This week we’re moving on to our third herb: the violet! Violets are native to many areas in the northern hemisphere but can also be found in Australia, Hawaii, and some parts of South America.
For me, they are another of the first forageables in the early spring, here in Central Kentucky, and I’d like to tell you a little more about what the violet can be used for. So read along!
I am not a doctor and do not recommend any remedies in any way as an alternative to medical care. If you are having serious health problems, be sure to consult a physician.
Identifying Wild Violet
Often found in damp areas in the wood or along roadsides, the violet is a common product in many yards. Some homeowners prefer to be rid of them as soon as possible, seeing them as a “weed.” However, they are so hardy, quickly becoming drought-resistant and sun-loving that they are often hard to get rid of.
Those of us who see them as the gifts that they are will quickly snatch them up, but it’s important to know how to identify the plant, so here are some important things to look for.
- The leaves will be green, smooth, and heart-shaped. The tips of the leaves will be pointed, with rounded “teeth” that are easily visible.
- The flowers are most often purple but can be blue-purple, boasting five petals per flower. Some violets are yellow, hence the name “yellow violet,” but feature all the attributes of the purple flower.
- Violet stalks bear no leaves and are about as short as the leaves.
- Overall, violets can grow between five and ten inches tall, depending on the location, the quality of the soil, and how old they are.
The most important thing to remember is that wild violets are not even remotely related to the African violet houseplant. While it is one of the most popular and easy to grow houseplants, they vary greatly from the wild violets that pop up in our yards in spring.
Their foliage has a hairy appearance, their colors are dark and extremely vibrant, and if you attempt to eat the African violet, you will get sick!
Is the Wild Violet Edible?
Violets are absolutely edible! They are used in various culinary ventures, including syrups, teas, desserts, salads, and soup garnishing, just to name a few.
You can make a nice pesto from both greens and flowers, and you should try them in wraps, as well. You can harvest the tender plants with a pair of scissors several times through the spring before noticing that they’ve become fibrous. But if you keep your eyes open, you can harvest new tender growth in the fall, as well, in some areas.
Don’t forget to try them on pancakes or frozen in ice trays to add a beautiful touch to any summer drink. They’re also perfect for making violet jelly, a delicacy you won’t want to miss!
The flowers and leaves both have high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C, and some would even go so far as to call them a “superfood” because of their high nutrient content. They are packed full of nutrients, so adding them to your diet when fresh is an excellent idea.
I dehydrate the leaves and stems and then run them through my mortar and pestle to add to my super green powder that I add to smoothies, soups, stews, and such. It’s a great way to get a nutrient-packed ingredient in without much preparation (other than the work done in dehydrating it once a year)!
Be advised, however, that violets contain something called saponin, which can cause digestive issues if eaten to excess.
You can actually tell the violets that have high levels of saponin. They taste unpleasantly “soapy” and have an undesirable aftertaste. Try to go for the milder tasting varieties.
Medicinal Uses of Violet
For those who use violet as a medicinal herb, it is most often used for cleansing the blood, aiding in respiratory conditions, and stimulating the lymphatic system. In addition to gaining these medicinal benefits by simply eating the leaves and flowers, you can also take it as tea or syrup. The latter two forms are extremely gentle and can be used by both young and old.
In Europe, the remedy has been used for hundreds of years for dry cough and is usually prescribed for whooping cough and bronchitis when combined with marshmallow (Althaea Officinalis) and licorice. It is also used commonly for swollen lymph nodes and, as such, has been used in cancer treatments.
Because the leaves contain mucilage, also known as soluble fiber, it’s good for getting cholesterol levels down. It’s known historically as a remedy for varicose veins and hemorrhoids as well.
As a poultice, salve, infused oil, or compress, it can treat dry skin, eczema, insect bites, and abrasions.
