful plants can be, isn't it? There are only a few I'd now declare "weeds". Even so, I've been thinking I need to get the herb and wildflower identification books out again.

Lynda, violet jelly sounds lovely! I recall seeing a recipe for it sometimes last year. I may have to look into that. It would make nice gifts.

Mark, I just discovered Tracy's blog recently; another fantastic resource. I noted her recent post of purslane, but I don't think I've ever seen that here. I need to go back through the rest of her herb posts.

Kev, I would love to have lots of clover growing in our veggie garden! I have a small patch which I'm going to leave be. I love a good living mulch.

Nina, by the time you're enjoying spring flowers, I'll be complaining about the heat, LOL

Fern, thanks! Mark mentioned another blog, here. She is also doing a series on wild edibles.

Renee, I need to know if this works! We recently bought a couple of those solar blinking lights for the garden to see if they would deter deer. I haven't blogged about them yet 'cuz I wanted to see if they worked! My best time to find new deer tracks is right after a rain, and there were none after our rain on Monday! I'm not counting my chickens before they're hatched, but it would be wonderful to not have deer wipe on my beets and sweet potatoes this year!

Unknown said...

Oh I love those little flowers! so beautiful, I've let them volunteer anywhere they please. I didn't know they were medicinal as well-I will have to try them! My garden has gotten messier as well, with the acceptance of "weeds" like purslane wood sorrel, catmint, salsify, lambs quarters and more.

Chris said...

I don't see weeds, I see beauty personified. :) You're courageous to welcome them into your garden and find a good purpose for them.

I'm in love with that image, more so than a neat row of anything you could plant without competition.

You should feel very proud of that patch. I see green productivity and that's what every gardener wants. :)

Tanmoy Roy said...

Love those little flowers! Wonderful.

Leigh said...

Ell Ford, hello and welcome! I love the trend in more natural gardening. Anything that can be used is worth letting grow!

Chris, well put! The other benefit (besides they look pretty) is as living mulch. I find a nicely crowded bed stays so much happier.

Tanmay Roy, thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am trying to be more like this as I learn more about the plants that grow naturally around here.


Leigh said...

Stephanie, that's the best way to do it. Every couple of years I get an identification book from the library and learn a few more!