Chestnut Herbal School

Violet's Edible and Medicinal Uses

Written and Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor

How to prepare violet as a food and medicine by Blog Castanea

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Violets are welcome “weeds” in my garden. In fact, the common blue violet—my particular brand of violet garden guest—is native to these parts, which is more than I can say for myself.

The common blue violet (Viola sororia, Violaceae) is native to most of central and eastern North America. It is a common sight in lawns, gardens, sidewalk cracks and along trailsides. The common blue violet is typically considered a “weed” because of its relative ease in adapting to human disturbance, but it pushes the definition of weed because it has been on this continent for a very long time. The leaves and flowers of the common blue violet, along with many other species, are edible and medicinal. The “confederate violet” is an escaped cultivar (cultivated variety) of Viola sororia—it has white flowers with blue streaks and is a common inhabitant of lawns in the southeastern United States.

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Common blue violet (Violoa sororia)

Common blue violet (Viola sororia)

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Confederate violet (Viola sororia)

Confederate violet (Viola sororia)

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The sweet violet (Viola odorata, Violaceae) is the principal medicinal and culinary species used in Europe. It has escaped cultivation in many locales, because it is popularly planted for its fragrance. Much of the American use of violets stems from the European herbal tradition. Interestingly, most violet species in North America lack the signature aroma of sweet violet.

The Viola genus contains around 550 species, mostly found in the temperate climates of the world. Many species of violet are used similarly to the common blue violet. Most wild foods authors report that the blue and white flowered species of violet are all edible, but not the yellow flowered species. Other authors write that all species are serviceable. I notice that the leaves of some of the wild violets have an unpleasant soapy flavor, which leaves a funny feeling at the back of my throat; this is most likely from high levels of saponins. I avoid these plants, and instead go for the milder tasting species. Some woodland species of violet are rare and should not be disturbed. A good course of action is to identify the common species of violet in your area and then research their edibility and/or traditional uses for medicine. But there’s a good chance that you have common blue violets or the sweet violet growing in your area—both of which are good wild edibles and choice medicinals.

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Picking common blue violet

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Violet's heart-shaped leaves and characteristic irregular flowers are a familiar sight for most of us. The leaves typically bear rounded teeth and are smooth. The flowers have a little rounded tail if you turn them over. Children seem to have a special affinity for this charismatic group of plants; perhaps because its bright flowers are well within their reach. Violets actually have many look-alikes, many of which are inedible or poisonous, so only harvest them when the flowers are present and you are 100% sure that you have a violet.

I enjoy violet leaves and flowers in salad, pesto and in sandwiches and wraps. The roots of most violet species can cause nausea and vomiting, and should not be eaten. The leaves and flowers can be harvested with scissors in a “haircut” style. Violet can be harvested multiple times throughout the spring until the leaves become too fibrous. It will often make a comeback in the fall, with a flush of tender new growth. Violet leaves can be sautéed or steamed. I also like to stir them into soups as a nutrient-dense thickener. The flowers make a lovely garnish—we sprinkle them on salads and add them to cakes and pancakes. Violet flowers are also beautiful when candied or frozen into ice cubes.

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Violet blooms

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Violet and chickweed salad, garnished with dandelion flowers

Violet and chickweed salad, garnished with dandelion flowers

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Violet leaves contain a good bit of mucilage, or soluble fiber, and thus are helpful in lowering cholesterol levels (similar to oatmeal). Soluble fiber is also helpful in restoring healthy populations of intestinal flora, as beneficial bacteria feed off of this type of fiber. The leaves are high in Vitamins A and C, and rutin, which is a glycoside of the flavonoid quercetin. Rutin has been shown in animal and in vitro studies to be anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and blood thinning. Many foods that are high in rutin, such as buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), are eaten traditionally as a remedy for hemorrhoids and varicose veins.

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Chickweed and violet hummus

Chickweed and violet hummus

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Violet is cooling and moistening and is used internally as a blood cleanser and lymphatic stimulant. It is taken as a tea or syrup, and can also be eaten for its medicine. The exact dosage is not especially important since it can safely be consumed in large quantities. As a gentle food herb, violet is generally safe for elders, youngsters, and people who are taking pharmaceuticals.

Violet has a rich tradition in Europe, where it has been used for centuries as a pulmonary remedy for dry hacking cough. It is often recommended for bronchitis and whooping cough, along with the roots of marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Violet can also be used as a tonic for chronically swollen lymph nodes. As with many other herbs with an action on the lymphatic system, it has a long tradition of use in the treatment of cancer.

Topically, violet is used as a poultice, compress, infused oil and salve in the treatment of dry or chafed skin, abrasions, insect bites, eczema, varicose veins and hemorrhoids. It is cooling, soothing and anti-inflammatory.

