- Are Violets Edible – Violet Flower Uses In The Kitchen
- Are Violets Edible?
- About Edible Violet Plants
- Eating the Weeds: Violas, Sweet Violets
- Violets’ Virtues
- Viola affinis: Florida’s Sweet Violet
- Green Deane’s “Itemized Plant Profile”
- Not so wild about violets? Pick ’em and eat ’em
- Wild Violets
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- Wildcrafting Weeds
- Gather & Root Online Foraging Course
- Foraging for Wild Violets
- Wild Violets: Herb for Beauty, Nourishment and Healing
- Sweet sweet Violet – medicinal and edible uses of Violets
Are Violets Edible – Violet Flower Uses In The Kitchen
One extremely common plant, the violet, is widely known for its presence as a wildflower and also has its place in well-maintained and cultivated gardens too. But, did you know that eating violet flowers is popular as well? Whether foraging for edible plants in the wild or making the deliberate choice to plant palatable flowers in the garden, these brightly colored blooms can offer exciting visual appear and interest to old-time recipes or even inspire new kitchen creations. In addition to attracting early season pollinators, many edible flowers are praised for their utilization beyond the garden and for their use in daily life.
Are Violets Edible?
Throughout the United States, common blue violets can be seen growing along roadsides, in shady woodland areas, and in fields. Other species of the Viola family can also be found, though usually grown as ornamental flowers in mixed plantings with vegetables or in flower borders. One thing which remains constant, however, is that violet flower uses are abundant. So, can you eat violets? Indeed, you can!
Violets, both the leaves and flowers, contain high amounts of vitamin C and vitamin A. The edible violet plant can be used to make syrups, brew teas, and in baked desserts. Flowers can be added to salads and soups as garnish. Moderation is important, as this plant does contain a compound called saponin, so eating violet flowers and leaves in excess may cause digestive issues. Despite this, multitudes of herbalists praise violets for their relevance and importance as an edible plant.
About Edible Violet Plants
Commonly found growing within ill-managed lawns and tolerant to a wide range of temperatures, most violets are grown as short-lived perennials or cool season annual flowers. This means that violets are often one of the first flowers to bloom in spring and early summer.
When picking edible violet plants, it is first important to properly identify the plants. As always, it is crucial to properly research before picking any flowers and/or leaves so you know that you’re harvesting the correct plant. When foraging for edible flowers, safety should be the number one priority. Often, forage classes may be offered by local agriculture extension offices. A local plant field guide will also be helpful in this process. Never eat anything without complete certainty that it is safe for consumption.
Lastly, it is important to note that edible violets should NOT be confused with African violets. Despite the similarity in the name, common violets (Viola) and African violets are not related.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before using or ingesting ANY herb or plant for medicinal purposes or otherwise, please consult a physician or a medical herbalist for advice.
Eating the Weeds: Violas, Sweet Violets
I love the wild violets that pop up in my lawn each spring. They are a cheerful reminder that warmer days are on the way and I enjoy the little spots of color sprinkled throughout my yard. Yes, I have a yard, not a lawn and am quite proud of that fact. I have great swaths of henbit, dead nettle, white clover, dandelions and of course violets. My yard is a haven for early foraging bees and butterflies and I love the look of everything blooming. Imagine my surprise when I started researching this article and found there were many more links for instructions on getting rid of violets, than encouraging them. I actually moved violets to my yard on purpose and was shocked that there are thousands of folks out there not feeling the love at all.
For those of you in the ant-violet camp, you’re waging an uphill battle. Violas, or sweet violets are a North American native plant and is happy in just about any climate. Their range is from the far north into Canada, south to Mexico. Only the hottest, driest deserts seem to slow them down. They spread by both underground runners and seeds. It also does absolutely no good to mow the blooming violets to prevent them from setting seed. Those flowers aren’t where the seeds come from. The violet is a cleistogamous plant, meaning the seed producing flowers, which actually never bloom in a conventional manner, are produced later in the year and seldom rise above the foliage. The gardener never sees these flowers and they fertilize themselves without opening and only open to release the seeds once they are mature. Even herbicides such as glyphosate have limited effect since the leaves have a waxy surface that prevents absorption. You’ll likely do more harm to the environment than the violets by using those. The best way to deal with violets is to learn to live with them and if they stray into your beds, dig them and compost them.
Now, for those who consider violets a joyful spring gift, there are a number of other useful purposes they serve. The leaves are edible and can be used like spinach. They also contain salicylic acid that is a natural aspirin. A couple of teaspoons of dried leaves makes a nice tea that soothes sore throats and eases fevers. Sweeten with a bit of honey if you like. The leaves and flowers contain more Vitamin C than the same weight in oranges and contain a mild antiseptic that Native Americans used to bind wounds. Just be careful about adding any new plant to your menu and only do this gradually to see how your system reacts. Violets are pretty benign, however they do have mild laxative properties and it would be best to introduce them to your diet a little at a time.
However, it is those lovely little flowers that make the violet such a treasure. They’re completely edible and have so many different uses. Dip clean flowers in frothy egg whites, sprinkle with sugar and give them about 20 minutes in a 200F degree oven and you have candied violets, suitable for decorating all sorts of cakes and pastries.
Then there is violet vinegar. Such a nice addition to your salad. Place two cups of clean violet blooms in a quart jar and pour 12 to 16 ounces of rice or white wine vinegar over them. Let them sit on the counter for a week or two and give the jar a shake several times a day. The violets will infuse the vinegar with their flavor and turn it a beautiful shade of purple. When it is ready to bottle up, pour the whole thing into a large strainer, and press the violets for the last of their juice. Then strain again using a coffee filter. Return your violet vinegar to the bottle and it is ready to use.
