Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wild Violets (Viola papilionacea, et. al.)

One of my favorites! Sweet Aunt Vi is in the Violaceae (vy-oh-LAY-see-ay) family, and Viola (vy-OH-la) genus. She grows 2 - 5 inches tall and is found throughout the United States, except for the Rocky Mountains, I'm told. She also grows in Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, India and other places. She loves moist gardens, shady wood edges, and meadows. She is a "clumping" perennial with a fibrous root system, and she is aggressive. She walks over with a purpose, hikes up her ample skirts, and plops right down to stay.

There are many other species of violet, including V. arvensis, V.calcarata, V. canadensis, V. clandistina, V. diffusa, V. heterophylla, V. japonica, V. kauaiensis, V. palmata, V. pedata, V. pubescens, V. rotundifoli, and maybe a hundred or more others (S. Weed: Healing Wise, 1989, Ash Tree Publishing). Some of her common names include Blue Violet, Butterfly Violet, Common Violet & Sweet Violet.

Vi is easily identified by her beautiful green, smallish, heart-shaped leaves which are rolled in around the egdes, especially the young ones. They often take on a funnel shape. Click on the pic above to get a closer view. The leaves have been known to externally irritate some with sensitive skin (they've never bothered me at all, and are safe and yummy to eat), but that's just Aunt Vi. She doesn't mean you harm ... she just wants some respect. Keep in mind, though, that large doses of her roots or seeds could be toxic, causing upset stomach, nervousness, breathing problems, and also may affect blood pressure. Violet leaves are very nourishing and are wonderful in salads. They are alterative, anodyne, antineoplastic, antiseptic, demulcent, depurative, dissolvent, diuretic, emmolient, expectorant, laxative, mucilaginous, nutritive, suppurative & vulnerary. Whew! That's a mouthful! Violet is a cooling, soothing herb. Imagine a kindly aunt smiling sweetly while gently stroking your fevered brow with her cool, soft hand. That's Sweet Aunt Violet.

Her flowers (Thanks for the bloom pics, Mel!) range from white to blue to purple, and appear in my area (Zone 7) from March to May. The flowers have three lower petals and two lateral petals on long single flower stalks. I love that you can pick violet flowers to your heart's content. They don't set seed! In Susun Weed's "Healing Wise", she says that some botanists say violet's flowers are "just for fun" and "out of sheer joy". I love that! The seed-making flowers don't appear until autumn, and are green (can you say camoflage?). The flowers are antiscorbutic, aperient, and are all edible. They are used in syrups for sore throats and coughs, and given to children for digestive upsets. Violet flower oil is used for relief from tinnitus. They are also absolutely dreamy crystallized in sugar. YUM! Besides having her on the menu, I love to make Violet vinegar, oil & tincture.

Now, in my Master Gardener class, Wild Violets were a topic of conversation during our "Weeds" lecture. I was suprised to learn that I was the only person in a class of 12 who loves Wild Violets, and was horrified to sit and listen to all of the creative ways mankind has devised to torture and kill her! Okay, so she's agressive and resistant to some herbicides. I loathe the very word "herbicides", and hope you do, too! She's prolific, and I love that about her. I can see why people who are lawn-obsessed harbor ill-will toward Wild Violets, but I've never been a "Lawn Person", so I allow her to run wild and free wherever she may roam in my yard. The more the merrier! Grass doesn't grow under Aunt Vi, and that's just fine with me.

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Anonymous said...


I really enjoyed reading your blog. I have been taking herbal products almost ten years now. I always recommend traditional alternative health over modern medicine. sometimes the combination is necessary to create a complete balance. I use for all my free herbal information and herbal health products. I look forward to all the updates. thanks again.


Unknown said...

Thanks Jessica! I'm so glad you're enjoying my blog. And I agree, sometimes a combination *is* necessary. I'll be sure to check out your link! :)

Unknown said...

Oh to find someone who agrees with me on the many beauties of wild violets! I once told a man who worked for one of these lawncare companies who had come out to do a complimentary quote to "weed" and take care of the yard - he spoke of the proliferation of wild violets in my yard and spoke of them as weeds. I very nicely told the man in my very southern accent that I DID NOT consider wild violets to be weeds! He looked at me as if I was crazy! We of course do not use a lawn service - I could literally eat most of the things in my yard - it has NEVER had anything unnatural put into the ground - I know - my great-grandfather, grandfather and father did some farming and never used pesticides in any form. Now, the yard is just covered in violets, clover and other assorted "weeds" that stay green year round. When I get to heaven I'm asking God for a patch of violets! My favorite flower!

Unknown said...