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Fresh violet and chickweed on a bagel with garlic sauce

Fresh violet and chickweed greens on a bagel with garlic sauce

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If that isn’t enough to enamor you of their presence, violets have secret underground flowers, which never open to the light of day, yet still set seed. Read about these subterranean “Plan B” flowers here.

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Violet's secret subterranean flowers

Violet's secret subterranean flowers

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Think twice before weeding out this medicinal and edible wildflower; it may be one of the most valuable plants in your garden, even if you didn’t put it there!

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Bouquet of violet blossoms-

If you're interested in learning more about foraging, wild edibles, and medicinals, please check out our Online Foraging Course and Herbal Immersion Program.

Meet the Green Mastermind Behind Blog Castanea:

Juliet Blankespoor

JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.

These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.

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58 thoughts on “Violet’s Edible and Medicinal Uses

    • I’m not familiar with this species, which is native to Australia. I’d recommend checking in local field guides or other foraging books specific to your region. Viola species do vary a bit, so it’s important to research each species’ traditional uses.

  1. Hi,

    Can I use pansy and violas (from commercial nursery) for herbal teas using leaves and flowers as I heard that they are good for relaxation? Also, here in Australia we have a type called wooded violets (dark green leaves and a small plant closed to the ground) – do they have the same medicinal value? Can you suggest anymore relaxing herb as I am currently using lavender, rose petals, lemon balm etc but prefer something flowery and more relaxing as peri menopause is keeping me awake and stressed? Thanks

    • Christine Borosh says:

      Pansies and violas are both ornamental hybrid plants. They have edible flowers if they haven’t been sprayed, but they aren’t used medicinally. Most plants you’ll purchase from commercial nurseries are grown with chemicals unless you specifically seek out organic plants. There are about 550 species of violets and some can be used for medicine as described in this article. Since there are so many violet species out there, you’ll need to figure out which species you have growing in your area and then do some research to see if it has been traditionally used as medicine.

      Those are all wonderful relaxing nervine herbs. I also like tulsi and chamomile. All of those herbs together would make a lovely tea blend or herbal syrup!

    • Mina,

      passionflower, chamomile and linden are excellent for stress. Skullcap is too but stronger sedative effect and amazing for sleepless nights. You could also try catnip which is safe for children too.

  2. I would like to know if tincture could be made out of Violet leaves. I have the species Viola sororia. I would like to use 40% Vodka as the sole solvent. I’m hoping to use the Violet tincture for coughing, will that work? I can’t find much information about tincturing Violets.

    • Christine Borosh says:

      Making a tincture is not the best way to prepare violet because the mucilage and minerals found in violet are water soluble and not effectively extracted by alcohol. We recommend making a tea (infusion), syrup, or infused vinegar instead to make the most effective medicinal preparation.

  3. Wonderful article. For the tea does it need to be fresh or can it be dried for medicinal benefit? I’ve heard it’s useful for dry sinuses to especially when used with a Nero pot

    • Christine Borosh says:

      Dried violet can also be used, it doesn’t have to be fresh! Violet is cooling and moistening, so that would certainly be indicated for dry and inflamed sinuses. So glad you enjoyed this article!

  4. Caroline Eliot says:

    Are leaves of the Confederate violet edible? I have both the common and Confederate intermingling in my lawn.

    • Christine Borosh says:

      The confederate violet is a cultivar of the common blue violet (Viola sororia) and you can use them interchangeably for food and medicine.

  5. My yard is COVERED in these! I had no idea! I don’t spray my yard I don’t allow anyone to come near my yard with chems. I harvest weeds all the time. Can I dry these and use them in cooking and soaps?

  6. Sibylle Swinney says:

    Hello! I am from Europe and now live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
    About this time of the year after the ever so cold German winters, my beloved fragrant VIOLETS covered our garden.
    I am searching and searching for VIOLET plants ……. can I order them from you?
    Gratefully yours,
    Sibylle

      • Sara Kinney says:

        We don’t have a recipe on the blog, but it can be as easy as throwing some violet flowers on top of your salad. We adorned a cake with some this week, and it made it look ever so festive!

  7. thank you for all the great info. one thing i’ve not been able to figure out is when i bring in my flowers, how do i get rid of the bugs on them? i’ve brought in flowers and greens to make things with but even after setting for awhile the bugs are still there. little gnats, ants and other small ones. i don’t want to spray my garden with pesticides. any suggestions? and thank you for the wonderful articles. 🙂

    • You’re so welcome, Sandra! I’m glad you are enjoying the blog. Usually, after sitting for 1-2 hours post-harvest, the bugs will leave the plant material. However, if there are still bugs after this time, you can shake the flowers upside down or use a brush to manually remove them. Best of luck to you!

