Wild violets are among the first flowers to appear at the beginning of spring to fill your garden with a wonderful flowery scent. With their numerous medicinal properties and uses, violets are an extraordinary creation of nature. People have known their powerful medicinal uses for thousands of years.
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The most common species:
sweet violet (Viola odorata), pansy (Viola tricolor) blue violet (Viola papilionacea, Viola sororia)
Other common names:
viola, Johnny-jump-up, heartsease, kiss-me-at-the-gate
It’s difficult to give specific characteristics for the whole Viola genus, as there is considerable variation between the hundreds of species, but most can be used interchangeably. Just make sure you don’t substitute them with African violets (Saintpaulia) as these are not edible. They generally don’t survive in the wild, have a very different 6 petals flower shape and oval leaves.
Their heart or kidney-shaped leaves are in a basal rosette and make for a tasty addition to salads. They never get bitter like dandelion leaves for example. Their leafstalks emerge from the ground at one central point thus they grow in a rosette pattern. Their young small leaves are partially curled up and these are best to use in salads. When they grow bigger the leaves unfurl into a heart or kidney shape and these are great to stir fry, boil or steam. As they contain mucilage, the leaves create a mucilaginous texture that I like to use to thicken soup.
Flowers arise on leafless stalks and appear most often in shades of blue-purple or violet although yellow and white wild varieties exist. They all have irregular flowers with five petals. Wild violets produce two kinds of flowers.
The pretty ones that we use as colourful garnishes to decorate and brighten any dish are sterile. The plant, however, produces another petal-less flower that is secretly hidden but produces seeds.
You may notice that wild violets you find blooming don’t really have a smell. That is because Garden Violet or (Viola odorata,) is the only species that carries the famous fragrance. The other violets (Violet sororia, tricolor…) possess similar medicinal benefits, however, they lack the scent.
Their seeds as well as roots are considered purgative and emetic and should be used with caution.
Violets prefer partial shade and moisture-retentive soils. They are generally found in wooded areas and shady lawns.
The leaves are best to harvest from early spring to summer whereas the flowers are best harvested in spring. The harvest is easy with hands or a pair of scissors. Harvesting just the blossom doesn't hurt the plant, but it does reduce nectar for pollinators. For that reason, never take more than half of the available blooms and leaves from one plant (generally just one or two), and only harvest from plants that are well-established, and abundant.
Note that V. pedata, the birds foot violet is on the threatened species list and should not be harvested.
Grow or Forage?
Violets are easy to grow and easy to identify. The plant spreads with stolons (above-ground shoots) or from seeds. Wild violets often self-seed, coming back each year in unexpected locations.
Here are some tips to propagate the violets in your garden. Dig out a chunk of violets in the spring and plant them in large pots. Set them in the shade and water them well. By fall transfer them into the ground, where you want them to spread out. Just make sure the soil is rich, well amended and your bed is well mulched in bark chips.
Safety and Precautions
Violets are largely considered safe, even while pregnant or nursing. Be advised that larger doses of seeds and roots are thought to be purgative and laxative, so consume in reasonable amounts.
Preserving violet leaves
The best way to dry the leaves is to bundle the stem ends of 10 leaves together with rubber bands or string and hang them upside down in a dark place away from direct light. It takes less than a week till they become crispy dry. Then remove the string and place them in a clean glass jar with cover. Use them within one year.
Washing herbs usually isn’t necessary if they are grown organically.
Preserving violet flowers
- Spread the violet flowers evenly on parchment paper, tray, colander or tea towels and set them to dry out of direct light. Sift through the herbs with your fingers daily to promote even drying. Once dry, transfer them to a closed glass jar.
- Make candied violets - preserving wild violets with egg white and sugar is a creative way to preserve violet blossoms and use them later as a delicate, edible, flower garnish for desserts, fruit platters or cheese trays.
- Freeze them in ice cubes - and use them to Dress up your infused water or cocktails with wild violets in ice cubes.
Just simply fill your ice tray halfway with water and place 2 flowers in each section. Place it in the freezer until semi-solid. Then remove it from the freezer and fill the remaining space with water. Freeze until solid.
Violets can be used in dishes as well as in remedies and natural skincare products.
Their medicinal benefits differ when applied topically (skincare products) or internally (in dishes or natural remedies)
Benefits of violets for skin
Both leaves as well as flowers are edible and possess similar medicinal properties. For topical use, we will benefit from their anti-inflammatory, demulcent, lymphagogue, vulnerary and antirheumatic activities which are explained in more detail below.