Last, but definitely not least is violet syrup. This took some work. I picked a half gallon of violet blossoms (these were both the usual purple ones and the ‘gray’ violets) I made an infusion by bringing 2 cups of water to a boil and pouring this over the blossoms. I covered it and left it to steep overnight. The water turned a deep blue. The next day, I strained and pressed the blossoms and re-strained through a coffee filter. After that, I added 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, which made the blue infusion turn a beautiful shade of amethyst. I added 2 cups of sugar and cooked it over medium heat until the sugar was dissolved and the syrup had thickened. This took about 20 minutes. I did let the mixture boil, but was careful not to let it stick or burn, much like one would make candy. The syrup has a light, floral flavor for want of a better description. Very delicate and very tasty. Store the syrup in the refrigerator and use it over ice cream, pancakes, in cake icing, or mix a spoonful into your tea or yogurt. It works anywhere a light, sweet touch is desired.
There are a number of Viola species throughout the Northern Hemisphere and the cheerful little flowers have been the subjects of songs, poems, foods, medicine and love charms for centuries. Known as sweet violets, they are not to be confused with the African violet in the genus Saintpaulia, which are not edible and native only to that continent. In the wild, they favor the edges of woodland areas and along the banks of streams or creeks where acid soil is abundant. They are a host plant for the fritillary butterflies. Remember that they play an important role on our ecology and if that fails, gather some and make some sweet treats instead of trying to eradicate these spring wildflowers
Five petals, with lowest petal heavily veined. Photo by Green Deane
Viola affinis: Florida’s Sweet Violet
My introduction to violets was seeing my mother eat “Piss-a-beds” in the spring (Viola rafinesquii. VYE-oh-lah raff-a-NESK-kee-eye.) They grew in the shade near the smelly cellar drain and were, as you might guess, a diuretic.
Colony of violets in Florida
For all their presence in Florida I did not see violets for quite a while. More so, they show great variation so getting the right identification can be a bit irritating. Pictured here, I think, is Viola sororia/affinis. (VYE-oh-lah-ROR-ee-uh / aff-EYE-niss.) However, violets are like oak and pine trees, you really don’t need to know which exact species it is as long as you have the right genus. (And just to make sure, we are not talking about African Violets, which are in a different genus completely.)
Violets leaves can be used raw in salads or cooked like spinach. Their flowers can be eaten raw, or candied, the dried leaves can be used to make tea. Violets can also be added to soups as a thickener. In fact, in the 1800’s that was the most common reference for them. While they traditionally blossom in the spring, warmer areas can see them blossom in the spring and late fall. In Central Florida’s winter, Christmas to Valentines, they are quite happy and blooming.
Native Americans had various medicinal uses for some 17 species of violets. Surprisingly there is little record of them eating violets with only three western tribes doing so. They did, however, used violets as poultices for headaches and boils, as an infusion for dysentery, kidney problems, bladder issues, heart pain, colds and coughs (they are high in vitamins A and C.) They were also used for skin problems, as application research confirmed in 1995.
Violet roots, however, are not user friendly. They can clean you out. The Indians soaked them with corn seeds as a pre-planting insecticide. Indeed, violets have long been associated with chemistry. Before there was the “litmus” test there was the violet test for acids and alkalis. And of course, recreating the aroma of violets was a major challenge of the perfume industry.
The name “violet” is often given as from Dead Latin, and it is. However, there is Greek behind that Dead Latin. Contemporary Greeks say violetta — adapted from English — or menekseis. The English word “violet” is from the Dead Latin “viola” the Roman’s name for the plant. However, viola came from the Greek word Vion, which is a variation of Io, (EEoh… Ιω…) the beautiful daughter of Inachus, King of Argos. Io was also priestess to Zeus’ wife Hera. According to Greek legend, Zeus was so smitten by Io that he seduced her after much pursuit and rejection by her. The seduction made his wife, Hera, quite angry. To protect Io from Hera Zeus transformed her into a white heifer. (Ain’t that nice: You’re young, beautiful, you’re seduced by the most powerful god around and then get turned into a cow.) As a heifer, however, Io wept because she had to eat coarse grass. To compensate her for her suffering Zeus changed her tears into sweet-smelling, dainty violets for her to eat. However, Hera was not without her means and caused the earth-wandering Io/heifer to be incessantly bothered by a gadfly.
Mythology notwithstanding, violets have quite a history. Violets were first cultivated in Greece around 400 BC or about the time of Socrates, Hippocrates, and the building of the Acropolis. ( so-CRA-tis, i-po-CRA-tis, a-CROP-po-li ) In fact they were the first commercial flower product. Athens was known as the “violet-crowned city.” The Romans liked violet-flavored wine so much they spent more time cultivating violets than olives, much to the irritation of Horace (65-8 BC.) Violets, associated with resurrection, were secretly planted on Nero’s grave. And when Chopin died in Paris his student, Jane Stirling, bought all the violets she could find in Paris and put them on his grave. That tradition lasts to this day with visitors to his grave leaving violets. Napoleon was nicknamed the Caporal Violette which he used as a nom de plume along with Pere La Violette. When he died he was wearing a locket of violets taken from the grave of his wife, Josephine. They were her favorite flower, and that of England’s Queen Victoria’s, too. Until the early 1900’s violets were associated with St. Valentine’s Day, not roses. According to the legend, Valentine crushed the violet blossoms growing near his cell to make ink to write messages on violet leaves to his friends, delivered by a dove. He was executed on 14 February 269 A.D.
The state flower of Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Illinois and New Jersey, there are some 850 species of violets, in two large groups, sweet and wood. Sweet is strongly scented, wood less scented but larger than the sweets. At least three violets are native to Florida, V. conspersa, sororia and bicolor. Affinis means “similar to” and is a synonym for sororia, sometimes a variation. Conspersa (kons-PER-sa) is sprinkled, sororia sisterly, and bicolor two colored.
Nutritionally violets have 15,000 to 20,000 IUs of vitamin A per 100 grams serving. See recipes below.
