Edible Wild Plants – Violet (Viola Odorata)

Violet (Viola Odorata)Wild violets are not only pretty, they’re edible and they’ve been used for their medicinal properties longer than the United States has been a country.

All members of the Viola family are edible-I’m sure at some point you’ve seen the fancy fragile looking candied violets on a wedding cake-but there are a variety of other edible ways to use violets. Both the leaves and blooms are edible-they can be tossed in a salad, used to make violet tea, violet syrup, violet jelly, and even violet vinegar.

The main thing to remember-if you’re going to give eating violets a try-make sure they haven’t been sprayed with any chemicals or by the family dog-and make sure what you pick is a violet.

Edible Parts

  • Leaves
  • Flowers

Caution: Violet seeds may cause vomiting.

Uses

Young leaves and flower buds – raw or cooked. Usually available all through the winter.

Violet (Viola Odorata)

The leaves have a very mild flavor, though they soon become quite tough as they grow older. They make a very good salad, their mild flavor enabling them to be used in bulk whilst other stronger-tasting leaves can then be added to give more flavor.

When added to soup they thicken it in much the same way as okra.

Also used as a flavoring in puddings etc. A tea can be made from the leaves.

Flowers – raw. Used to decorate salads and desserts. A sweet mild flavor with a delicate perfume, the flowers are an especially welcome decoration for the salad bowl since they are available in late winter. The flowers are also used fresh to flavor and color confectionery. A soothing tea can be made from the leaves and flowers. A leaf extract is used to flavor sweets, baked goods and ice cream.

Violet (Viola Odorata) Picking

The Cherokee Indians used Violets for medicinal purposes. They passed their knowledge on to the first settlers of Appalachia who accepted the remedies and made them their own. The Cherokee seemed to use different violets in the same way regardless of the variety. A few examples:

  • Violet leaves were used to make a poultice to relieve headaches
  • Violets were soaked in water-the water was used to relieve dysentery, colds, coughs, and used as a spring tonic
  • Violet roots were crushed and used as a poultice to aide in skin aliments
  • Perhaps the most interesting to me-Violet roots were soaked in water-then the water was used to soak corn seeds prior to planting-this was said to repel insects from the corn.

Medicinal Uses

Violets have been used medicinally for centuries.  There is some speculation as to whether Violets and their extracts are useful in cancers and tumors, and an experiment done in 1960 allegedly resulted in a Violet extract damaging tumors in mice.  Another story has it that a man with colon cancer was cured by eating Violet leaves, but apparently he had to eat a 1,600 square foot nursery bed of them to get this effect.

Viola Odorata

The Ancient Greeks considered the Violet a symbol of fertility and love, they used it in love potions. Pliny recommended that a garland of them be worn about the head to ward off headaches and dizzy spells.

The leaves and flowers of Violets do have expectorant properties, and work well in cases of respiratory disorders such as bronchitis, colds, and coughs.  One recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of Oil in a cup of water to be sipped slowly four times a day.  Alternatively, making a Tea to use as a gargle, or making a syrup by adding honey to thicken the tea are also valid ways to use this plant to combat these symptoms.  Ingesting a tea made of violet leaves is reportedly also effective as a laxative and for insomnia, and there are reports in the literature that Violets contain an aspirin-like substance that in a tea may be helpful in reducing the symptoms of hangovers.  This aspirin-like effect has also been reported as being effective externally in reducing headache and neck pain.  Pound the leaves into a paste, adding water and oatmeal as needed, then apply to a warm compress and place on the back of the neck.  This also works for the pain of rheumatism when applied to the affected area. Capsules can be made for internal use by pulverizing the leaves and making a powder.  Please see the link below for detailed instructions.

Violets have antiseptic properties that may be helpful in relieving symptoms of various skin eruptions and sores when made into an Ointment and applied as needed.

