Violet’s spring blossoms are some of the first flowers to arrive after the solitude of Winter has left us. Their medicine is one of nourishment, softening and strengthening. I find Violets arrive in time to soften the hardness that can emerge in the decline of Winter. Violets are often referenced as being helpful in times of transition, whether that be seasonal or life transitions. Historically Violets were worn at funerals, they assist in comforting and strengthening the heart in times of despair. Violets truly celebrate the arrival of spring in a joyful and supportive fashion with their intoxicating aroma and wonderful addition to our medicine cabinets and food.
Common Name: Violet Leaf and Flower
Scientific Name: Viola spp. Many species including Viola tricolor, Viola adjunca, Viola langsdorfii, Viola palustris, Viola canadensis, Viola galvella, Viola sempervirens, Viola odorata to name several.
Energetics: cooling, moistening
Herbal actions: primarily demulcent; astringent, bitter. Some species have aromatic flowers.
Body Systems Affinity: Respiratory, Lymphatic, Mucous Membrane
There are many kinds of violets found in the wild and in everyday garden spaces and lawns. All are low growing plants with heart or kidney-shaped leaves that are a deep, rich green. Flowers have five petals arranged with two upper, two middle, and one lower petal, which is often larger. There are many colours to be found: dark purple, yellow, white, beige, blue, even multi coloured. Violets will readily cross with each other. Luckily, all violets are edible and are used for medicine interchangeably. Violets like a damp, moist growing condition.
Violets’ morphology easily attracts early insects and get their flowers pollinated and this plant has a built in strategy for reproduction and survival.
Image: Parma Violet (Viola odorata) – From “Favourite Flowers of the Garden and Greenhouse” by Edward Step (England, 1896)
Herbalist Elise Krohn writes:
Lower petals have bright lines that glow like landing strips for bees or butterflies. The mouth of the nectary is guarded by two modified stamens that deposit pollen on visitors when they crawl into the flower. Combs on the bottom petal gather pollen that has been transported from other violet flowers off bee bellies.
But violets have devised an ingenious back up plan for reproduction in case they bloom too early for pollinators. Small greenish flowers grow in late summer under ground or at the soils surface. They do not open, and are self-fertilized.
Some violet seeds have outgrowths called oil-bodies that ants carry off for food and disperse at a distance from the parent plant. Violets also reproduce by throwing out runners that set roots and become new plants.
Maude Grieves writes:
The flowers are full of honey and are constructed for bee visitors, but bloom before it is really bee time, so that it is rare that a Violet flower is found setting seed.
There is indeed a remarkable botanical curiosity in the structure of the Violet: it produces flowers both in the spring and in autumn, but the flowers are different. In spring they are fully formed, as described, and sweet-scented, but they are mostly barren and produce no seed, while in autumn, they are very small and insignificant, hidden away amongst the leaves, with no petals and no scent, and produce abundance of seed.
This peculiarity is not confined to the Violet. It is found in some species of Oxalis, Impatiens, Campanula, Eranthemum, etc. Such plants are called cleistogamous and are all self-fertilizing. The cleistogamous flowers of the Violet are like flowers which have aborted instead of developing, but within each one are a couple of stamens and some unripe seeds.
The Violet propagates itself, also, in another way by throwing out scions, or runners, from the main plant each summer after flowering, and these in turn send out roots and become new plants, a process that renders it independent of seed.
I get very excited about the potential of Violet gathering season for it can last from mid spring all the way through summer by travelling higher altitude later in the season. Gather violet leaves and flowers when they are young and fresh, vibrant and colourful. After providing an offering to the plant and sharing your gratitude to it, gentle remove leaves and flowers by pinching off the plant. Ensure you leave enough of the plant so that it continues to flourish and only harvest 1/3 of the stand at the very most. Violets are often found in wetland areas so please be mindful where you step as you are searching for this plant. Many herbs are due to arrive after violets unveil, be cautious not to disturb this sensitive ecosystem. Many wild violets transplant well and will flourish in shady areas of your garden.
All violet leaves and flowers are edible, including their close relative, pansies, and Johnny jump ups. According to herbalist Janice Schofield, just two violet leaves fulfills our daily requirement for vitamin C. Violet is a nutritious spring food and can be added to salads, soups, sautés, sauces, and whatever else your imagination comes up with. Both the leaves and flowers can be added to food, however the leaves are a particular excellent salad green when combined with other delicious wild and cultivated veggies. Recipes follow.
Caution: Wild violet leaves contain saponins which can irritate mucous membrane and cause tummy upset when eaten in very large quantities. Do not eat more than a handful at a time and best to combine with other greens such as spinach, lettuces, chickweed etc.
The leaves of violet are high in mucilage that soothe irritated tissue. The leaves also contain salicylic acid, which helps reduce pain and lessen swelling. Violet leaves can be muddled and put on bruises and wounds to help reduce swelling and lessen the pain of injuries. Excellent remedy for bee bites, stings, bruises etc. Can be used as a spit poultice easily when on the trail, in the garden or forest. Violet has an infinity to the respiratory system, especially in children, can soften a dry harsh cough and help soothe sore tissues associated with colds and flu.
