Viola tricolor, also known as heartsease or love-lies-bleeding, is an annual or short-lived perennial wildflower native to Europe and Asia. The plant has been introduced to many areas of North America, where it is also known as Johnny-jump-up. It is the ancestor of the cultivated pansy, and is sometimes called wild pansy.
In appearance, Viola tricolor is a small, creeping plant that reaches about 6 inches (15.24 centimeters) in height. It is valued for its small, three-toned flowers that appear in shades of blue, purple, yellow and white. Flowers bloom in spring and feature the familiar “faces” characteristic of all pansy flowers, with darker shades typically found on the upper petals. The plant's weak, brittle stems tend to flop over with age, resulting in a long, tangled mass.
Although the plant is well-known as a wildflower, Viola tricolor is also widely cultivated in flower gardens around the world. In the wild, it grows most frequently in lawns, grasslands and wastelands, and along roadsides. In the garden, the plant will grow anywhere, from full sun to full shade, as long as it is provided with cool, moist, acidic soil. Seeds sown in early spring will produce fall blooms, while seeds sown in fall will produce blooms the following spring. Once planted, Viola tricolor self-seeds freely and requires little maintenance aside from infrequent deadheading, or removing the spent blossoms, to encourage growth.
Viola tricolor is used in traditional herbalism as a treatment for asthma and epilepsy. It is considered an expectorant, or substance that breaks up thick mucus and helps expel the material from the lungs and bronchi. Because of this property, the plant is effective in treating respiratory problems such as whooping cough and bronchitis. In homeopathic medicine, heartsease is used in the treatment of eczema, bee stings, worms, carpal tunnel syndrome, headache and measles. In addition to its uses as an herb remedy, the plant's delicate, colorful flowers have also been used to make natural dyes.
Viola tricolor is one of many different plant species that contain cyclotides, or small peptides that are believed to be useful in the treatment of cancer. The particular cyclotide found in heartsease, vitri A, has cytotoxic properties. This means it is toxic to cells and may be used to stop or destroy rapidly dividing cancerous cells within the human body. Further scientific research is necessary, however, to prove the plant's worth in the cancer treatment field.