Green Deane’s “Itemized Plant Profile”
IDENTIFICATION: Blossoms blue, violet, yellow, white, shades in between and multi-colored. Five petals, with lowest petal heavily veined and going back into a spur. Low growing, there is a wide variety in the leaf shape. Sweet violets are the most aromatic, wood violets tend to be larger.
TIME OF YEAR: Varies slightly. Sweet violets first in spring, the wood violets. In warmer climates they can blossom again in fall
ENVIRONMENT: Moist shaded areas, partial sun.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves raw, dried or cooked. Blossoms raw or candied. Yellow violets can be mildly laxative.
2 cups fresh violets
2 cups boiling water
Juice of one lemon
1 pack pectin
4 cups sugar
Place the violets blossoms in a glass jar and cover them with the boiling water. Make an infusion with violets and water by placing your blossoms in a glass jar and covering them with boiling water. Put a lid on the jar, and set aside for anywhere between 2-24 hours. The water will turn to an aqua blue. Strain and discard the spent flowers. Add the lemon juice and the mix will change to a pretty pink. (After you do this a time or two, you can sort of judge how much lemon juice to add to get a color that `suits’ you.) Stir in pectin, and bring to a boil. Add sugar, bring to a boil again, and boil vigorously for one minute. Skim if necessary. Pour into sterile jars and seal. Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups jelly.
4 cups of violets
2 cups boiling water
6 cups sugar
Juice of one lemon
2 cups water
Place violet flowers in a mason jar and pour boiling water over them. Let sit 24 hours. Strain liquid into a bowl (not aluminum!) squeezing out all the goodness from the flowers. Place sugar, lemon juice and water in a saucepan and boil into a very thick syrup, near the candy stage. Add violet water and bring to a rolling boil. Boil 10 minutes or until thickened. Pour into sterile bottles. Allow to cool, then seal and refrigerate. Serve with club soda or as pancake topping, or brush on baked goods.
Not so wild about violets? Pick ’em and eat ’em
WASHINGTON — Not so wild about wild violets?
Myra in Arlington writes: “What is the best way to get rid of wild violets in the lawn? We have both the purple & Confederate types. It started out with just a few in a bed on the edge of the lawn, but after a few years, they have spread out into the lawn. Now that I’m retired, I want to focus on taking care of them this year.”
Well, I know it’s not what you meant, but I think that ‘taking care of them’ is a great idea. Wild violets — both the typical violet-colored form and the beautiful white-streaked-with-thin-lines-of-purple type that you’re calling “Confederate” bring unchallenged natural beauty to landscapes in the spring. And they’re as ephemeral as Spring bulbs, vanishing when their short season is over.
Eat Your Weedies!
Myra in Arlington wants to know how to get rid of the wild violets in the lawn.
Pick and eat them, Myra! Like their close cousins — pansies, violas, and Johnny jump-ups — wild violets are among the finest edible flowers available.
The best way to enjoy them is as a wildly colorful garnish on top of a green salad. Pick just the flowers, not the leaves, and then add them to the top of the salad at the very end. A handful of wild violet flowers makes 50 cents worth of mixed greens look like a million bucks!
And those flowers are the only edible source of rutin — a hard-to-find nutrient that has the power to prevent or reverse the visible effects of spider and varicose veins.
That’s right: Looking better in shorts and a bathing suit; that’s a benefit you won’t get from a lawn!
Enjoy the Butterflies they Breed
Wanting to know how to get rid of the wild violets in the lawn is a common request. But I also get a surprising number of emails from people who want the beautiful little purple flowers to pop up in their landscape in the Spring. And a few years ago, I got a great email asking for help from a violet-loving listener who was in despair because ‘something’ had eaten all the flowers off the violet plants in her lawn.
This led to my discovery that violets are host plants for the caterpillars that become fritillaries — large, colorful butterflies that look a lot like monarchs to the untrained eye. In late summer, the adults are attracted in large numbers to areas where violets bloom in the Spring, lay their eggs nearby, and then the caterpillars that emerge in the Spring feed on the violets.
So, let’s review:
- wild violets are edible flowers with amazing nutrient benefits
- the host plant for a family of big, beautiful butterflies.
- And they provide welcome color in early Spring.
So maybe consider making peace with yours?
Wild Violets are Invulnerable to Herbicides
When people like Myra in Arlington ask how to get rid of wild violets in their lawn, my first suggestion is to pick and eat the edible flowers and enjoy the beautiful butterflies the plants attract. But if attack you must, don’t do so with herbicides.
Although delicate in appearance, violets are one of the most herbicide-resistant plants on the planet.
I repeat: chemical herbicides simply do not work on wild violets, so do not waste your money, risk your health, and destroy your wanted plants with useless spraying; the violets will be the last thing standing. If you can’t make peace with them your only real option is physical removal.
Dig Those Crazy Violets!
When wild violets show up in your lawn your best choice is to embrace their beauty, edibility, and attraction of butterflies. If remove them you must, get a good shovel — because wild violets are immune to chemical herbicides.
But they do grow in well-defined clumps that can be physically removed. Please toss the removed clumps into the woods, where the flowers will feed the caterpillars of beautiful butterflies.
If you have a ‘running’ lawn, like bluegrass, just fill in the holes with compost or high-quality screened topsoil and the grass will creep across the area and fill in naturally. Clumping grasses like fescue don’t have the ability creep sideways and will need to have those areas reseeded in mid-August. (Yes, you can try seeding them in the Spring but the odds are strong that you’ll have to redo it in August; Spring seeding is hardly ever successful with cool-season grasses.)
Oh — and if the area is filled with trees and/or doesn’t get at least four hours of sun a day, just leave it alone, because grass will never grow there.
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These forest flowers are pretty enough to eat. Go ahead—let our six simple recipes fuel your culinary imagination.
This article is featured in April 2005 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
Renegade patches of snow still linger in the forest’s darkest spots when the first violets of the season nudge their blossoms above ground. I am no botanist, but even I can identify these little bursts of purple and blue with their heart-shaped leaves. And I have come to know that the advent of violets means spring has arrived—not a false burst of warm weather between late winter storms, but the real thing. By the time the later-blooming yellow and white violets are out, I’m hiking in shorts.
