Monday, April 10, 2017

Virtuous Violets for Culinary and Medicinal Use

By: Candice Brunlinger, Herbalist

There is something so comforting and pleasant about being around the lovely woodland violet (also commonly referred to as hearts ease or blue violet, although the flowers may vary in color). The heart shaped leaves and precious little flowers are quite delicious and sweet, complimenting salads, meals, baked goods and desserts. They also have wonderful healing and medicinal benefits and are very nourishing, high in various vitamins and minerals.

Just to clarify, woodland violet is very different than the common household plant, African Violet, which is not in the violet family and is not edible or medicinal. All true species of violets are considered medicinal and include the following botanical names: Viola odorata, Viola tricolor (Pansey), Viola lobata, Viola yezoinsis, Viola spp., etc. [i] They grow well under the shade of trees and other plants, in woodland forests and damp meadows. They make a beautiful addition as a border in a garden bed or as a ground cover along landscaped or wild pathways and trails. Their flowers can vary in color, ranging from blue and purples to light pink, yellow or white. This sweet plant brings a heart-felt and fairy-like presence to any garden and forest.

Harvesting & Drying Violet

If the plants are on the smaller size or spread apart, then just graze and harvest a few leaves off the plants so they can continue to grow. If the ground is covered with numerous violet plants then you can take some shears or scissors and cut sections of the ground cover which helps to thin the plants for more growth. 

You can easily dig out sections of the plant to transplant or re-pot. Violets grow well as a border in garden beds, in containers, hanging baskets and will grow in overgrown grass lawns and wild fields. 

Use the fresh leaves and flowers in culinary preparations, tea infusions, tinctures, vinegar infusions, oxymeals, syrups, etc. Or dry the leaves and flowers by spreading them in a light layer in a basket in a cool, dry and well ventilated area to wilt, rotating the plant material 1-2 times daily. Once fully dried, store the leaves in a jar. I like to keep the leaves whole so I can appreciate their heart shape when I use them and so the medicine stays stronger longer. (Medicinal properties of plants can dissipate when chopped or ground down.)

Medicinal Benefits and Uses of Violet

Violet leaves and flower salad
Highly Nourishing Edible
Violet leaves have been used as an edible green for centuries and recent studies now show the medicinal strength and nutritional density of this gentle and delicate plant. It is very high in vitamins A & C, calcium and magnesium. The whole plant is edible but the roots should be eaten sparingly as they can be emetic in high doses (in other words, eating too much can induce vomiting).  Use the fresh leaves as you would any green but I personally like to eat it in raw salads and avoid cooking it which damages its vitamin C. The cute flowers can be sprinkled over salads, desserts, jello, pudding, etc. and make for beautiful decoration on desserts. The flowers do tend to fade quickly after being picked so they can be candied to preserve their shape and color. 
Violet flowers decorating a cake

“As far back as 1885, a study compared violet leaf vitamin C content to that of oranges and vitamin A content to that of spinach. From the basal leaves, if collected in spring, this early research reported that violets contain twice as much vitamin C as the same weight of orange and more than twice the amount of vitamin A, gram for gram, when compared with spinach!
(Erichsen-Brown, 1979).” [ii]

Violets are probably most well-known for their powerful lymphatic actions which can stimulate and break up lymph congestion and reduce lymphatic swelling. This is one of the reasons it is commonly used in spring detox blends, cold and flu blends, respiratory and cough blends and to help dissolve and clear out cysts and tumors, especially in the breasts and arm pits.

“Herbalist Matthew Wood recommends a fresh poultice of leaves and flowers for cancers of the lymphatic system, breasts, lungs, and skin. I’ve heard many stories of oil infused with fresh violets being used for dissolving lumps of the breast or simply as a preventive.”[iii]
~Rosalee de la Foret

Cooling Anti-Inflammatory
Violet helps to relieve signs of dryness and heat and is known to help reduce arthritic pain and inflammation. Topically, it soothes red, hot, dry and inflamed skin.

Demulcent and Emollient
Violet’s mucilaginous quality helps to moisturize, sooth, coat and protect internal tissues as well as the skin. This quality benefits sore throats, colds, flu, dry coughs, respiratory infections, IBS, and constipation as well as inflamed skin and scalp conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, cradle cap, dandruff, etc.

Violets are a very gentle nervine. Drinking a cup of tea or eating some leaves and flowers can sooth nervous tension and anxiety especially if affects the heart (i.e. elevated heartbeat, heart palpitations, tight constricted feeling in the chest, etc.). This plant is not sedating and can be used to take the edge off and unwind as needed.