- Moisturizing - violets contain mucilage that soothes dry skin and violets are therefore great moisturisers.
- Antiinflammatory - their anti-inflammatory properties might help with muscular and joint problems where detoxification and pain relief are required such as rheumatic aches and pains. It might also help with skin issues such as acne and eczema. This simple violet oil might help with muscular and joint problems.
- Vulnerary (Heal wounds) – Sooth wounds, bruises and rashes. This violet infused aloe soothing gel provides quick relief from skin irritations or bug bites.
- Lymphagogue - violets encourage healthy lymphatic circulation and may, therefore help reduce the size of lumps and bumps that are associated with cysts or fibrocystic breasts when combined with a gentle massage of concerning areas.
- Anticancer - Moreover, there is even some science to indicate that violet may have some anticancer potential. A 2014 study successfully demonstrated the inhibition of activated lymphocyte cell proliferation using a Viola tricolour extract. Another 2017 study suggests that Voila odorata may have anti-melanogenic properties which show promise in the area of skin cancer research.
- for varicose veins and haemorrhoids - Violets contain a considerable amount of rutin that helps keep the capillary wall intact. It may help in the prevention or treatment of varicose veins as well as haemorrhoids. Adding a few drops of violet oil or violet salt into a bath helps ease the discomfort of haemorrhoids.
Violets for Hair
Dry skin isn’t the only thing that can benefit from violets, but also hair. Mucilage that is present in violets helps soothe and shape hard to manage hair. Massage violet oil gently into your hair and scalp, leave in for a few hours or overnight and then wash out. Or use violet shampoo and violet vinegar to improve your overall hair look.
This natural face and hair wash made of violets keep your face and hair smooth and hydrated.
Benefits of violets in remedies and recipes
While violet blossoms are to eat, violet leaves are to drink.
Violets are often overlooked as nutritious herbs. They are packed with vitamin C and A, minerals and antioxidants. They are also high in rutin that helps keep the capillary wall intact.
Violets for a cough
Violets are the great soothers that gently encourage flow and movement of internal fluids. Most often the leaves and flowers are used in combination and mainly in cough remedies.
Violets contain mucilage that coat, smooth and heal tissues and ease inflammation. The mucilage may also help lose and expel mucous from the lungs when experiencing a dry cough. Being demulcent and lymphatic, it is particularly useful for hot, dry conditions of the throat, coupled with hard, painful lymph glands under the jaw. I used power of violets in these cough drops or tincture that help relieve a cough and sore throat naturally.
This study showed that violet syrup is significantly more effective than placebo in the reduction and suppression of intermittent asthma causing a cough in children aged between 2 and 12 years.
For a sore throat
viola is effective in sore throat, throat and chest discomfort, dyspnea, acute bronchitis, whooping cough, and pneumonia.8 Its aqueous extract contains a combination of different essential oils, methyl esters, salicylic acid, flavonoids, anthocyanins, saponins, pollen, and coumarin, causing good and strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effect. I love to use this quick fix sore throat spray that eases and soothes your sore throat naturally.
Violets encourage healthy lymphatic circulation and can help when the tonsils are swollen and tender. You can apply violet tincture either topically or internally (added to tea) for immediate relief. Alternatively use this violet body butter to massage and reduce the size of lumps and bumps that are associated with cysts or fibrocystic breasts.
Similarly, violets are often suggested to soothe ulcerations of the mouth and esophagus.
Violets are high in rutin and contain salicylic acid. Therefore are able to ease pain and inflammation. Moreover, violets promote sweating that can help reduce fever. It might also help ease flu symptoms.
(A poultice from violets have been used to treat headaches by Native Americans)
Violets possess calming properties and can ease stress.
To strengthen your heart
Known as “hearts-ease”, violets were traditionally used to strengthen and comfort the heart and prescribed for emotional upset.
Violet flowers can help prevent and treat varicose veins. Varicose veins arise when the valves in the veins, which are supposed to prevent blood flow, do not work properly. Blood starts to accumulate which causes the formation of varicose veins most often in the legs. If this happens in the rectum we are talking about haemorrhoids. Violet contains a considerable amount of rutin that helps keep the capillary wall intact. In the book “The green pharmacy” a dosage of a routine of 20 mg daily is recommended which is approximately one violet flower.
Perhaps evidence that violets have a long history of “strengthening the emotional heart” as stated in old herbals.
Violets contain mucilage (insoluble fiber) that acts as a gentle laxative. Before trying stronger herbs to solve constipation, violets may help to soften and lubricate the hard and dry stools and restore healthy populations of intestinal flora.