Violet – Viola SPP.: The Pretty Little Things of Foraged Edible & Medicinal Wild Plants

In Chippewa, wewaîe’bûgûg is the word for American dog violet in particular. Violets are aplenty around here and all are edible and medicinal. Happily, the plant is unharmed by picking the flowers. However, some violets are rare so do take the usual proper precautions in ID-ing and monitoring your wild plant allies. While you’d probably only find it in southern Ontario, Viola pedata is one of these at risk violets.

Here’s a diverse list of our violets according to the book Haliburton Flora: As common at the time:

  • Northern blue (viola septentrionalis)
  • Lance-leaved (viola lanceolata)
  • Northern white (viola pallens)
  • Blue marsh (viola cucullata)
  • Canada violet (viola canadensis) *has a wintergreen taste to the leaves and is also more commonly used for medicines
Violet - Viola SPP.
Violet – Viola SPP.

And as fairly common:

  • Large-leaved white (viola incognita)
  • Downy yellow (viola pubescens) *roots used to ease sore throats among other medicinal
  • Kidney-leaved (viola renifolia) *roots used to induce vomiting
  • Great-spurred (viola selkirkii)
  • American dog violet (viola conspersa)

Of course this could easily have changed over the decades.

Edible Uses of Violet

All violet flowers and leaves are edible. But the rhizomes, seeds, and fruits of some violets are vomit inducing and even poisonous!

Add the flowers or leaves to any dish. Added to soups the leaves are a thickening agent (see demulcent bit under Medicinal Uses below). It’s also a nice tea, especially mixed with other leaves, like strawberry.

Do you like purple? Pink? Blue? Candied violets and violet jelly, jams and syrups sure are pretty. And the color can be altered by vinegar or baking soda. Violet can also pretty up vinegar and wines.

Stalking the Healthful Herb has an uncooked violet jam recipe, preserving all the vitamins (Euell calls violet “nature’s vitamin pill”): Take 1 packed cup of just blossoms and blend with 3/4 cup water and the juice of 1 lemon, until you have a smooth violet paste. Slowly add 2 1/2 cups sugar until it’s dissolved. In a pan, bring to a boil 1 pkg of pectin in 3/4 cup water and boil hard for 1 minute. Then add this to your blender with your violet mixture and blend them together for 1 minute. Pack your jam in glass jars. It will keep about 3 weeks in the fridge. Freeze what you wish to save.

High in vitamins A and C.

Medicinal Uses of Violet

Violet is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Astringent, Demulcent, Diuretic, Expectorant, and Laxative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes, historically, as a cure-all syrup. What wasn’t? Lately they’ve been used more as an accelerator to enhance other medicinal plants. You can add 1/2 tsp to any 2 qts of most other herbal medicines.

The tea is mainly a respiratory support. The way I use it is as a demulcent (think slime of okra or chia seeds, that’s what I’m talkin’ about). I have allergies that get worse when I try to dry them up with herbs like goldenseal, so I use demulcent plants to increase my respiratory mucosa’s moisture level to keep things slipping along instead. Violet is in a middle range of demulcents, performance wise. But it’s readily available in many yards come springtime. I hear herbalist Jim McDonald calls demulcents a “secret superpower” herbalists have. Secret. Oops.

Some viola contain salicylic acid, some have a cathartic effect – violets aren’t all exactly the same.

Alternative Uses of Wild Violets

The flowers can dye lotions and other crafts. Some violet flowers are used for their scent in teas, perfumes, etc.

If you’re looking for a science project, violets can be used as a litmus test.

Growing Viola

Around here, they may already be in your lawn along with dandelions, coming up in May. Interestingly, like trillium, ants disperse the seeds.

When buying at a nursery, avoid introduced pansies and look for native species. There are plenty of native violets to choose from in purples, yellows and whites.


The rhizomes, seeds, and fruits of some violets are poisonous.

Use in moderation due to saponin, which may cause digestive upset in large quantities.

The leaves resemble many wildflowers leaves so watch out for proper ID.



Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

Stalking the Healthful Herbs (Field Guide Edition)

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants

The Good Living Guide to Natural and Herbal Remedies: Simple Salves, Teas, Tinctures, and More

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Native Plants, Native Healing: Traditional Muskagee Way

Forest Plants of Central Ontario

The Path to Wild Food

Tom Brown’s Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants: The Key to Nature’s Most Useful Secrets

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