Wild violets are one of the first spring flowers that grow in abundance in Colorado. Among the wild and scattered throughout garden beds. Growing your own violets or foraging from a lush patch can be done easily. They are a seasonal delight that adds beautiful colors to salads and other foods. With an abundance of medicinal benefits.
The American West is home to over 30 different species of violets. Some very limited and others more widespread. In the Rocky Mountains the native species grows in temperate forests and grassland areas. They can be found around aspen and conifer.
Wild violets are in the Viola genus and Violaceae family. The wild violets here in Colorado are often purple (Viola adunca) , yellow (Viola nuttallii) , and white (Viola canadensis). But the garden varieties can come in all varieties of colors. Commonly they are called sweet violet, heart ease, trinity violet, and butterfly violet.
History & Folk Uses of Violets
Wild violets are native all across the globe, in North America, South America, Europe, The Mediterranean area, Asia, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
In ancient Greece, they viewed violets as a symbol of Venus, harmony, beauty, empathy, love, self love, and the embodiment of joy. Mythology states that Artemis transformed a nymph into a violet to hide her from Apollo. Zeus also changed his lover into a cow grazing in a violet patch to hide her from Juno. Persephone was gathering violets when Hades captured her and took her to the underworld. The ancient Greeks view violets as a symbol for Aphrodite and hung them with roses in their doorways to announce the birth of a son. Homer and Virgil wrote about violets and claimed they were used to calm anger, bring sleep, and fortify the heart. Hypocrites used violets for skin irruptions and pulmonary blockages.
The celts used violets for cosmetic purposes and for headaches. In Christianity violets grow in the garden of Eden where Adam’s tears of repentance hit the soil. Macer a medieval French herbalist used them as a defense against dark spirits. And Shakespeare associated them with death in his writings. For centuries it is a plant that was used for garlands, syrups, wine, onserves, onfections, cordials, vinegar, perfume and a coloring agent and have been sold in markets all over the world. During the middle ages St. Hildegard used violet leaves to dissolve malignant skin and colon cancer tumors.
The North American tribes Iroquois, Omaha, Cherokee, Thompson, Costanoan, Karok, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Diegueno, Luiseno, Navajo, Eskimo, Blackfoot, Makah, Tolowa, Klallam, and Carrier used violets in many ways. One way was to strengthen the heart and heal soft tissue to support the respiratory system. Also to treat arthritis pain, stomach pain and diarrhea. They used it as a poultice for headache and sore eyes. During labor and for urinary discomfort. It also had magical purposes to help detect bewitchment. And it was considered a wild food and spring tonic.
Energetics of Wild Violets
Moistening, cooling, and bitter. Feminine, gentle, relaxing, and balancing.
Violets are well known herbs for the heart. There is so much that is associated with our hearts. Our hearts have an intrinsic nervous system all their own. Containing over 40,000 neurons called sensory neurites which characterize a second brain. Which we all can feel pretty strongly. Herbs for the heart, like violets, help us attune deeper into the consciousness of our heart allowing us to access deeper dimensions of the heart and ourselves. Our hearts fuel our passions and allows us to visualize our desires before they are manifested. If we find our hearts out of balance we can turn to sweet violets for support.
Coumarins, cyclotides, mucilages, saponins, salicylic acid derivatives, polyphenols, flavonoids, polyphenol carbxylic acid, and anthocyanins/anthocyanidins.
Medicinal Actions And How to Use Wild Violets
The leaves and flowers can be used in many ways. Most commonly in teas, tinctures, poultice, oil, and plasters. The roots can be used as a expectorant and is a strong emetic and purgative. A root liniment in vinegar can be used for gout and spleen. A flower garland an be worn for headaches and dizziness.
Culpeper said violets an be used for hot dry temperament and John Gerald indicated it for sore throat headache, insomnia, inflammation, and easing the heart. Which makes sense because violet is a alterative, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, and a sedative. Most commonly used for the respiratory system that soothes dry mucous, spasmodic coughs, clearing mucous and easing a sore throat.
A infusion can used as a laxative. Drinking a cup before bed can help move the bowels the next morning. The tincture can reduce asthma and allergies or when experiencing bronchial inflammation. Topical use can be a salve used for cuts, scrapes, ulcerations, and burns. It is antibacterial and is a soothing vulnerary.
Violets also help cool and moisten hot skin conditions like eczema. A poultice can be used for bruises and wounds. Violets also move the lymphatic system and relieve swollen glands and congested breast tissue. And can be used to treat, epilepsy, juandice, rheumatism, and tumors.
How To Harvest And Cook With Violet Flowers and Leaves
The first march violets can be harvested in abundance without harming the plants. If the first flowers are picked it helps stimulate the production of more flowers. It is best to gather them during a sunny morning when they first open. The leaves are gathered before the plant flowers.
Dry flat in a basket or on screens with shades of paper and turn the flowers often. The drying area should be dry and airy. Artificial heat an also help the process. Wilted or discolored violets lose their medicinal value so make sure to take extra care when drying them.
Crystallizing the flowers dates back to 13th century. The flowers can be harvested in late winter to mid spring. And are best harvested in late morning when the dew has dried and the flower is fully open. You can also make sweet violet jelly and syrup.
The leaves of violets have the best flavor in late spring. They are good in salads as long as they are not the mature and tough leaves. They are great mixed with other wild greens like sorrel and mustard. Or any other common greens that you prefer.
How To Grow Violets
Violets are hardy and easily grow in semi shaded areas. They thrive in moderately heavy and rich soil. A mulch of well rotted manure and previous autumn leaves an help them thrive, when added in the spring. You can also propagate the runners from established plants in early summer after they finish flowering.
Contraindications and Safety Disclaimer
Whenever using medicinal herbs you should consult your doctor. Wild violets are considered safe for most. But if you are taking medications it can have a diuretic effect. Also those who have an allergy and sensitivity to salicylates and saponins should avoid violets. Use is not recommended during pregnancy or lactation and is not recommended for children under 12.
Discover more about medicinal herbs and how to use them here.