Last Updated on July 1, 2020
Do you have wild violets in your yard? Besides the fact that violet flowers are edible, there are plenty of other reasons you’ll want to encourage these gorgeous signs of spring.
There are so many reasons to love wild violets. When spring is in full swing, we make sure to pick plenty of the gorgeous wild violets that have colonized our edible yard. These lovely flowers aren’t just beautiful, wild violets are edible and full of nutrients to nourish your body!
Are Violets Edible?
Yes, indeed, you can eat violets! And not just the violet flowers are edible, the leaves are as well. We use them in salads and herbal teas all season long.
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. Some of my other favorites include purslane, yarrow, dandelion, and wood sorrel. I’ve recently discovered Virginia waterleaf, a very early wild green that’s ready for harvest long before the edible wild violets. Here are more than 150 other flowers you can eat.
I consider these underappreciated plants among the many perennial vegetables worth growing in the garden. I also make the most of the edible trees, using our spruce to make spruce tea in winter and harvesting spruce tips in spring.
If you have wild violets in your yard, I think you should consider yourself lucky. Though it seems like a lot of people want to get rid of wild violets, I want to make a case for welcoming them into your garden.
Violets have some winning attributes as garden plants as well some excellent medicinal uses. Plus they’re beautiful and tasty. And it’s so much fun to eat things most people don’t realize are edible 🙂
Here’s why to encourage edible wild violets in your garden.
Edible 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!
As we’ve replaced our lawn with edible and medicinal grass alternatives, wild violets have been the superstars, filling in where everything else I’ve tried to plant has gotten shaded out over the years. We now have a front yard covered mostly in violets that requires basically no maintenance (or weeding), no fertilizing, and very little watering. How’s that for eco-friendly landscaping?
Related: Vegetables that Grow in Shade
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!
Foraging Edible Wild Violets
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 edible violet flowers and leaves — the underground rhizomes are poisonous. Always consult a good guide when you’re foraging a plant for the first time.
Consider taking a course on plant identification and uses. The Herbal Academy has an excellent online foraging course that teaches plant identification and ethical wildcrafting practices.
**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.“)
Edible Wild Violets in the Kitchen
You can eat both the leaves of wild violets and their 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 mucilaginous 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 flowers and leaves 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, chia puddings and more. Or just pop them on top of a bowl of homemade yogurt for fun.
Medicinal Uses for Edible 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 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. I often add several violet leaves to my pots of fresh lemon balm tea. 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!
Other Uses for Edible Wild Violets
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.
♦ Homestead Lady turns her violets into honey-sweetened violet gelatin.
♦ 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 edible wild violets this season?
Pin to save these wild violets uses for later!
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
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.