Violets are one of the first plants to come up in the spring bringing a dash of cheery color to the forest floor. They are lovely little plants and have a variety of uses in food, medicine, and body products.
There are over 200 species in the Violet family that can be found growing abundantly in temperate and tropical areas all across the world. While they are herbaceous plants in North America, Europe, and Northern Asia, violet family plants native to tropical regions and South America are trees and shrubs. In North America, the violets start appearing in late February and generally bloom by the end of April. We are located in the Midwest United States, so the violets I’ll be talking about are a herbaceous variety.
Violets have heart shaped leaves and drooping flowers that are generally a deep purple. Light purple, blue, yellow, and white colored flowers are also common. The many different types of violets have similar properties and can be used the same way. The flowers and leaves of this plant are both wonderful food and medicine. They are rich in minerals and vitamins, like A and C. The flowers are sweet and a little astringent. They make a lovely garnish on salads or desserts. Their delicate flavor also lends nicely to infused liquors, vinegars, jellies, and springtime beverages.
There are many delicious ways to enjoy violets. Gin infused with violets has a very nice flavor and turns a lovely purple color when mixed with tonic water. Apple cider or rice vinegars infused with violets are wonderful in a light spring dressing. Violets can be added to tea, wine, and make a very pretty purple lemonade. They also can be used in making wild flower jelly.
Another simple, traditional way to enjoy violets by making violet syrup. In the 1930’s herbalist M. Grieve published this classic recipe in her book, A Modern Herbal. I have made a similar rendition of this recipe and it was quite delicious.
Violet Syrup: Infuse 1 lb of freshly picked violet flowers with 2 1/2 pints bowling water in a covered pot or glass jar for 24 hours. Then strain the flowers out, put the liquid in a pot, and add double the weight of the liquid in sugar. Simmer until liquid cooks down into a syrup. Do not let mixture boil.
Medicinally, violets are a diverse and potent remedy. They provide blood purifying action and help to eliminate waste in the body. They also help stimulate the lymphatic system. They can be helpful for swollen glands, congestion, coughs, and sore throats. They are a mucilaginous herb and thus, are good for soothing irritation and reducing inflammation. They are a good addition to skin care products are they are very healing and soothing for skin. This violet leaf soap from the Herbal Academy would be a perfect way to utilize the healing properties of violet leaf for sensitive or irritated skin. Click here for the recipe.
Wild Crafting Violets
When wildcrafting any plant it is important to follow a couple basic guidelines.
- Only harvest plants from areas that have not been sprayed by chemicals or are near roadsides where there is pollution from cars.
- Do not over harvest plants. Make sure that you are leaving enough plants so that you are not harming the plant population and the supply for the animals and insects that also depend on wild plants.
- Always take general safety precautions. Wear orange if you are going to be in the forest during hunting season. Know whose land your are foraging on and be sure that they don’t mind. Just be smart.
- Make sure that you know exactly what plants you are foraging if you are going to be eating them or using them in body care products. Many plants are totally safe to consume, but there are a few that can be very poisonous. Don’t be discouraged. Plant ID can be pretty easy when you start learning about it. If you don’t know how to identify a plant you could invest in a field guide that is suited for your area, ask a friend who knows a bit about plants, or find an herbalist in your area who does seasonal plant walks. There are also many great herbalists online. Much can be learned by reading their blogs and websites. Some favorites are listed here.
Wild crafting is a very enjoyable experience. Once you are able to identify a few medicinal and edible plants its very exciting to see that food and medicine grow all around us. Foraging keeps us better connected to the natural world and is a great way to get inexpensive, unique, and potent herbs, flowers, fungi, berries, greens, and barks for use in foods and medicines. Enjoy your violet wild crafting adventure. I’d love to hear about any amazing violet concoctions you come up with.
- A Modern Herbal: Volume II. M. Grieves. “Violet, Sweet.” 834-840.
- “Violet.” Jessica Modino. www.susunweed.com.
- “Violet Herb.” jim mcdonald. www.herbalremediesadvice.org.