Violet leaves and flowers also have an infinity for the lymphatic system. The tea of the flowers, leaves, and sometimes the roots is used internally to help reduce stagnation relieve congested tissue. A tea of Violet leaves in the winter time when the throat is dry and glands are sensitive to the touch relieves the pain and softens the harsh feelings in the throat. Beneficial to any cystic condition in the body.
Every spring and early summer I venture out to collect many leaves and flowers of the violet plant. Some of the leaves I dry to create teas with in the fall, winter and early spring. Some leaves and flowers I tincture for a stronger medicine utilized in times of dry coughs, lymph congestion and cystic like situations.
I also collect many of the fragrant flowers and create a medicinal honey and a medicinal oil. The later two are for my own use and are to infuse the energy of the violet into my daily life through its scent and flower energy. The energy of the violet flower is said to free us from our past, unsettling thoughts and trauma, open the heart chakra and encourages healthy self awareness.
Here are some of my favourite recipes:
- Violet Flower oil infusion
- Highest quality carrier oil you can obtain, remembering that toxins and contaminates are concentrated in fat molecules, making it especially crucial to source your oils as pure as possible. Also choose an oil that has very little aroma and has a long shelf. This is a medicine I splurge for organic grape seed oil or organic jojoba oil.
- Violet flowers
Find an abundant violet stand that has fragrant flowers. Not all violets will, V. tricolor, a domestic species native to the UK does. It has naturalized here and its quite abundant, often found wild.
Carefully and graciously choose your flowers filling your jar as you go. Immediately pour oil to cover and cover with cheese cloth or a light towel. You can add more flowers every day as they bloom until you jar is filled up, filling to cover as needed. Because this is a fresh flower oil do not cap as the flowers may mold in the oil without the option of being able to disperse their moisture.
Don’t heat infuse in the sun. Allow the aroma to be gently coaxed out by the oil over time. Set the jar in a cool, dark area where you can check on it daily and watch the oil change. Heat extractions only work well for when its over 30 degrees day and night for a stretch of 10 full days. Fluctuations of temperature allow for fermentation.
When you are satisfied you have captured the aroma you may strain, bottle and label. This is both a culinary and medicinal application of medicine.
- Violet Flower Honey
- Best quality honey available
- Violet Flowers
Follow the above recipe, however I recommend saving the violets after straining, drying and creating a candy treat.
Option: You may also add 1-part brandy to 2 parts honey to create an elixir option. Add the brandy when combining the honey and violets together, stir well. All other steps are the same.
- Wild Leaves and Flowers Salad
- 2 cups Spinach greens
- 1 cup Violet Leaf and Flower
- 1 cup Chickweed greens
- 1 cup Miner’s Lettuce
- Edible flowers such as rose, calendula, borage etc.
Combine leaves together and place flowers beautifully on top to adorn. Serve with your favourite dressing.
Mine is as follows:
- ¼ cup Violet infused grape-seed oil
- ½ cup Olive Oil
- ½ cup Nettle infused Apple Cider vinegar
- ¼ cup raspberry, mint puree (combine raspberries and a few of mint leaves in the blender and wiz).
- 1 teaspoon honey
Combine and drizzle over salad.
- Fresh Violet Leaf Tincture
This is a staple in my medicine cabinet for the winter months, soothing dry throats, easing swollen glands and nourishing deeply.
For this recipe you will need 50% alcohol, less than this concentration may not properly extract medicine and due to the water content of the fresh violet you may reduce the overall percentage too low in your final product.
I have given you the Simpler’s method for this tincture recipe. If you would like the scientific method or if you have questions regarding tincture making feel free to reach out!
Chop your violet leaf into smaller pieces and pack tightly into your jar. Cover with your alcohol (referred to as the menstruum).
Cap and leave to combine together for 7 days.
After 7 days, blend to puree the contents and return this tincture back to its jar. You may need to add a wee more menstruum to help the slurry blend. Macerate (leave to combine together) for up to 21 – 41 more days preferably following the moon cycles, starting on the new moon and straining on the full moon. I tend to leave most of my tinctures for 6 weeks minimum.
Some Herbalist recommend blending fresh herbal tinctures at the start of the tincturing process. I wait for a stretch to allow the herbs and the menstruum to commingle and get to know each other better before I create a combined slurry of them. Energetically this feels more gentle and instinctually allows the wisdom of the herb to let go of its constituents gradually.
After the set maceration time is up, strain and press through layers of cheese cloth into a large bowl and then bottle and label. The final product may be mucligenic, thick almost like a syrup and this is a good thing!!
Dosage is 1 – 2 ml as needed for above conditions.
Enjoy all the goodness of Violet medicine this season. Simply brew a tea of the loose leaves and flowers, enjoy the taste, journey with this plant she has many messages to offer.
All the best for a fantastic and healthy spring season!!