Powerful Herbal Love Magic in Western Literature

By Kathleen Hale, Member, The Herb Society of America

IMG_0473.jpgYou just might possess one of the most powerful, most legendary sources of love magic in western literature.  And, if you don’t, you can pick it up cheaply at the local garden center or grocer.  Before spending, check the cracks in your sidewalk.  It loves to grow there.

This giant of herbal lore is the lowly (it’s very small) tri-color viola, also called Wild Pansy, Love in Idleness, Love Lies Bleeding, Heart’s Ease, Johnny Jump Up and Kiss Me, Tickle My Fancy and Come Cuddle Me. It is similar to, but not the same as viola odorata, or violets, and is the ancestor of modern pansies. It was introduced to North America from Europe and spreads prolifically, which is why you can often find volunteers somewhere in your garden if you’ve grown it previously. Unsurprisingly, given its common names listed above, in the language of flowers the blossoms mean “thoughts of love.”

Bees like these early bloomers when flowers for pollinators can be scarce. And people can eat them, if they haven’t been sprayed with gardening chemicals. They make a delightful garnish or salad addition.

In legend, the blooms were once pure white, but Eros (Cupid) misfired one of his darts of love, and the divine aphrodisiac potion with which those darts were tipped splattered on the flowers.  The now- colorful petals were infused with the power of love.

img_0471.jpgShakespeare, who was never averse to flattering his patrons, identifies this episode as being when Eros zeroed in on Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. The arrow missed its mark, the viola gained its color and its potency, and this “fair vestal, enthroned by the west…passed on, in maiden meditation fancy free.” – Midsummer’s Night Dream, Act II, scene I.  Oberon noticed the opportunity, and made use of the potion, with the assistance of the always helpful Puck, to generally mess things up.

In Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare’s most endearing comic heroines, herself named “Viola,” shook things up romantically.

The Urban Dictionary claims that any person named Viola is the “best friend in the world.”  And what is a best friend, if not someone who will cheerfully flower in the cracks in the sidewalk?