Although it is reported that  ingesting large quantities of Violet seed may cause vomiting, these plants are safe, and as such are a good plant for the inexperienced herbalist to use for experimentation.

Perfumery Uses

The scent of violet flowers is distinctive with only a few other flowers having a remotely similar odour. References to violets and the desirable nature of the fragrance go back to classical sources such as Pliny and Horace when the name ‘Ion’ was in use to describe this flower from which the name of the distinctive chemical constituents of the flower, the ionones – is derived. In 1923 Poucher writes that the flowers are widely cultivated both in Europe and the East for their fragrance, with both the flowers and leaves being separately collected and extracted for fragrance, and flowers also collected for use in confectionary and the production of a galenical syrup.

There is some doubt as to whether the true extract of the violet flower is still commercially available at all. It certainly was in the early 20th Century, but by the time Steffen Arctander was writing in the late 1950s and early 1960s production had “almost disappeared”.

The violet leaf absolute however remains widely used in modern perfumery.

Recipes

Violet (Viola Odorata) Jam

Violet Jam

1 cup violet blossoms tightly packed
1 1/2 C water
juice of 1 lemon
2 1/2 C sugar
1 pkg of powdered pectin

Put blossoms, 3/4 C water and lemon juice in a blender and blend until you have a smooth violet colored paste. Slowly add sugar and blend until dissolved.

Mix pectin and 3/4 C water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Boil hard 1 minute. Pour hot pectin mix into blender with the violet mix and blend for about a minute. Pour quickly into jars and seal. Store in the freezer. I have not tried to preserve it by canning. Don’t know if it will work.

Violet (Viola Odorata) Vinegar

Violet Vinegar

Use for salads, marinades and deglazing sauce. Herbs must be clean. Do not exceed 1:4 ratio of herbs to vinegar. Herbs must be constantly immersed in tightly capped bottles.

8 oz bottle of seasoned rice wine or champagne vinegar
1/4 C fresh violets (preferably v. odorata, rinsed well and spun dry)

Uncap the vinegar bottle and set it into the sink. Push the violets into the vinegar, and let any excess vinegar run down the drain. Wipe the neck of the bottle with a clean, wet dishrag. Cap the bottle and turn it upside down a couple of times to immerse the herbs.

Leave the bottle on the counter, turning it over and back up again daily to promote dispersion and immerse the flowers. After three or four days, strain out the flowers through a plastic strainer or coffee filter. Re-cap and store in a cool, dry, dark place for up to one year.

Violet (Viola Odorata) Syrup

Violet Syrup

4 cups Violets
2 cups Boiling water

6 cups Sugar
1 Lemon; juice of, strained
2 cups Water

The violets you want are the wild violets that grow in many parts of the world – there are many varieties, hopefully some are accessible to you. Please choose violets that have NOT been sprayed.

Place violet petal in a deep bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Weigh down with a heavy dish to keep them submerged. Place the bowl in a draft-free place at room temperature for 24 hours. Strain violet infusion into a non-reactive bowl or pot, squeezing out juice from the violets; discard the violets.

Place sugar, lemon juice and water in a saucepan and boil into a very thick syrup, near the candy stage. Add violet infusion 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.

VARIATION: Substitute 4 cups fragrant rose petals and add 1 cinnamon stick per bottle of syrup

Where Does Violet (Viola Odorata) Grow?

Violet (Viola Odorata) Growing Area

How To Identify Violet (Viola Odorata)

Violet (Viola Odorata) Identification

5 Comments

5 Responses to “Edible Wild Plants – Violet (Viola Odorata)”

  1. Nick Stankowski says:

    I’m looking for a place that sells viola violet color for edible purposes right now. Do you know where I could get them?

  2. Anita says:

    If you were to substitute violet extract for the edible flower, what would be the equivalent to one cup of blossoms? Does the extract have color to it?

  3. Lara says:

    I have heaps of these in my garden .. (in Sydney)… am inspired by this article to have a bit of a play…

    Many thanks

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