Here are some other known medicinal values of the wild blue violet:
- Acts as a soothing relief of pain due to tissue inflammation (demulcent)
- Has excellent anti-inflammatory properties
- Works as an expectorant
- Promotes wound healing
- Has antiseptic properties, making it a perfect ingredient for salves and ointments
- Great as a diuretic
- Has mild laxative properties (this becomes less true as your body adjusts to the introduction of violets)
But There’s More…
All portions of the plant have been used to treat many different disorders. In fact, there are so many medicinal uses that I urge you to do your own research on each specific ailment. There is ongoing research into the medicinal faculties of this plant, and so far as I can tell, there have been no side-effects found, and there are no reported interactions of any kind with pharmaceuticals.
Here are a few more things violet has been used to treat…
- Mental & physical exhaustion
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal pain
- Digestion issues from eating a wrong diet
- Sore Throat
- Runny Nose
- Minor joint pain
Harvesting & Preparing Violet
Depending on where you live, violets can be found from April until June, and then again in late fall in some places. As I’ve mentioned, you can use the flowers and leaves fresh in many dishes, but don’t be afraid to harvest in abundance to dehydrate for use when they aren’t readily available.
The most important thing to remember is that you should NEVER harvest violets by the roadside!! Any plant growing on the side of the road has been covered with toxic fumes from vehicle exhausts, and they are prone to picking up other nasties thrown from the road.
Also, DO NOT harvest from any area where pesticides have been known to be used.
Choose early morning hours for harvesting the freshest flowers. Choose only those that look the most vibrant. I always leave any that look wilted or shriveled.
Pinch off any flowers or leaves, leaving the plant itself to recuperate and grow even more.
Yes, it can take a while to harvest enough violets to use in the many ways you’re probably going to want to use them now, but think of it as an opportunity to garner the many health benefits of actually being outside in nature. Breathe in the fresh, crisp, spring air. Listen to the birds. Hum your favorite song, or just take time to commune with God in prayer! Herb-harvesting is one of my favorite prayer times!
Making Tea from Fresh or Dried Violets
To make a tea of fresh flowers, use two to three tablespoons to a cup of boiling water, and let steep for about five minutes. The oldest herbals suggest using honey, as the two together give the best results.
To use dried violet, use one teaspoon of dried flowers to the same cup of water.
One of the easiest recipes for violet is making violet honey. The first step is to let your violets wilt a bit before adding to the honey, so some of the moisture will have evaporated.
Use one-half the amount of violets to any honey proportion. So, for instance, if you use one cup of honey, use one-half cup of violet flowers. For a lighter violet flavor, you can cut the amount to one-quarter of the proportion.
This is one of the best ways to use violet medicinally, especially for children. Take a couple of teaspoons for a cough, respiratory distresses, or simply to address a sluggish lymphatic system.
The recipe is simple!
Use one cup each, violet flowers (no stems, no leaves, lightly packed), one cup boiling water, and one cup sugar. Remove the green base of the flower head.
Put the violets in a non-reactive glass jar or stainless steel container. Do not use aluminum or plastic.
Pour the boiling water over the violets, cover, and let sit for 24 hours at room temperature.
Use a double-boiler (or a pot with two inches of water underneath another smaller pot containing the violets and violet-infused water) and combine violet water and sugar. Stir often until all the sugar is dissolved.
Once the sugar is dissolved, strain syrup through a mesh sieve. Transfer into glass jars and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to six months. Don’t forget to date your jar!
In addition to using violet syrup simply by the teaspoon, children love it drizzled over ice cream, cakes, biscuits, pudding, or even fresh fruit!.
To save space, I’ll add a few other recipes here, for your convenience!
My List of Resources
(Please note: As an Amazon Affiliate, I do make a small commission from any items purchased using these links. Thank you!)
For infusing teas…
For salve, lotion, and lip balm storage:
Thank you for joining me!
Thanks for reading along on this third issue of the Herbal Series! If you found the information helpful, be sure to consider sharing via email or social media, and don’t forget to meet me back here next Monday for another installment!
If you’re not already signed up, be sure to do so below so you don’t miss a single episode of The Herbal Series!