I love violets for their faithful promise of the new season, for their delicate yet sturdy beauty in a still largely barren landscape. But I love them even more because they’re edible. On spring hikes I fill my pockets with violets and throw them into any number of dishes when I get home. A violet’s flavor is subtle, just a hint of sweetness, but visually they turn the simplest dish into a celebration of spring.
Recipe: Violet Salad
After a quick rinse and a whirl in the salad spinner, violets can give a pop to salads (their leaves are packed with vitamins A and C). Their blossoms can brighten butter (chop in the flowers using a food processor) and sweeten lemonade (first crush the petals into the sugar).
Recipe: Violet Sugar
A rule of thumb for cooking with violets: the deeper purple the flower, the sweeter its flavor. When you forage for violets bring along a field guide so you can be certain that what you’re picking is indeed a violet (see “Meet Violet” to get to know our Northern Michigan varieties) and make sure your violet patch is pesticide free. Also, remember that picking wildflowers on state, federal or conservancy land is a no-no.
Recipe: Violet Vinegar
If foraging seems too complicated, growing your own violets is a breeze. Most nurseries carry several varieties. Happy picking—and eating.
Recipe: Violet Cupcakes + Violet Frosting
Elizabeth Edwards is managing editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
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Johnny jump ups, hearts ease, pansies, wild violets, and a host of other names all point to plants in the Viola genus. There are 400-500 species worldwide and they can be found in almost all temperate climates. In the North Eastern United States Viola sororia is a common wild violet. This information also applies to most other species of violets and certainly the common pansy that can be purchased in early spring at any garden center.
Edibility and Culinary Use
The whole wild violet plant is edible. Leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked, raw leaves are nice and crunchy with a slightly mucilaginous texture. The flavor of wild violets is mild, not overwhelming so you can eat a whole bunch at one time. They are commonly used as a lettuce substitute in salads and sandwiches. The roots are one of my favorite spring snacks, right when the leaves start coming up in early spring, you can uproot the entire plant and find small edible tubers on some species, such as Viola sororia. Wash the tubers then lightly boil or steam these to soften them up a bit before they are served.
Historically wild violet leaves and flowers have been used for a number of ailments from headaches to asthma, to sore throats, even whooping cough, just to name a few. It has also been used as a breath freshener. The plant is valued for its anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties. Wild Violets and Pansies also contain salicylic acid, which is a pain reliever.
Wild violets are difficult to identify when flowers are not present. The primary factors that can be used for easy identification of this plant are the timing and shape of flowers. Wild violets can be identified by the flowers appearing in very early spring. These plants are common in untreated lawns and planting beds.
Once you see these very early spring flowers you can confirm the identity of the plant by the flower shape.Wild violet flowers vary greatly in shape. size and color but their petal pattern is always the same. They all have 5 petals arranged a specific way, 2 up top, then 2 in the middle on either side, then a single petal on the bottom. For extra confirmation of correct identification search online or in reference guides for wild violet species in your area and attempt to identify plants by species. Leaves are often heart shaped but sometimes are irregularly shaped or rounded as is the case with many pansies. The maximum height of the plants vary by species but are usually less than 8″ tall.
Wild violets are a great foraging plant. Flowers and leaves pop up in very early spring, and the plant sticks around throughout the entire growing season. Throw some pansies or violets into your next meal to give some color. Violets are one of the first things to come up in the spring so to celebrate the first few weeks of warm weather eat violets for taste, texture, and color.
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Lady of surprises – you might be small and delicate, but you hold immense power and unmatched beauty. Your flirtatious fragrance has been the signature perfume of queens and regal women for ages. And you have also been the emblem of powerful warriors and important cities. The modern terms “pansy” and “shrinking violet” fail to recognize the power that lies in your humble presence.
Other Names: Viola spp. hearts ease, wild pansy, Johnny jump up.
Identifying Violet: There are many kinds of violets in the northwest. All are low growing plants with heart or kidney-shaped leaves. Flowers have five petals arranged with two upper, two middle, and one lower petal, which is often larger. Wild violets include Viola adunca (early spring violet), Viola langsdorfii (Alaska violet), Viola palustris (marsh violet), Viola canadensis, (Canada violet), Viola galvella (stream violet) and Viola sempervirens (trailing yellow violet). A European and Asian native called Viola oderata or sweet violet has very fragrant deep purple flowers. It commonly escapes from gardens into wild spaces. To make identifying violet even more confusing, violets will readily cross with each other. Luckily, all violets are edible and are used for medicine interchangeably. Try tasting your local variety and getting down on your hands and knees to smell the flowers. It is worth it when you find one that is fragrant!
Where it Grows: Violets grow on all continents. There are 900 species worldwide with over 120 species cultivated as ornamentals. In the Northwest, native violets tend to grow in moist, shady forests.
Violets have gone to all ends to attract early insects and get their flowers pollinated. Lower petals have bright lines that glow like landing strips for bees or butterflies. The mouth of the nectary is guarded by two modified stamens that deposit pollen on visitors when they crawl into the flower. Combs on the bottom petal gather pollen that has been transported from other violet flowers off bee bellies.
But violets have devised an ingenious back up plan for reproduction in case they bloom too early for pollinators. Small greenish flowers grow in late summer under ground or at the soils surface. They do not open, and are self-fertilized. Some violet seeds have outgrowths called oil-bodies that ants carry off for food and disperse at a distance from the parent plant. Violets also reproduce by throwing out runners that set roots and become new plants.
You will rarely see violets growing in dusty places or where there is poor air quality. The undersides of the leaves have tiny hairs that get covered with debris and block the plants breathing pores.