Heart Shaped Violet Leaves
Emotional and Physical Heart
The heart shaped leaves are a doctrine of signature indicating the physical and emotional benefits of using violet for the heart. Violet is high in a constituent called rutin which is known to help strengthen capillaries and prevent platelet aggregation. [iv]

Another name for violet is hearts-ease and it has been traditionally used to sooth any emotional heart ache especially if it is accompanying feelings of being alone. Violet can help you become more heart-centered which eases your connection to your Self, environment and others around you.

Energetic Benefits and Violet Flower Essence:

According to the Flower Essence Society, violet essence helps one to “let its essence flow into others [and] helps shift awareness from fear of losing the Self, to trust that the Self will be warmed and reveled by others, so that their beautiful soul nature may be shared with the world.”[v]
~Flower Essence Repertory

When I was a child, I was very shy, quiet and soft spoken. Then, as I became an adult I became more outgoing in nature. I have always appreciated and loved working with violets energetically as they tend to bring me into a balance between the two. The violet plant reminds me of my gentle and sweet nature and how I can hide some of my qualities and strengths like the way the flowers can hide under its leaves. When I am feeling too shy and introverted or have a difficult time connecting to others from a heart-centered place, I can rely on violets to help me flow out of my shell and radiate with those around me.

You can use the flower essence in many ways. Try adding 1-2 drops in a large water bottle and sip on it throughout the day especially in social situations. Or add a drop directly under the tongue. I really like to add 3-5 drops per ounce of water in a small spray bottle and spray it around my body as needed. Or I rub 1 drop into my heart center or wrist points.

Herbal and Culinary Preparations using Violets

Violet Tea & Infusion
If using dried leaves and flowers, use 1 heaping tbsp per 8 ounces of water for a gentle strength tea. If you like to make strong infusions then use up to 1 ounce of leaves by weight per quart of water. If using fresh leaves and flowers, loosely fill a mason jar 1/3 - ½ of the way full.

Bring the water to a boil and remove it from the heat source. Pour the recently boiled water over the violets, cover and allow it to steep at least 20 minutes; however, I personally like to make strong nourishing infusions and allow the tea to steep up to 12 hours. Once infused, strain and remove the herbs and enjoy the pleasant and sweet violets.

I usually prepare the tea the night before and allow it to infuse overnight. Violets make a lovely lunar (moon) infusion which can be made by placing your tea pot/press/jar outside under the moonlight or in a moon lit window. In the morning I either drink it cold, add it to my morning smoothie or protein shake instead of using juice/milk substitute/water or I gently heat it back up on the stove until it starts to steam so I can enjoy a nice hot cup of tea.

Violet Syrup (Sugar Free)
There are different ways to prepare herbal syrups. I will discuss 2 possible ways to make and use violet syrup. If you would like a sugar free recipe which can be used to support coughs and sore throats or you would like an alcohol free violet extract then try the following:

Take 1 firmly packed cup of fresh violet leaves and flowers and add it to 12-16 ounces of recently boiled water. If using 1 cup of dried violet leaves add 16-20 oz of recently boiled water. Keep covered and allow to infuse overnight or all day if possible (about 12 hours or so). Gently warm up the tea infusion again just until it starts to steam. Remove it from its heat source, strain and add ¼-1/3 part honey to preserve it. The honey will blend better if the infusion is warm-hot. Store this preparation in the fridge for up to 2 months and take 1 tbsp as needed.

Violet Flower Simple Syrup
If you are using just the flowers and/or are interested in making a fun tasty sugar-based syrup then try the following recipe served with crepes or pancakes or drizzled over ice cream. Use it as a cocktail mixer for a martini or fizzy beverage, or add it to champagne or a white wine spritzer.

Fill a jar with violets flowers. Pour boiling water over violets and allow it to steep covered for up to 12 hours. Strain off the liquid. The color of the water can range from anywhere from blue to green. At a 1:1 ratio, place violet liquid and sugar in a large pan (for every cup of flowers, add 1 cup of sugar). Add a very small amount of lemon juice to the mixture until the desired color of violet is achieved. Be careful not to add too much lemon, otherwise, it will turn a pink hue.  Bring syrup mixture to a gentle boil and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. If the color fades a little during cooking, you can add a few more drops of lemon juice to maintain the violet color. Bottle and store in the refrigerator for up 6 months. 

