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Common Blue Violet – Soothing Medicine, Inside and Out

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Common blue violets (Viola sororia) are perennial wildflowers native to North America. A folklore favorite, these bright little plants are also rich in nutrition and soothing medicine.

blue violet plant

Other Names

Common Blue Violet is also known as Pansy, Heart's Ease, Jump-Up, Wild Pansy, Hens and Roosters, kiss-me-at-the-gate. Other names include purple, wood, sweet, English, common, trinity, butterfly and garden violet.

There are over 70 species of the family violaceae in the United States, and most have similar medicinal and food qualities. Some common species with purple flowers include Viola odorata (sweet), Viola papilionacea (wood) and Viola cucullata (marsh).

Note:  These are a different species from African Violets (Saintpaulia ionantha), which have round, fuzzy leaves and are commonly grown as a specimen plant in the U.S.. Don't eat  Saintpaulia ionantha!

Violet Flowers, Leaves and Growth Habits

Violets are perennial, blooming in the spring/summer and dying back in fall/winter. They propagate mostly by underground runners, but also produce seeds – but not from the purple flowers. Seeds set in autumn on small green flowers that hide in the foliage. You won't damage your patch at all by harvesting flowers.

Illinois wildflowers states: “During the summer, cleistogamous flowers without petals produce seeds, which are flung outward by mechanical ejection from the three-parted seed capsules.”

Blue violets bloom abundantly in springtime with flowers that that resemble miniature orchids. There are five dark blue/purple petals and a white center. The flowers emerge on stalks separate from the leaves, and are about 1″ (2.5 cm) across.

Do violets smell good?

Yes, the blossoms have a delicate and distinctive fragrance.

blue violet flowers

Leaves are heart shaped, curling slightly at the edges, but flattening as they age. Each leaf stands on its own stalk rising from the base of the plant. They spread readily once established in a moist, shady area.

blue violet leaf and flower

Do violets like sun or shade?

They are shade loving plants, and can be found in moist woods and gardens, or a partly shaded lawn. (The pictures for this post were taken in a friend's yard.)

wild violets in a lawn

Range of Common Blue Violet

Viola sororia is native to eastern North America, and can be found throughout most of the eastern United States and Canada. (source)

viola sororia range map

The range overlaps in some areas with viola odorata.

viola odorata range map

Wild Violets as Habitat

Illinois Wildflowers tells us which animals use the common blue violet for food:

The flowers are not often visited by insects (hence the need for cleistogamous flowers), but sometimes they attract bees (e.g., Mason, Halictid), skippers, Syrphid flies, and other insects. The Syrphid flies, however, feed only on stray pollen and are non-pollinating. The caterpillars of many Fritillary butterflies feed on the foliage.

The seeds have soft appendages that attract ants, which are in part distributed by them. Various upland gamebirds and small mammals occasionally eat the seeds, including the Wild Turkey, Bobwhite, Mourning Dove, and White-Footed Mouse.

Wild Turkeys also eat the leaves and fleshy roots of Viola spp. Although it is not a preferred food source, mammalian herbivores occasionally eat the foliage, including the White-Tailed Deer, Cottontail Rabbit, and livestock.

Food Uses

Both leaves and flowers are safe for human consumption. They are mild and somewhat bland. (Roots can be used medicinally, with caution.) Large amounts of leaves or flowers may have a laxative effect, so enjoy in moderation.

Healing Wise by Susun Weed gives a plethora of violet recipes from vinegar and syrup to soup and salad. Susun sings the praises of sweet violets, citing that 100 grams of fresh spring leaves contain 264mg of ascorbic acid (a component of vitamin C) and 20,000 IU of vitamin A, as well as an assortment of trace minerals. 

(If you want more recipes, Healing Wise (Wise Woman Herbal Series) is the book for you. It's a a whimsical exploration of seven common healing herbs and their uses.)

