Viola tricolor, otherwise known as wild pansy, has earned itself quite a name, literally. Among its many common names, which include trinity herb, heartease, field pansy, Johnny-jump-up, Jupiter flower, and ladies’ delight, the popular herb has an interesting history. Originating from parts of Europe and Asia, the plant has become a popular mainstay in gardens worldwide, as it thrives in a number of habitats. The attractive flower color is arranged in threes — purple, white, and yellow — which is where the term tricolor came about.
Common folklore has it that the wild pansy was also called "trinity herb," or herba trinitatis, by monks who had dedicated the herb to the Trinity in honor of its three colors. The plant was also used in some cultures as a love charm. Many people believed that due to its heart shape, the flower could ease the heart. In addition, the flower was thought to represent memories, souvenirs, and loving thoughts, so it soon became known as "heartease."
The name of "field pansy" derived from the plant’s ability to set multiple seeds and readily sow itself. This also led to the common name "Johnny jump-up," as the wild pansy tends to jump up nearly anywhere. Greek legends often refer to Jupiter having brought forth a field of violets for his love. Women have often been delighted by the flower as well, earning the name "ladies’ delight." This pansy was even mentioned in the writings of Shakespeare.
The wild pansy has a long history of use in herbal medicine as well. It was used to treat many types of skin problems and wounds. When made into a poultice or lotion, the herb could be applied externally to treat anything from skin rashes and boils to eczema, seborrhea, acne, and impetigo. The plant was popular for treating respiratory ailments too. It contains properties that are known to help loosen and expel phlegm, making it an ideal remedy for treating symptoms associated with colds, coughs, and bronchitis.
Even today, the herb can be found as an ingredient in some medicines, such as dermatological creams and expectorants. It has also been prescribed as an anti-inflammatory for arthritis and rheumatism. The plant is thought to increase urination and promote sweating, making it a useful remedy for cleansing the body of toxins as well as reducing fevers. In some cases, wild pansy has been used to soothe upset nerves. While the leaves and flowers of wild pansy are considered edible, the plant can cause severe vomiting if taken or ingested in high doses.