When and How to Harvest: Gather violet leaves and flowers in the spring to early summer when they still look vibrant. Pinch off leaves and flowers gently, making sure to leave enough of the plant so that it continues to flourish. Many wild violets transplant well and will flourish in shady areas of your garden. If you miss violets at lower elevations you can travel to higher elevations in summer and find them in mountain forests and meadows.
All violet leaves and flowers are edible, including their close relative, pansies, and Johnny jump ups. According to herbalist Janice Schofield, just two violet leaves fulfills our daily requirement for vitamin C! Violet is a nutritious spring trail snack and can be added to salads, soups, sautés, sauces, and whatever else your imagination comes up with. You can brush egg white on the flowers, carefully coat them in confectioners sugar, then bake them in the oven on the lowest temperature to make candied violets.
Caution: Wild violet leaves contain saponins or soap-like compounds, which can cause digestive upset when eaten in very large quantities. Do not eat more than a handful at a time.
Spring Violet Salad
This delicious spring salad is packed with nutrients and bright floral flavors. Toss the flowers and greens in a bowl and pour the dressing over just before serving. You can substitute lettuce for chickweed or spring beauty.
1 cup violet leaf and flower
1 cup chopped chickweed greens
1 cup edible flowers – salmonberry, calendula, rose or pansy are nice choices
1 cup spring beauty leaves
½ cup of spring berries including salmonberry, thimbleberry or red huckleberry
Dressing: Mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of light vinegar (white wine, or rice wine), 1 tablespoon of orange juice and 1 tablespoon of fresh mint or 1 teaspoon of dried mint. Place ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously. Add salt to taste.
This year I was inspired by my friend Corinne Boyer’s delicious violet syrup. Together we adventured to an old homestead in mid February to gather the fragrant purple flowers, which are probably a cross between Viola odorata and wild violets. We often see violets around old homesteads. I believe they were planted by hardworking ladies to bring beauty and grace to their days. These women left their signature of who they were and what was important to them through the plants they tended.
It was a typical early spring day with intense rain followed by sun breaks, a rainbow, and a hail storm. My fingers were freezing and I was soaked, but the taste of violets on my tongue encouraged me to fill my basket. That little bit of violet we gathered was transformed into syrup, brandy, and cordial that I am still savoring!
1. Gather fragrant violet flowers when they are in full bloom. This is usually in February through April.
2. Place the flowers in a basket or on a cloth and let them wilt until they are half dried.
3. Place the flowers in a teapot or sturdy glass container and cover them with boiling water so they are just covered. Cover with a lid and let steep for several hours.
4. Strain the tea through muslin cloth, making sure to squeeze all the precious juice out of the flowers. Purple flowers will make an intensely purple colored tea.
5. Measure the volume of the tea, then measure an equal volume of sugar. I use raw sugar, but white sugar will also work fine. You beautiful purple syrup will turn a pale green blue, but it will still taste delicious.
6. Mix the tea with the sugar until the sugar dissolves. You may need to heat it so the sugar dissolves completely.
7. Pour into a glass bottle, cap, label and store in the refrigerator for several months.
This syrup can be used on pancakes, in desserts and to flavor drinks. I also made violet brandy by placing brandy over the flowers in a glass jar. I let this sit for 2 weeks, then strained it out. I mixed equal parts violet brandy and violet syrup to make a violet elixir. All I can say is I am smitten.
The leaves of violet are high in mucilage that soothes irritated tissue. They contain salicylic acid, which helps reduce pain and swelling. About 400 years ago, herbalist John Gerard summarized traditional European uses of violet when he wrote that “It has power to ease inflammation, roughness of the throat and comforteth the heart, assumageth the pains of the head, and causeth sleep.” I still concur.
Lower Elwha Klallam People traditionally placed mashed flowers on painful areas. Many other people throughout the world have used violets for bruises. I was convinced of their healing power when a friend closed her finger in the car door. After she got her wits about her, she saw that pansies were growing near by and she crushed several leaves and flowers to make a poultice. The pain backed off quickly, and there was no trace of injury the next day!
Violet leaves and flowers have been used historically for the treatment of cancer and swollen glands. The tea of the flowers, leaves, and sometimes the roots is used internally to help dissolve tumors and relieve congested tissue. Herbalist Alma Hutchen says that violets’ dissolving properties “seem to have intricate inward skill, reaching places only the blood and lymphatic fluids penetrate.” Herbalist Susan Weed uses violets internally as a tea and externally as a poultice to help heal fibrocystic breasts, breast cancer, and mastitis. Violet has also been used in Native American and Chinese medicine for cancer and for shrinking tumors. The action may be partly due to steroidal saponins found in the plant, which have a dissolving action that can increase the transfer of nutrients across cell membranes.
Dry violet leaves and flowers in baskets or paper bags. Once completely dry, store in a jar or bag in a cool dark place. Use 1 tablespoon of dried leaf and flower per cup of hot water. Infuse for 10 minutes to several hours. Drink 2-3 cups a day.
Infusing Violet in Oil or Honey
The wilted flowers of fragrant violets can also be made into the most flavorful honey! Simply wilt the flowers so they are about half dry, place them in a jar, then cover the flowers with warmed honey. Cover with a lid and place in a warm place in your house. Near a wood stove or heat vent works well. Every couple of days open the lid and wipe off any condensation that has formed. After 2 weeks, gently warm the honey, then strain it through muslin cloth. Store in a glass jar. Honeys will last several years as long as there is not too much water in them.
You can make violet infused oil in the same way. I prefer to use jojoba, grapeseed, or sunflower oil instead of extra virgin olive oil because they do not have a smell that masks the violet. Non-fragrant violets also make a nice soothing and anti-inflammatory oil that can be used in body oils, salves, lip balms, and lotions.
