foraging violets - spring herbs

Ultimate Guide to Foraging Violets for Food and Medicine

foraging violets

Foraging Violets

Foraging violets couldn’t be easier in many parts of the US.  They tend to grow plentifully, in fact, are often considered invasive, which is good for us foragers and wildcrafters. This allows us to forage violets til our hearts content!

Wild Sweet Violets are one of those early spring wild edible that I always look forward to, and not just because they add a delicate touch of color to my gardens, but because they are edible as well as medicinal!  The best of both worlds! 

The most common type of violet found here in the Northeast is Viola odorata. It’s a species of flowering plant in the viola family, native to Europe and Asia. This small hardy herbaceous perennial is commonly known as wood violet, sweet violet, English violet, common violet, florist’s violet, or garden violet. 

Sweet Violet Folklore

Sweet violet is said to be the most fragrant of all the violets. Infact, it became a cherished plant by Venus and Aphrodite and was woven with other revered plants into the final scene of the famous Unicorn Tapestries, held in the Cloisters Museum in New York City.

The Greeks also chose sweet violet as their symbol of fertility.  The Romans enjoyed sweet violet wine and for Napoleon it became the emblem of the imperial party.  This delicate plant’s virtues were sung by the Last Empress Dowager of Chins, royalty in Victorian England, and by the great writers Homer and Shakespear. 

It’s clear that this lovely little flower should not be ignored, or eradicated from lawns, but rather held in high regard and respected for its offerings. 

violet honey

Identifying Wild Sweet Violets

When foraging violets you’ll want to look close to the ground, as wild violets are a very low-growing herb. The tallest they typically get is about 6 inches.

They are an extremely hardy perennial and tend to spread in lawns and gardens with wild abandon, making them a wonderful herb to forage.

This herb can be identified by its four parts: leaf, flower, stem, and thyzomes.

Leaves: Wild violet have smooth, green, heart-shaped leaves, with pointed tips and rounded teeth. The leaves arise from the crown on a long petiole, which is generally about twice as long as the leaf blade. Turn the leaves over; you’ll see that the veins are quite noticeable. 

Flowers: Wild violet boasts  delicate violet flower like small pansies. The flower colors can actually range from white to bluish-purple in color and can even be yellow, as is the case with the aptly named yellow violet. Flowers are produced from April to June and have five petals.

Stalks: Flowers are produced on leafless stalks that are no longer than the leaves themselves.

Rhizomes: Plants spread by short, thick, branching rhizomes in the soil. Plants emerge from the rhizomes from April until September. Because of the long emergence window, wild violet is difficult to control and is considered invasive. 

Are Wild Violets Safe to Eat?

Yes, absolutely! The delicate sweet violet flowers are a real culinary treat and can be used in many recipes as well as for edible decorations on cakes, cookies, and other baked goods.  They add an elegant touch!

5 Fun Ways to Enjoy Sweet Violet:

  1. Crystallized and used to decorate cakes, confections, puddings, and ice cream.
  2. As a colorful and nutritious addition in a spring or early summer salad
  3. made into a flavorful syrup 
  4. floated on cold soups
  5. made into jams or jellies, conserves, and vinegars
  6. infused in honey
violet jelly

Medicinal Uses of Violets

In the spring here in the Northeast, I start foraging violets for medicine

Violets are healing, anti-inflammatory herbs with expectorant, diuretic properties. Violet is taken internally as a tea for coughs, colds and rheumatism. They can be applied externally to treat skin conditions such as swelling, ulcers and can be used in gargles for mouth complaints and throat infections. 

Ways to prepare violet medicine:

  1. Flower: Take fresh or dried in an infusion (tea) or syrup as a mild laxitive; also helpful for coughs and bronchitis, and soothing for nerves, headache and insomnia. 
  2. Leaf: A decoction or infusion with dried leaves may alleviate bronchitis and help with coughs. Fresh leaves can be used as a poultice for bruising.
  3. Root: A decoction or infusion of dried root is said to help with bronchitis and to counter the excessive discharge or buildup of mucus in the nose or throat.
The Outdoor Apothecary

Where and When To Start Foraging Violets

Violets are easy to spot in the early spring when there aren’t many other herbs in bloom. They prefer moist soil and dappled light. 

You can feast on both the flowers and leaves into early summer, and then older leaves well into late summer. 

How to Gather Violets

Gathering violets couldn’t get much easier. Simply pinch off both the violet flowers and tender leaves with no more than about a 1/2 of stem if you want to eat them in salad or as a cooked vegetable. 

How to Dry Violet Leaves

  • To dry violet leaves for tea, pinch the leaves down low so theres a couple of inches on each stem.
  • Bundle eight to twelve stem ends together and secure them with a rubber band.  Hang upside down to dry until they turn “crispy”.  Usually about a week.
  • Place in a glass jar and use in tea blends for winter coughs and colds.

Disclaimer- I am not a medical professional. All information shared here is for information and entertainment only. Do your own research and consult your health care provider before treating yourself with any product, plant or mixture. 

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