  8. In the early 1900’s (up until the 50’s,) violet flowers were given by women to other women to communicate their “sapphic”/lesbian desire. The act was much attributed to Sappho’s description being “violet-haired” (wearing violets in her hair) and her reputation as a lesbian because of her emphasis on Eros and Aphrodite. The violet is sacred to Aphrodite. Violet crowns were commonly worn for protection by the goddess.

    • So interesting! Thanks for sharing that bit of herstory 🙂 I wonder if the appearance of the flower had much to do with it’s secret meaning?!? It does resemble a certain aspect of human anatomy!

    • All species of heart ease can be eaten, drunk and applied. They all have the same actions…just in varying degrees. I do agree that the plants must be organically grown
      According to the “Doctrine of Signatures” herbs will be the shape, color, texture etc of the organ/system it treats.
      In this case it may look like a labia as some suggested. However, it also has the anatomical features of a heart…when viewed from an anterior/superior view point…
      What an interesting post your wrote Dawnielle. The flowers are considered an aphrophadisic….And will mend an emotionally broken heart also. 🙂 Which I have heard of no other herb
      It is also known as the herb of the ‘Thinker”
      These flowers have been popular with great men through time…King Louis XV111 had a crest of arms made for his favorite most trusted assistant, as he was a ‘great thinker’..And to the great conquerer Napoleon Pansy was his symbol.
      A small flower with a remarkable history…proving its value as an exceptional herb (food)
      I bought some fresh heart ease (pansys) at the farmers market…Added them to a tea…And noticed that for the first time in many weeks I slept very deeply and peacefullly
      I have much knowledge in medicines of all kinds & despite many many herbs & treatments, had been chasing my tail to restore my former healthy sleeping pattern for weeks
      Yet this small flower that could go unnoticed…and is rarely used in medicine today (if at all) ,has me sleeping like a baby & waking full of vigor & sparkle
      I have studied with noted herbalists, yet none mentioned this wonderful herb (Food) So I have spent many hours over the last weeks researching this humble unassuming yet very powerful plant. referring to books that go back to the 18th & 19th centuries & beyond
      It was used primarily for :
      !. problems of the heart…both of physical (pain, afib, palpitations L sided heart failure), and emotional/romance kind distress due to relationship problems
      2. Respiratory problems…dry cough & asthma..
      3.And skin conditions. acne, rashes, and the hard to teat ezcema and psoriasis
      I have found an infusion 1oz to 1pint distilled water of the flowers will take the sting and anger out of an insect bite, a bruise, a rash or a cut…calm a non productive cough…steady the nerves….give sound sleep to even the most rattled of fair maidens….and make the most handsome charming of young men/women swoon at the feet of the lady who drinks the tea of heart-ease (violets or pansys)

      • Christine Borosh says:

        Thank you for joining in the conversation! It is wonderful to hear about your experience and research. This is indeed such a powerful plant!

  9. such a wonderful post with beautiful images, thank you so much.
    i saw my first yellow wild violet in the forest yesterday, such a joy to greet it.
    here in NW Montana spring comes on slowly. We have Canada, violet and yellow violets.

  10. Have you tried Johnny Jump Ups flowers or leaves (viola rafinesquii) as an edible? They are much smaller blooms than violets with different kinds of leaves. Wondering if they are worth the time to make a syrup or honey with. Thanks

    • Hi Abby,

      I simply eat the flowers of Johhny Jump ups, and don’t use them medicinally. However, they’re traditionally used in Europe similarly to the common blue violet–as a blood cleanser, heart tonic, and respiratory remedy for dry, hacking coughs. The flowers and leaves are used as a tea or syrup. I’m referring to Viola tricolor, which is the plant most people call Johnny Jump ups, or Hearts Ease, but the species you mentioned is a different violet….Just wanted to make sure we are on the same page!

      • THANK YOU for sharing more on Johnny Jump Ups! I have invited these adorable and happy little “weeds” in my gardens and eaten them since I was a child. I have long loved their gently sweet spiced little blossoms in salads and while puttering in the garden. I did not however know of their medicinal value! I will certainly be making more of an effort with this this spring!

        • Pansies are hybrids originating with crosses between Viola tricolor and other Viola species. They have edible flowers if they haven’t been sprayed (most commercial bedding plants are grown with chemicals). Try looking for pansy plants from your local organic herb nursery or grow your own. Because they are of unknown parentage and are novel hybrids, they aren’t used medicinally. However, the high levels of flavonoids and related antioxidant compounds in the petals make them a functional food-medicine.

  11. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! Your photos are beautiful. =)

    Can viola tri-color (common little johnny jump-ups) be used in the same ways as the viola sororia mentioned above?

    Thanks!

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