Violet has been prized throughout history for its aroma. It has a flirtatious scent that tantalizes the senses and then disappears without a trace, only to return again with renewed strength. Because of this, courtesans of ancient Greece used violet to scent themselves. It is said that violet can alleviate the melancholia of the eldest men and torment the young beyond endurance! At that time a perfume was made through placing violet flowers between thin layers of fat, which absorbed the scent. After straining the flowers, the fat was used as perfume. Violet perfume is currently made through using solvents to extract fragrant compounds from the leaves and flowers.
Violets have been associated with grieving and death since ancient times. They were traditionally worn at funerals where they were thought to guard people against the poisonous fumes from the cemetery. I have sought violets medicine in times when my heart is wilted with grief. Like a steadfast friend and a loyal guardian, it has carried me out of isolation and engendered openness and beauty at that membrane between life and death.
The city of Athens took violet for its symbol and the plant was for sale year round in markets. Ancient Greeks also used violets, “to moderate anger, procure sleep and comfort and strengthen the heart.” Violet wine was a delicacy for ancient Romans.
Napoleon loved violets above all other flowers, perhaps because it was the signature perfume of his wife, Josephine Bonaparte. During Napoleon’s exile his partisans wore violets to identify themselves to each other. French law prohibited public display of art with violets for more than half a century.
Because violet imparts its sweet odor and vibrant color to liquids, alcohol or vinegar extractions, they were once used to flavor and color foods and beverages. Violet syrup was commonly sold in France, and you can still buy old-fashioned violet pastilles and syrups. I love to go to DeLaurenti, the Italian grocery at Pike Place Market in Seattle, to buy candied violets and violet pastilles. What a treat!
Common violets, or Viola odorata, are a great, unassuming wild flower, but they have a lot more use than in a bouquet or as something to enjoy on a trail: you can eat them too. For me, violets are one of a lot of greens I pick in the spring, along with sochan, nettles, ramp leaves, and the like. They’re easy to identify, don’t really have any look alikes to be worried about, and can be found just about everywhere, but generally I find violets in areas of partial shade, with rich soil.
Different species and colors
There’s a whole slew of different colors you can collect, but the main wild one I see is purple.
Tell tale heart shaped leaves, at a perfect stage for eating.
When is the best time to pick them?
Violets are going to be at their best when they’re young, like just about everything else. You can definitely eat them as the season moves on, but they start to get tough fast.
How do you eat them?
The only thing to know culinarily speaking about violets, from my opinion, is that they can be tough. They’re not so tough that they aren’t good to eat, when very young they’re excellent, but they get chewier faster than many other greens, from my experience.
Given that, most of the time when I collect violet greens, they’re going to be cooked, but when they’re very young I might put them in a salad. Even young, the leaves are a little textural, but mixed in with some other wilting greens, and maybe a little lard or bacon fat, no one will be the wiser, and you can feel good about serving a healthy green that most people only appreciate with their eyes.
A wild substitute for spinach
Lots of comparisons get made between wild cooked greens and spinach, plantain and nettles for example, and to an extent I can agree with nettles (I don’t care for plantain leaves). Violets are another story. After cooking, young violet leaves can get quite tender and soft. They’re hands down the best literal approximation of spinach in wild plant form that I’ve tasted.
Can you eat the flowers?
Yes! As far as edible flowers go, they have a great smell, but, like most flowers, they’re going to wilt pretty fast, and have a short shelf life. There are methods for preserving them to enjoy throughout the year, the most popular being in syrup, or candying by dipping in beaten egg white, dipping in sugar and dehydrating. Candied, or very fresh, the make a great garnish for cakes and sweets for special occasions.
Violet Stem Allergy
Like a number of wild foods, lily shoots for example, some parts of the plant can cause a mild reaction with some people. While I was eating a large amount of these raw, I found, that with violet stems in particular, I’m one of those people. I can eat violet leaves raw in salad as much as I like, but eating stems (which are tough anyway) made my throat hot and uncomfortable, a mild sensation that lasted for about 30 minutes. I assume more people will have an allergy like this, but considering the fact that violet stems are not very appealing raw, I don’t see much to worry about with them. Cooked I can eat the stems just fine.
I think the thing that I love most about wild violets is that they are usually the first flower to show their face in early spring. Actually, where we live in Southern Oregon they come up in mid-February! These little purple flowers give us a nice little foreshadowing of spring when we’re still in the midst of winter, which is a welcome sight. They grow plentifully right in our backyard under the apple tree, which makes foraging for them rather easy. Even if you don’t have them in your yard, foraging for wild violets usually isn’t difficult, as they grow almost everywhere!
If you want to learn more about the edible and medicinal weeds that surround us and how to use them, check out my eBook: Wildcrafting Weeds: 20 Easy to Forage Edible and Medicinal Plants (that might be growing in your backyard)!
Gather & Root Online Foraging Course
My online foraging course is a great way to learn about wild edible and medicinal plants! Sign up to join the waiting list for the gather + root online foraging course here so that you are the first to know when it opens for enrollment.
Foraging for Wild Violets
Wild violets are a low growing plant that prefers a shady, wooded area with rich soil. They have a basal rosette of toothed, heart shaped leaves, and drooping purple flowers with five petals that do not produce seeds. Interestingly enough, tiny round black seeds are produced from non-edible brown flowers at ground level. Wild violets mainly reproduce via underground rhizomes.
Wild violets are not the same as African violets, which are not edible at all.
Both the leaves and blossoms are edible, either raw or cooked, and are extremely high in vitamin C. The flowers are a wonderful late winter or early spring treat, and are often made into violet jelly or violet syrup. The leaves can either be eaten raw in a lovely wild greens salad, sauteed or steamed, or made into a tea.
Violets leaves are also medicinal, with a soothing mucilaginous property. They are anti-oxident, anti-inflammatory, and a blood cleanser. They are good for coughs and colds, and can be made into a violet leaf and honey cough syrup.Violets can also be used topically for skin conditions like eczema, dry skin, bug bites, and vericose veins. Here are some homemade recipes for violet leaf balm and violet lotion that can provide some relief.If you can’t find any wild violets, or if it’s the wrong season, you can purchase dried violet leaf from Mountain Rose Herbs (my favorite place to get high quality, organic dried herbs).