Jennie, thank you so much for that lovely comment! It truly does baffle me that more people don't appreciate wild violets, and I'm thrilled to meet another admirer! It's also positively wonderful that no harsh chemicals have ever been applied to your property. Not many can say that these days. You're very fortunate, as is the plant and animal life around you. You *should* be eating your yard! So many nutritious, healing plants are available to us right outside our doors, if only we look for them.

Leanne :)

Anonymous said...

I live in IL. and LOVE the Wild Violet! They weren't spreading fast enough for me, so I surfed the 'net to see how to care for them when I, too, discovered they are a much hated 'weed'! It's very hard to find sites like this that comment on the beauty vs. how to kill them. Thanks for the advice that they don't seed until autumn! I think I'll transplant some to a shadier area before they seed so I can get a good spread next spring. Any advice on how to transplant safely so they will take root before seeding?

Unknown said...

Hi Cathy!

It's really better to transplant them in the spring. If you want to go ahead and give it a try now, be sure to give them some extra TLC (don't let them dry out) to get them through the summer heat. I have succesfully moved some in the summer before. Most wild violets love southeastern dappled sun/shade and plenty of moisture or rich humus. You really don't have to worry about getting them moved in time for autumn seeding, though. Wild violet also spreads via it's very hardy root/rhizome system that is extremely easy to transplant. Wherever you move her ... there she will likely stay. And then if she's happy, will spread like crazy! Even if you move some and it looks like it isn't going to make it (it might get all wilty and pitiful looking at first), chances are very good that she'll reappear next season, and bring friends. You might not want to put wild violets in your flower beds, because Aunt Violet doesn't like to share her space and will crowd others out.

Good luck and let me know how they do! :) Leanne

Katt said...

We've recently moved to a house in Missouri. And today I found new baby violet leaves in a patch near where the grandkids play set has been set up. So I starting looking to find out how to transplant them. I'm so glad to find someone else who feels as I do about these lovely little flowers. I used to make violet syrup for my own kids' cough and made candied violets one day to decorate a cake. My kids thought this was the coolest thing Mom had ever done.

Tomorrow I'll go find a place to transplant some of these little plants so I can once again enjoy the smell and taste of wild violets. Hopefully under the lilac bush we discovered in a corner of the back yard.

Long may Aunt Vi live!

Unknown said...

Our violets are in full bloom. There doesn't seem to be as many this year as there was last year, but as we are weeding our beds, we always carefully pick our way around the violets. My daughter is drying blossoms and I am surfing the web for ways to use the herb in my soap. I have heard they are good for your skin. I am interested in learning more about violets to eat. Do you have a recipe for the candied violets?

Jack said...

Sorry, but I hate wild violets. The tiny blooms last less than a week and then your left with an ugly, indestructible weed.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment, Katt! Wild Violets are super easy to transplant. I've successfully dug up and transplanted everything from big clumps to individual plants! I hope you had good luck with them!

Marie, yes I do have a recipe for candied Wild Violet flowers, although I'm sure by now you've found one. I apologize for not answering your question sooner. The end of my pregnancy and then the c-section had me out of commission for a long stretch!

This is my favorite (and easiest) recipe for crystallized violets:

Pick your violets on a dry day. Check to make sure they are undamaged and free from pests. Lay them out to dry completely on paper towels for a couple of hours. Beat an egg white to a froth (add food coloring, if desired). Using a fine brush, carefully coat each flower with the egg white, then pour fine sugar over each. Blend the sugar in your blender to make it a finer consistency, if desired. Lay each flower on wax paper to dry, until stiff enough to move. Refrigerate or store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.

And a different method, if you'd rather not use the egg white:


Fresh wild violet flowers (pesticide free!)
6 fluid ounces water (175 ml)
1 lb sugar (450 g)


You will need:
Wax paper
Paper towels
Slotted spoon

Pick your violets on a dry day. Check to make sure they are undamaged and free from pests. Lay them out to dry completely on paper towels for a couple of hours.
Pour the sugar and water into a saucepan and boil the mixture for 5 minutes.
Carefully drop the flowers into the syrup and boil for another minute.
Use a slotted spoon, remove the flowers and slip them on to the wax paper.
Let them sit at least overnight or until they are dry and hard. Refrigerate or store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.

Jack, I'm quite sure you're in the majority with that opinion. No doubt about it, Wild Violets are a huge pain in the neck for those who dislike them! ;)

cybercrone said...

Boy, I love them too. Just spent one day this weekend in the pouring rain, tramping through the bush to find some to dig up to put in the wildflower garden I'm starting under a big tree where nothing else will grow.
Got a couple May apples too, now hoping to find some Jack-in-the-pulpit. Wish me luck.