To make a simple violet vinegar for use in salad dressing, fill a small jar with blossoms (don't wash them) and cover with a good quality vinegar such as white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, or rice vinegar. Cover and let steep from 1-6 weeks before using. (The flavor becomes more pronounced as it ages.)

Remember, the darker the color of the flowers, the darker the infusion. If you're blessed with deep purple blossoms, you may want to try this beautiful violet jelly.

blue violet jelly
Violet Jelly photo courtesy of my friend, Tami Hallam
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Violet Jelly Recipe

A delicate floral jelly made with violet flowers.

  • Author: Laurie Neverman
  • Prep Time: 9 hours
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 9 hours 10 minutes
  • Yield: 6 cups 1x
  • Category: jelly
  • Method: canning
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 c. packed violet blossoms, no leaves, no stems
  • 2 c. boiling water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 4 cups sugar
  • One 3 ounce pouch Certo Liquid pectin

Instructions

First, infuse the blossoms in the water. Place the blossoms in a heat resistant container and pour the boiling water over. Allow them to steep 8 hours or overnight.

When ready to can, sterilize six 8-ounce jars or 11 four ounce jars, keep hot. Heat lids and rings in hot water, keep warm but not boiling. Fill water bath canner and bring to boil.

Strain the flowers out of the water. Squeeze dry. You should have 1 3/4 cup infused water. Add more water if needed.

Place the flower infusion, lemon juice and sugar in a large heavy bottom pot. Bring to a rolling boil. Add pectin, return to boil. Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat. Ladle jam into sterilized jars leaving 1/4″ headspace. Wipe rims clean and screw on the lids. Process for 10 minutes in water bath canner (add 1 minute for every 1,000 feet above sea level). Makes around 6 half pint jars or 11 – 4 ounce jars.

Notes

Only deep purple blossoms will make a purple violet jelly. Light purple flowers will make jelly that is pale in color.

Although the recipe card gives the option to double or triple the recipe, single batches are recommended for best results.

Did you make this recipe?

Share a photo and tag us — we can't wait to see what you've made!

Common Blue Violet for Medicine

Medicinally, Susun Weed recommends violets for treatment of cancers, for relief from various breast ailments, for headaches (the plants contain salicylic acid), for respiratory trouble and for wound healing. (Yes, all this this from a little blue flowered weed.)

Edible & Medicinal Wild Plants of Minnesota & Wisconsin sites historical use of violets for:

  • Colds
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic coughs
  • Sore throat
  • Asthma
  • Inflamed gums
  • Fevers
  • Headaches
  • Bladder pain
  • Rheumatism
  • Goat
  • Boils
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Pimples
  • Cracked nipples
  • Sore eyes
  • Swollen, lumpy breasts
  • Tumors
  • Skin cancers
  • Warts
  • Corms
  • Pain relief
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Varicose veins
  • Heart problems

Recent studies using viola species extracts for cancer treatment showed reduced metastasis and cancer cell death.

The Backyard Herbal Apothecary: Effective Medicinal Remedies Using Commonly Found Herbs & Plants is a recently released herbal guide that features simple violet preparations for internal and external use. Devon Young discusses  creating teas and infusions, syrups and creams. Healing Wise and The Backyard Herbal Apothecary are excellent compliments to each other.

Note: Posts are for informational purposes only. Please make sure to properly identify any plants before consuming.

close up of common blue violet blossom

State Flowers

Violets are the state flower for:

  • Illinois (Purple violet – Viola)
  • New Jersey (Viola sororia)
  • Rhode Island (Viola)
  • Wisconsin (Wood violet – Viola papilionacea)

Folklore

The Backyard Herbal Apothecary notes that in mythology, the Greek god Zeus created a field of violets for a lover he turned into a white heifer to avoid the wrath of Hera. In Roman mythology, Venus beat maidens blue and turned them into violets after her son, Cupid, said the maidens were more lovely than his mother. (Beware crazy jealous women…)

Early Christians said that violets turned downward after the crucifixion, and viewed them as symbols of modesty and humility, while pagan cultures associated them with love and lust.