Tincture & Vinegar Infusions
Violet leaf extracts are really helpful for those who need to work on their lymphatic system. There are various mediums you can use including vinegar, alcohol, and glycerin. Take a mason jar and gently pack it ¾ of the way full with fresh violet leaves and flowers. Pour in your alcohol, glycerin or vinegar until the violets are completely covered and moving freely in the liquid with at least 1 inch of extra liquid. If using glycerin, you will need to dilute it with a 1/3 part distilled or filtered water first. Stir well and release any air bubbles. Cover with a seal-tight lid and shake daily for 2-6 weeks. Strain extract through a stainless steel mesh strainer, muslin or cheese cloth. Bottle, label and use as needed.

It is generally recommended to take anywhere between 1-3 mils of a tincture also commonly measured as 1-3 droppers (when using a one or two ounce bottle) or 30-90 drops. Take it 1-2 times a day for maintenance and 3-4 times a day for acute situations or when addressing lymphatic swelling, congestion, cysts, tumors, etc.  

Violet Vinegar is a delicious and versatile way of receiving the nourishing and healing benefits of violets. Apple cider vinegar is especially beneficial for extracting out the rich minerals from the plant. It can be taken by the spoonful (anywhere between 1 tsp-1tbsp) and is especially great to do before meals as the vinegar helps stimulate digestive functions and appetite as well as reduce some digestive symptoms such as acid reflex. Use Violet Infused Vinegar in salad dressing and marinade recipes. Or dilute it with equal parts water and use it topically on the skin for general healing, to support dry and irritate skin conditions or as a hair rinse to ease an itchy scalp, cradle cap, dandruff and assist in removing soap residue. (Note: If using for cradle cap use a higher dilution since infants skin is more sensitive. Try 1/4 or 1/3 part vinegar and the rest water or make a strong violet tea infusion and use it instead)

Viola Vinaigrette
1 cup freshly picked violet leaves and flowers
¼ cup lemon juice or violet infused vinegar
1/3 cup nourishing oil (olive, avocado, flax, hemp, pumpkin, etc.)
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp salt and pepper

Blend all ingredients except the oil in a blender until well blended. While the blender is running on medium-high speed, very slowly drizzle your oil into it so it emulsifies well with the other ingredients.  Once the dressing is well blended and creamy pour into your container and use as needed in salad dressings. Store in the fridge for up to a year and shake before use. 

Violet Poultice
Harvests and wash a handful of fresh violet leaves and flowers. Puree or finely chop the plant material until the juices are exposed.  Placed the poultice on the skin, to help sooth irritated and dry skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, skin dermatitis, etc. Or apply the poultice over stagnant and swollen lymph nodes, cysts or tumors to help reduce their size and clear away stagnant and congested lymph fluid. Be sure to cover the plant material by wrapping it with a towel or plastic wrap. Keep in mind the fresh plant is most effective for a poultice. If you want to have access to fresh violet poultices all year you can puree large batches of the violets and freeze the mixture in small jars or ice cube trays to use later.

Violets are virtuous, vivacious, 
and valuable! 
Violets are unassuming but oh, 
so powerful![vi]


***I would love to hear your thoughts. Please share your favorite recipes and uses for Violet in the comments below. 

Violet Gallery

Yellow Woodland Violet Flower

Viola yezoinsis
Viola yezoinsis
Viola odorata, Snow White
Viola striata

Viola tricolor (Pansey)


By: Candice Brunlinger, Herbalist 
Copyright 2016

This article was featured in Humboldt Herbals' monthly newsletter for June 2016. Click here to subscribe.

About the Author:
Candice Brunlinger has been studying and practicing herbal healing since 2004. Her interests include incorporating plant medicine as a way of living, making herbal remedies, cooking, growing herbs, gardening, teaching, writing and being a mom. She teaches for the Northwest School of Botanical Studies & Humboldt Herbals, Volunteers as a farm Herbalist, has a small clinical practice and an herbal product line, Herbal Infusions.

You can visit her Nourishing Herbs blog or become a member of her facebook group Herbal Living.

Candice Brunlinger, Herbalist


[i] Herbal Remedies Advice – Violet Flower Benefits by Rosalee de la Foret

[ii] More on Violet Lore and Science

[iii] Herbal Remedies Advice – Violet Flower Benefits by Rosalee de la Foret

[iv] Herbal Remedies Advice – Violet Flower Benefits by Rosalee de la Foret

[v] Flower Essence Repertory by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz
   Violet, Page 295; Copyright 2004

[vi] The Herbal Academy, “The Virtues of Violets – Health Benefits of Violets”; April 29, 2014

***I would love to hear your thoughts. Please share your favorite recipes and uses for Violet in the comments below. 

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