Do you have wild violets in your yard? Here’s why you’ll want to encourage these gorgeous signs of spring.
There are so many reasons to love violets! When spring is in full swing, we make sure to pick plenty of the gorgeous wild violets that have colonized our edible yard. They’re not just beautiful, but full of great nutrients to nourish your body!
Wild Violets in the Garden:
Violets make fantastic groundcovers, perfect if you’re trying to eradicate or limit your lawn. They will spread themselves all over and require little more from you than some water during long dry spells. Unlike grass, they do well in shade. And no mowing!
Though the flowers bloom for a relatively short time, wild violets’ heart-shaped leaves last all season.
And of course, important to those of us who like to grow as much food as we can, you can eat them!
Wild violets are one of my favorite edible “weeds,” plants that grow without work from you that can be put to use in your kitchen and home remedies arsenal.
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What Kind of Violets are Edible?
Nearly all violets are edible (see exceptions below). European sweet violets have more scent and flavor than the common North American varieties, often known as wood violets or common blue violets. The wood violets growing in my yard aren’t particularly flavorful, but they’re so beautiful in salads, who cares? Lucky you if the sweet kind grow near you!
All the different colors of violets — blue, white, purple, mixed — are edible, though yellow violets may “cause gastrointestinal distress” according to my favorite source for foraging wisdom, “Wildman” Steve Brill. Johnny jump ups (viola tricolor) and cousin pansy are also edible.
Use only the flowers and leaves — the underground rhizomes are poisonous. Always consult a good guide when you’re foraging a plant for the first time.
**Note that African violets are not true violets and shouldn’t be eaten.**
Brill also cautions not to confuse violets with either of the two plants below, which are not edible:
Poisonous dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) has a similar violet flower, but with a “spur” behind the flower, and a different leaf. Monkshood (Aconitum uncinatum), also poisonous, has a large, helmet-like upper sepal that covers 2 petals.
Always harvest responsibly. Use a guide to correctly identify the plant, and make certain it hasn’t been sprayed. A good rule of thumb is to harvest no more than a third of any given plant. Check the threatened and endangered plant list from the USDA as well — some varieties of violets are on it. (Check the box with your state, then scroll down to the listings under “viola.“)
Wild Violet Uses in the Kitchen
You can eat both the wild violet leaves and the gorgeous flowers. Both are rich in vitamins A & C, and the leaves are a good source of fiber and all those amazing phytochemicals that help prevent inflammation and keep our bodily systems humming. See ideas for using them below.
Violets were used in all sorts of inventive ways in Europe prior to the twentieth century. If you’re interested in food history check out this article from the Telegraph.
In addition to being one of the flowers you can let eager kiddos pick at will (and munch on for a snack), violets are a lovely addition to salads and smoothies. Their flavor is mild, and they add color and nutrients. Younger leaves will be more tender for fresh eating, but you can cook older leaves in soups and stews. Their mucilaganous quality makes them a good thickener. If you have sweet violets, you probably want to use them in sweet rather than savory dishes.
As you probably know, I’m all about simple, so our violets mostly get used for salads and smoothies. That nice hit of just-picked green is a perfect addition to spring salads.
Just rinse and toss some wild violet leaves and flowers into your salad or smoothie. Wild violets would work perfectly in place of the purslane in my anti inflammatory smoothie until the purslane season begins! You can also use them to top desserts like cakes, homemade ice cream, puddings and more.
Medicinal Uses for Wild Violets
- Violets are thought to be useful yet gentle detoxifiers.
- Violets can have a diuretic and laxative effect, so don’t eat them in great quantities. But useful if that’s what you’re after 🙂
- Their high vitamin C content has made them popular for treating and preventing colds.
- Violets are thought to stimulate the lymphatic and immune systems.
- Violets are also used as an expectorant.
- Violets may have anti-inflammatory properties, making them a good choice for pain relief. They’re often used for arthritis and headaches.
- Violets are also used topically for skin conditions of various sorts. See links below.
- Violets have been studied for use in treating cancer.
Wild Violets Leaf Tea:
The leaves can be brewed into a simple tea, thought to be very nourishing by herbalists, especially for treating cold symptoms, pain and insomnia. Most recipes call for dried violet leaves, so you can dry a bunch while they’re abundant in your yard and store them for cold season. (Here’s more info on dehydrating.)
You can also brew tea from fresh leaves. A big handful of leaves in about 8 oz of water works well. Violet leaf tea has a very bright green flavor, reminiscent of green tea. Chop or tear the leaves and leave steeping overnight to extract maximum benefits.
Feel free to toss in some flowers as well, or try brewing a tea made with a handful of flowers instead. It would look gorgeous brewing in a glass pot.
Remember violets also have a laxative effect, so don’t overdo it!
If you’re the sort who likes to jump into more complicated projects, here are some other things you can do with your bumper crop of wild violets:
♦ Dip them in sugar to make beautiful cake decorations. Instructions here,
♦ Violets can also be used to make an infused sugar, which will add a hint of violet flavor to baked goods.
♦ Freeze violets in ice cubes or make a stunning homemade bowl for your next party.
♦ Violets are also soothing and can be used in body care. Check out this lovely homemade violet lotion from Reformation Acres.
♦ Crushed leaves can be used to make a poultice for bruises. (More info at Wild Foods and Medicines)
♦ The Nerdy Farm Wife infuses violets in vinegar that she gives as gifts and uses to treat stings and burns (and also puts it in salad dressing).
How will you use wild violets this season?
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Disclaimer: I’m a health enthusiast, not a medical professional. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. I draw on numerous health sources, some of which are linked above. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.
Additional photo credits: Liz West, John Lodder, ponce_photography