Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 17:35 EDT

Heartsease, Viola triocolor

The Heartsease (Viola triocolor) is a common European wild flower and grows as an annual or short-lived perennial. In North America, where it spread widely after its introduction, it is known as the Johnny Jump Up (though this name is also applied to similar native species such as the Yellow Pansy). It is the progenitor of the cultivated Pansy, and is therefore sometimes called the Wild Pansy; before the cultivated Pansies were developed, “pansy” was an alternative name for the wild form.

The Heartsease is a small plant of with a creeping habit. It reaches at most 15cm in height, with flowers about 1.5 cm in diameter. It grows in short grassland on farms and wasteland, chiefly on acid or neutral soils. It is usually found in partial shade. It flowers from April to September. The flowers can be purple, blue, yellow or white. They are hermaphrodite and self-fertile, pollinated by bees.

As its name implies, Heartsease has a long history of use in herbalism. Some of its more common uses are 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.

The flowers have also been used to make yellow, green and blue-green dyes, while the leaves can be used to make a chemical indicator.

Long before cultivated pansies were developed, the heartsease was associated with thought in the “language of flowers”, often by its alternative name of pansy: hence Ophelia’s often quoted line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts”. What Shakespeare had in mind was the heartsease, not a modern garden pansy.

Heartsease has a large number of colloquial names, as a matter of fact up to two hundred.

Heartsease Viola triocolor