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The Beautiful and Delicate Heartsease Pansy (Viola tricolor)

April 30, 2017

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The Beautiful and Delicate Heartsease Pansy (Viola tricolor)

April 30, 2017

This beautiful flower gives me so much pleasure every time I see it’s colourful, blushing blooms in my garden. It seems to just appear throughout the garden from nowhere, filling gaps and continually blooming throughout the year. One of the lovely attributes of this plant is that its flowers are so variable. They generally contain variations of vibrant deep purple, yellow and white detailing. The flowers seem to vary in size, some being larger than others. However, there is more to this humble plant than meets the eye.   


The aerial parts of the plant, gathered during or just prior to flowering have been used medicinally for centuries. At one time it was included in the United States Pharmacopeia. One of the earliest English names for the plant was Banwort or Bonewort as it was employed to assist with the healing of broken bones. The common name of pansy comes from the French name Pensees by which it is still known in France. Mrs Grieve (1931) declares that the name ‘Love in Idleness' is still in use in Warwickshire, England, relating back to it’s ancient use in love charms, including a role in the love charm in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Historically the plant was used to treat childhood convulsions and fits, conditions of inflammation of the lungs and chest and skin conditions, including itching, scabs and for the healing of ulcers. 


The plant contains flavonoids (anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-carcenogenic, antioxidant, cardioprotective), saponins (expectorant, demulcent), alkaloids (spasmolytic, anti-inflammatory), mucilage, phenolic acids, carotenoids including violaxanthin (antioxidant), anthocyanins (antioxidant), tannins (astringing) and coumarins (blood-thinning). Heartsease also contains Vitamins C and E and minerals including calcium and magnesium. It has been shown to have diuretic, anti-rheumatic, cardiotonic and laxative properties. For such a beautiful, small plant, the Heartease pansy is a herb that has so many beneficial properties. 


Holmes (2006) writes of Heartsease:  

“Promotes detoxification, resolves damp and dissolves deposits; reduces lymph congestion and relieves eczema; reduces allergy and inflammation, and relieves itching and pain”. These properties make it a useful treatment for eczema, pruritus, arteriosclerosis, lymphadentitis, rheumatism; gout, neuritis, variscosities including hemorrhoids, and immediate allergies. 


“Tonifies urinary Qi, harmonises urination and relieves incontinence; promotes urination and relieves irritation”. The herb can be used to treat urinary tract incontinence including enuresis (night incontinence), bladder irritation and dysuria (painful urination). 


“Promotes sweating and expectoration, dispels wind-heat, stimulates immunity and reduces infection”. This makes it a useful treatment during the onset of cold and flu, during bronchitis or croup and in general during active infection. 


“Restores and relaxes the nerves, and relieves fatigue; clears internal wind and stops spasms”. This suggests use in neurasthenia, spasms, tremors, cramps; nervous palpitations and asthma. 


“Promotes tissue repair”. It is used in the treatment of wounds including sores and ulcers. 


Fisher (2009) quotes studies showing both antimicrobial and antifungal properties. 


In vitro studies have shown Heartsease to have antimicrobial activity against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, S. epidermis, Bacillus cereus and also the fungal pathogen Candida albicans. 


Methods of use: 

Infusion – 8-16g fresh herb steeped in boiling water; or soaked in cold water for eight hours. 

Compress – dried or powdered herb or included in ointment. 

Long-term use is indicated for chronic rheumatism, eczema, and neuritis. 

Tincture – 3-5ml daily at 1:3 strength in 45% ethanol. 

Caution:  because the herb contains saponins prolonged full dose use may cause stomach upsets in some – best combined with other herbs or simply switched for another single herb if this occurs.


With so many potential health benefits this humble plant should be encouraged in any active herb garden. At the Oamaru Apothecary, we grow the Heartease pansy and pick by hand, dry and then incorporate into some of our Hoheria Botanicals products. 


I hope that if you have the Heartsease pansy appear in your garden, you too will think about its special qualities and uses while enjoying its beauty. 


Elly Toft

Naturopath, Medical Herbalist, Yoga Teacher
(B.N.H.M., M.N.Z.A.M.H.)



Fisher C. (2009).  Materia medica of western herbs.  Nelson, New Zealand:  Vitex Medica 

Ganora L. (2009).  Herbal constituents – foundations of phytochemistry.  Louisville, CO.:  Herbalchem Press 

Grieve M. (1931).  A modern herbal.  London, England:  Penguin Group. 

Holmes P. (2006).  The energetics of western herbs vol. 2.  Boulder, CO.:  Snow Lotus Press, Inc.

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