Don't Shrink from Violets

Margaret Boyles
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Wild violets (genus Viola, many species; probably escaped from cultivation) pop up everywhere and anywhere in my lawn and vegetable gardens.

I encourage them.

In the lawn they stay green when the grass goes dormant in August; in the garden, they add a perky ornamental touch.

Plus, they’re also really good to eat. Good for you, too, both as food and medicine.

In terms of eating, I’m talking primarily about the young, tender, heart-shaped leaves, although the delicate flowers are also edible, scattered across the top of a delicate salad or used for candied violets and decorating cakes.

Raw or cooked, violet greens have a delicate, bland flavor. Add them to mixed-greens salads; toss a handful into a soup, a stir-fry, or a side dish of mixed steamed greens.

The late wild-edibles enthusiast Euell Gibbons called wild violets “nature’s vitamin pill,” noting that a half-cup serving of tender green leaves provides the vitamin C of four oranges and a day’s supply of Vitamin A.

The leaves and roots also contain the host of phytocompounds that herbalists have long used to treat skin and respiratory ailments, wounds, headaches, anxiety, and fibrocystic breasts and other breast swellings.

Notes

  • Don’t ever eat a wild plant you can’t identify with certainty.
  • Eat only the purple-flowered varieties.
  • Don’t eat violets (or any flower) that came from a florist or plant nursery, as the plants may contain pesticides and other toxins. 
  • African violets, Saintpaulia ionantha, aren’t true violets. Don’t eat them or use them in medicinal preparations.
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