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.
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.
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.
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.)
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)
The range overlaps in some areas with viola odorata.
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.
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 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.
Violet Jelly Recipe
A delicate floral jelly made with violet flowers.
- Prep Time: 9 hours
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 9 hours 10 minutes
- Yield: 6 cups 1x
- Category: jelly
- Method: canning
- Cuisine: American
- 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
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.
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.
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:
- Chronic coughs
- Sore throat
- Inflamed gums
- Bladder pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Cracked nipples
- Sore eyes
- Swollen, lumpy breasts
- Skin cancers
- Pain relief
- Varicose veins
- Heart problems
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.
Violets are the state flower for:
- Illinois (Purple violet – Viola)
- New Jersey (Viola sororia)
- Rhode Island (Viola)
- Wisconsin (Wood violet – Viola papilionacea)
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:
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.
Originally published in 2012, updated in 2019.