Unknown said...

M, you've picked the right girl to grow in a rough place. I'm sure the violets will love it under your tree. Don't be discouraged if they seem to just disappear .. they'll be back next year! And good luck indeed, I've had a terrible time finding Jack-in-the-pulpit. I hope you find some!

Jeane said...

I have wild violets in my yard,,,, DUH!!!!!!!! I think they are very pretty keeps the grass down and smell so nice when thay bloom I have been digging up the run aways in the yard and transplanting them under my english roses they sure love it there oh ya and my garden snakes love them too.. can you buy them at the garden stores??????

cybercrone said...

So nice to find other violet lovers. Though I do wonder what is wrong with that one guy's violets if the flowers only last a week? Min last closer to a month, I'm sure.
Anyway, since finding out about your Appalachian and herbal connections, was reminded of a series of articles on Dave's Garden, by a woman called Sharon Brown. She talks about learning the herbal arts from her Aunt Bett in Kentucky, and all the monkey business she got up to while doing so. They're really fun, and thought you might enjoy the, so here's the link to the latest one - you'd have to search for the others.
Viva la viola!!

Unknown said...

Hi Leanne,
It's Cathy from 8/3/'s my update as you requested :)
I did as you suggested and gave them extra TLC. I mixed Miracle Gro soil when I planted them and they did great and came back in the spring to flower! However, more did not pop up this year as I expected, I imagine it was the 'transplanting shock' being so late in the year, just before seeding. I just finished moving 5 more violets from my yard to under the tree as I did with the first two last year. I hope the first two will spread some major seeds this year, and that the rest survive. I can't wait until this lady surrounds the tree!

MikeHgl said...

It is so nice to find a place on the web that is not seeking ways to destroy the wild viloet. Thank-you for that.I am using violets as a landscape plant. My observations were that it outperforms EVERYTHING else in the yard so why not encourage it? The ditch adjacent to our home was recently re-dug and cleared by the county and the very first thing that appeared was.....viloets. So I decided to help them along, transplanting several "bunches" pulled from my side wooded lot. Basically, I walked over and grabbed a handfull and yanked them out of the ground, walked over to the ditch,dug and small hole, and "stuffed the roots in the hole. The little guys were more than happy to find a home there. I had no idea the violet had so many other usefull properties! Thanks to all the posters too.
Mike, Sanford, MI.

Unknown said...

Jeane - There are many different names for "wild" violets. Do an internet search for Viola odorata (Sweet Violets), and you shouldn't have too much trouble finding some seeds. The difference b/w odorata and V. papilionacea, which is now referred to as V. sororia, is that odorata has scented flowers and a crown (which you want) with late runners, and V sororia has rhizomes, is deciduous, and the flowers have little to no scent. Both are medicinal, and considered invasive! ;)

M - Thanks so much for that link. I loved Sharon's story! Especially the part where she tears open her pillows for the feathers :)

Cathy - I'm so happy to hear from you!! And I'm thrilled your violets came out flowering in the spring!

Mike - Thanks so much for the lovely post. I agree with you, 100%! I'm so happy you found some useful info here. I hope you return for another visit soon! :)

Renee said...

I love these violets too. I got my start from a sister in law who has since killed all of hers. I planted mine in the heat of summer and they survived and have spread. They are a perfect height for ground cover under my roses. They thin a bit in the heat and in winter but I think they are great. I haven't had problems with them spreading but so what if it does? I have been researching today ground covers for a spot that will not get the best care and nobody mentions violets. But I have decided after reading your blog that I am going with my initial instinct and sticking with violets. I am about to get rid of some aggressive vinca major that can literally cover up my antique roses and I hate that. I think I'll spread the violets there too. And it is so fun to know they are edible. I am so glad I found you! Plus, I will look into buying seed for a quick fix.

Unknown said...

It always does my heart glad to look down and see one of those little heart-shaped leaves peeking through the grass. My sweet violets have found their way out to the elderberry bushes in my yard, and are now adventuring down the driveway! ;)

Treva said...

I do not understand how anybody can dismiss these violets as "weeds." My mom and I discovered some growing in her Northeast Texas yard when they were blooming. Such a lovely surprise. I decided to start plucking them out of the St. Augustine to transplant in the flowerbed. I started another flowerbed about the time more of these wild violets appeared where I had removed the other ones. So, I'm relocating them to the second flowerbed. I have other locations for them if even more appear in the grass. They're an awesome groundcover and border plant.

Tina Hudak said...

I love violets, too and just linked your page on my blog, ziaclara.wordpress. Thank you!