Most people have heard the simple children's rhyme,

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Sugar is sweet
And so are you

The name has also come back in fashion in recent years. (Everything old is new again.)

More Ways to Use Wild Plants

This post is #23 in the Weekly Weeder series, which is all about wild plants – how to identify and use them, where they grow, and how to get rid of them, if needed.

Other posts in the series include:

Also recommended:

Wildflowers Of Wisconsin is a helpful plant guide with great full color photos and descriptions for identifying wildflowers.

Please Like, Pin, Stumble or otherwise share this post if you enjoy learning about wild plants. It only takes a moment and I really appreciate your help. 

Weekly Weeder at Common Sense Home - drying herbs

Originally published in 2012, updated in 2019.

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26 Comments

  1. I was so looking forward to making the beautiful violet jelly, but my flower infusion turned out green! I didn’t use stems or leaves. Was I supposed to pick off all the flower petals? I would love to make this before the rest of the flowers go bad! Help!!

    1. Some violets will naturally be lighter in color than others. The jelly in the photo was made from a deep purple patch of violets. When I make lilac jelly (with light purple flowers) the infusion is green and the jelly turns out golden in color. It still tastes good.

    2. The reason violet jelly will turn green sometimes is that violets are pH indicators, just like purple cabbage and elderberries. The more acidic the mixture is, the more pink it will become. That’s why adding more lemon juice makes it hot pink. At the other end of the spectrum, more alkaline (base) mixtures will be closer to blue or even green. If you have enough of the dark purple petals it will still be fairly purple, but if you don’t have enough flowers in the mixture to really steep a dark color in or you don’t have dark purple flowers, then you’ll get green. Add a bit more lemon juice and it should turn pink.

      It’s really fun to take advantage of this to teach chemistry to kids and make it seem a little magical. 🙂 I wrote a book on foraging elderberries and I do a lot of elderberry cooking with kids. I often make elderberry lemonade and they love to see it go from dark purple to hot pink when you add the lemon juice. We also make natural watercolor paint with elderberries and can have a huge spectrum of colors from green and blue to purple, red and pink, just from adding simple things like dish soap (alkaline) and vinegar (acidic).

  2. Ok, thank you. I guess I will go ahead and give it a try, even though I was so looking forward to that beautiful purple color! I think I am going to make some cupcakes today and whip up some of the flowers in the white frosting. I think that should really say spring, don’t you?

  3. I made violet jelly with a mix of purple and white violets growing in the forest on our property, and the colour came out as such a lovely pinkish purple! Unfortunately I dont really smell the violet in the jelly, but there is a faint floral taste to it. The jelly is delicious and sweet.

      1. Can I use vanilla extract instead of the lemon????
        I noticed that when I made my clover jelly it also called for lemon.
        My husband is not really fond of lemon.
        So is there a reason we should use lemon or is it just for flavoring

        1. The lemon juice isn’t for flavor, it’s to acidify (lower the pH of) the jelly to make it safe for canning. The finished jelly does not have a strong lemon flavor.

  4. It is so funny that you shared this post this week! I made violet jelly for the first time last week! They were all OVER my yard, shade and full sun. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try my hand at some foraging! My jelly turned out more lilac in color, but I think if I had picked more flowers, it might have been a deeper purple. (boy, it was labor intensive…gonna recruit the neighbor kids to help pick next time LOL!) The Jelly is simply amazing!

    1. The flower jellies are a labor of love, but I enjoy being able to share something that friends and family will never find in stores.

      We have no violets at our place yet (that I know of), but I should double check to see if the ones I transplanted from the neighbors last year caught. Their yard is filled with them, but we have little shade at this point. I planted them in the orchard, but the trees are fairly small yet.

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