Here are some more great ways to use wild violets:
- How to Make Sugared Violets from Reformation Acres
- Wild Violet Infused Vinegar a Grow, Forage, Cook Ferment recipe
- Wild Violet Muffins with Wild Violet Sugar from Farm Fresh Feasts
- Violet Leaf Soap Recipe from The Herbal Academy
- Using Violets for Food and Medicine from Homespun Seasonal Living
I hope this post inspires you to go foraging for wild violets! They are awesome little spring flowers that have so many great uses. How do you like to use wild violets?
Wild Violets: Herb for Beauty, Nourishment and Healing
Who isn’t entranced while walking a shady wooded path strewn with a carpet of wild violets? It instantly creates an almost magical atmosphere, intoxicating with the sweet scent of the blooms. Makes me wonder what virtue of the violet gained it prominence on the Napoleonic Imperial Army’s emblem! It is certainly a plant full of offerings for us, be it for just sensory enjoyment or for practical purposes.
There are many varieties of wild violets, some more fragrant than others, but all are edible and beautiful. Johnny jump-ups, or Viola tricolor, are a well-loved cousin to the violet, also with many uses. (They are also the forefathers of the cultivated garden pansy, which are also edible.) The violets I collect are Viola odorata.
To add violets to your home herbal apothecary, collect the leaves and flowers in mid-late spring. Dry carefully as they are delicate, which is also why they don’t withstand the summer heat. The plant likes some shade and can often be found at the edges of woods, stream beds and thickets, where the soil is rich and moist. Flowers sprout up on their own stems apart from the surrounding orb leaves, which is interesting. Leaves are heart shaped and often curl a bit on the edges. The flowers can be yellow or white but are definitely most commonly found in a shade of purple – hence, violet! Because the violet doesn’t seed until autumn when a new stem with a seedhead emerges where once in spring the beautiful flower resided, you can harvest violets to your heart’s content, knowing that you aren’t restricting their reoccurrence! I like that!
Violets are also rich in medicinal characteristics. In an infusion, the leaves and flowers have expectorant action, helpful with any mucus buildup in coughs and especially bronchitis, and also have an alterative action, helping your body to rebalance and cleanse – especially your nerves, lungs, reproductive and immune systems. Their anti-inflammatory action is helpful for any condition related to inflammation, with people noting results in conditions as varied as eczema and rheumatism. As a diuretic, it can aid the body in ridding the urinary tract of infection. There is ancient and not-so-ancient medical literature that cites violets – specifically the leaves- as a viable anti-tumor agent, be it fibrocystic tumors or cancerous tumors. Check it out.
Also consider extracting properties of the violet by making tinctures and violet oil. Remember when making an infused oil to dry your herb first so that the moisture from the herb doesn’t cause mold in the oil. Violet leaves would be a welcome addition to any wound-healing oil to be made into a salve, because of the antiseptic, dissolving, cooling and healing properties they harbor. Pink eye? Get some violet leaves and make a hot poultice!
As part of a beauty regimen, it is told that soaking a cup of violets in a cup of warm fresh goat’s milk overnight and then soaking a heated washcloth in the milk in the morning and applying it to the face and neck does wonders for the complexion.
As an edible, we have just eaten the flowers and leaves as we pick them, strewn them into salad for a touch of beauty and tastiness and also have dipped the flowers into beaten egg whites (with a smidge of water) and dipped in sugar to let dry into beautiful decorations for edible creations. You can also add the greens to a collection of spring potherbs, a vitamin and mineral-rich treat of the spring season! The leaves are especially rich in vitamins A and C. (100 g fresh leaves = 10,000 IU vit A and 264 mg it C) Yum! Don’t eat the roots of the violet, however, or you will wind up with a belly ache. I’m going to add a fun recipe I found in an old book of mine on wild foods. It’s something I plan to make before the violets disappear for the year!
1/2 cup fresh purple violet petals
1 cup sugar
3 cups water
1 1/2 Tbs plain gelatin
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Fresh spring violets
Add stemmed violets to a boiling syrup of the sugar and water. Simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Strain and measure out 2 cups of syrup. Soften the gelatin in the orange juice and add. Pour into a mold and jell in the refrigerator. Unmold and garnish with whipped cream and fresh violets.
Happy Spring everyone! ~Carin
Disclaimer: Of course we claim no responsibility for your experience with these herbs. Everything we share is for information purposes only and is not to be taken as professional or medical advice. Do your own research! Always consult a professional. Be wise. Consider always the chance of an allergic reaction. We are all unique in body chemistry. We are NOT a medical professionals by any means, however we have saved our family a boatload of annoyance and money by being resourceful and using what is right at our feet – literally. See full disclaimer here.
Sweet sweet Violet – medicinal and edible uses of Violets
Sweet sweet Violet – medicinal and edible uses of Violets
This is the season for sweet violets here on the Mornington Peninsula. I just love violets, the colour, the sweet aroma, the delicate way the flower sits there humbly on the drooping stem. It has a real personality, this flower – beautiful to no ends yet so humble….
And sweet violets are not only pretty, they are also a very handy and efficient plant to have in your garden as you can use the flowers, leaves and root for so many useful things, so it ticks the beauty box and it sure ticks the no wastage box! And as @milkwood_permaculture mentions, violets are fire retardants so they are a great addition to plant near your house.
When it comes to plants, I really like to learn about the plant. There is real beauty in planting and growing things, but also there is pure beauty in going and exploring your back yard or simply foraging in nature and discovering what is already there and learning about it….
I really enjoy getting in touch with the history of the plant.
There is real pleasure in knowing plants, and knowing where they came from. Knowing the historical context they have, I believe, makes the experience more holistic. There is a lot of reassurance and beauty in using things that people have used for thousands of years and be informed by ancient remedies that have stood the test of time. I rely on this knowledge when I formulate my products at Be Better Balms.
