Though pretty, many people look at wild violets as a scourge that kills the lawn. They are further frustrated by the fact that wild violets are really hard to control. But I have good news. Instead of looking at them as a difficult weed, wild violets should be viewed as useful wild plants that you can enjoy instead of hate. Wild violets have purpose!
Identifying Wild Violets
First of all, do not confuse wild violets with African violets. They are not even close to being the same thing. African violets make gorgeous houseplants, but definitely should not be on your list of fun things to throw into your salad. They will make you very sick.
Typically, wild violets have purple flowers and heart shaped leaves. However, they may appear in various shades of purple as well as white. They grow in clumps, only getting about 4 to 6 inches high, though sometimes they get a bit taller.
They are found in zones 3 through 9 and grow in areas of partial sun to partial shade. If you find a nice clump, you can transplant them into your garden if you like, just be aware that they will spread. If you have ever tried to control them, you know they pretty much do whatever they want. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though, if you know how to use them.
Violets as Food
Unlike African violets, wild violets can be on your list of cool things to throw into your salad. The flowers add unexpected color and a sweet flavor to your favorite greens and sandwiches. You can use them to decorate desserts as well. They are also rich in vitamins A and C (more vitamin C by weight than oranges!) as well as other vitamins and minerals.
Violet flowers can be used to make violet vinegar, violet jelly, violet tea, violet syrup and even candied violets (because you know the kids will love that!). Try freezing a few into ice cubes for a festive touch to drinks during a party. Your guests will be impressed for sure.
But it isn’t only the flowers that are edible. The leaves can also be used in your salad mix. You can cook them as well, though they are a bit bland. The leaves are just as full of nutrients as the flowers, so don’t neglect to include them on your list of foods to forage in the spring.
Violets as Medicine
It’s fun to find wild foods to add to the menu, especially if you have kids who can help harvest them, but it’s even better when those foods have health benefits. Wild violets have several notable benefits that make them worth collecting. Spring is often thought of as a time to purify the body after a long winter and gain renewed energy for spring. Violets are perfect for this because they help your body to eliminate waste by stimulating the lymphatic glands to get rid of toxins in the body.
Violets are also known to strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation. Spring is a common time for sore throats, colds, sinus infections and other respiratory conditions. Violets, eaten or as a tea, can help soothe these issues. A poultice from violets has also been used to treat headaches by Native Americans. This may be due to the salicylic acid contained in the flower, which is also found in aspirin.
Because violets also have antiseptic properties, they can also be used in slaves or ointments to treat minor scrapes and bruises. A violet tea can also be useful in treating insomnia. But even with so many benefits, try not to get too carried away until your body gets used to violets, because they also act as a mild laxative!
Now is a good time to start looking for wild violets. They are most commonly found in May and June in most areas. Gather them up and use them fresh, but also try drying some for use throughout the year. Pay close attention to where you harvest your violets so you don’t gather any that may have been sprayed by pesticides. Mornings are a good time to harvest, when blossoms are fresh and perky.
Two teaspoons on dried leaves and one teaspoon of dried flowers can be steeped in a cup of boiling water for about five minutes to make a restorative tea. Or, you can use two or three teaspoons of fresh flowers. This will give you a more mild tasting tea. Be sure to strain out the flowers and leaves before drinking. For added health benefits, add a bit of honey if desired.
Have you used wild violets? What are your favorite uses for them?