I also really enjoy observing the plant, so really taking it in with all my senses – looking at the flower with its heart shaped 5 petals (one of them is wider than the others), the texture, the sweet smell, the seeds that are usually transported by little ants. I highly encourage you to get to know your plant, get up and personal with it, get to know its past, its present and its future – how you are going to use it…or maybe not use it and just observe it and enjoy its beauty.
So here is some information about violets, and how you can use them around home.
Sweet violets in history:
Sweet violets (Viola Odorata) have been admired by the ancient Greeks who used to drink an infusion of Violet flowers to calm angry minds and promote sleep…They also used to place the violet flowers around their heads to prevent headaches and cure handovers…funny thing is that the Romans used to make a violet flavoured wine from the flowers – it was a big favourite with the romans so good to drink and good for recovery from drinking…
Later on, the Anglo-saxons used violets to scare off evil spirits…it was thought that if you dreamt of violets it was a sign of good luck.
Napoleon was obsessed with violets, he was nicknamed Caporal Violette and it is said he died wearing a locket of violets from Josephine’s grave.
How to use Sweet Violet:
Sweet Violet is the main medicinal and culinary species used in Europe.
Sweet violets in cosmetics –
The sweet violet flowers and leaves are used to extract essential oils that are often used to make perfumes and skin care products including skin brightening powders. The flowers are also used to make tinted skin lotions and eyeshadows.
There is a small village in France called Tourettes Sur Loup where every year around 100 tons of violet flowers are harvested as part of the Violet festival.
Sweet Violets in the kitchen –
You can add the flowers and leaves to salads, pesto and sandwiches. You can also make some lovely violet flower ice cubes or combine the flowers with vinegar for a lovely aroma and colour. It is not recommended to eat the root on a regular basis as it may cause nausea but some herbalists recommend chewing the root to help toothaches.
Home remedies with Sweet Violets –
Sweet violets are very high in Vitamin A and C and have antibacterial properties.
Violet Flowers Cough syrup –
This is a great syrup for coughs and general colds/flu, plus – it’s delicious!
2-3 Tsp Violet Flowers
1 Cup boiling water
½ cup raw honey or coconut nectar (if you are vegan)
How to prepare Violet flowers cough syrup:
1. Place the violet flowers in a cup and pour boiling water over the flowers
2. Cover the cup with a plate/lid and leave it to infuse for 5 minutes. You will notice the water turning into a beautiful blue shade
3. Strain the water. Use a spoon to mash down the flowers so all the goodness is squeezes into the water
4. Pour the infused water into a saucepan and add the honey/coconut nectar
5. Heat the mixture and bring to the boil. Stir occasionally.
6. Continue boiling on low heat for a further 5 minutes. Be careful not to boil for too long or you’ll end up with violet toffee….
7. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool down
8. Stir the mixture and pour into a dark glass bottle with a cap (you can usually find these bottles in $2 shops or second hand shops)
9. Make sure to label the bottle
If not opened, the syrup should last for a few months in the fridge, but once opened use within 1-2 weeks. So having the syrup in a few small bottles might be handy.
Take 2 Tsp twice a day for coughs and colds/flu, or 1 Tsp a day for general health.
Aloe Violet Gel –
Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) is a must have in every home! It is the perfect first aid for burns, bites, sunburn, sores and rashes. The sap inside the Aloe vera is what we are after and combined with violet flowers, it forms a lovely, soothing gel.
I use the Aloe gel I extract from our extensive Aloe Barbadensis succulents growing on our property on the Mornington Peninsula and use it to handmake our Be Better Balms Burn Balm. The burn balm combines the Aloe Vera with other cooling and healing botanicals such as Calendula, Lavender, Spearmint, Chamomile, Shea butter, Coconut oil, Arnica oil and more to help hydrate and cool the skin.
4-5 Fresh Aloe vera leaves
½ violet flowers
How to prepare Aloe Violet Gel –
1. Break the leaves off the Aloe vera plant, as close to the stem as possible. Give it a quick wash if needed
2. Place the leaves on a chopping board and cut off the spiny bits on the sides. You should see the gel strip between the two sides of the Aloe Vera’s skin
3. Slice off the top and bottom skins, so you are left with the clear gel strip – that’s the part you want!
4. Repeat this process with all the Aloe leaves and place the strips in a food processor
5. Add the violet flowers to the food processor
6. Blend the gel strips and the flowers for 1-2 minutes
7. Strain the gel. Use a spoon and mash the mixture to squeeze all the goodness
8. Store the gel in a dark glass jar
9. Make sure to label the jar
Store the gel in the fridge for about 2 weeks. Apply as needed on the skin.
Violet leaf infused oil –
This is a great oil to use on dry, sensitive and irritated skin. You can add the oil to a relaxing bath, baby bath, or apply as a rich moisturiser or as a massage oil.
You can either use fresh or dry leaves – the ratio is 2:1
50g of fresh violet leaves or 25g of dried and crumbled violet leaves
500ml Olive oil, Almond oil or canola oil – all these oils are suitable. They are not too heavy, and have Vitamin E in them which helps preserve the infused oil.
How to prepare Violet leaf infused oil:
1. Place the Violet leaf and oil in a pyrex bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan with cold water and slowly bring the water to boil. Heat gently (it’s important the oil doesn’t boil) for 2-3 hours. Make sure there is always some water in the saucepan.
2. Let the oil cool down and strain using a muslin sheet.
3. Store the infused oil in a labelled dark glass bottle.
I hope I inspired you to go out there and explore your backyard – you might find some sweet violets and enjoy all the benefits this super plant has to offer.
I would like to point out that there are many species in the Violet family and this blog is specific to the Sweet violet with the purple flowers. Make sure you identify your plant correctly as some species can be poisonous.
So go and explore your own back yard, and I would love to hear what you prepare with your violets in the comments below!