When your lawn gives you violets...
…Make violet jelly (or syrup, or tea!).
The common, sweet violet (Viola odorata, which is but one of hundreds of species), is native to Europe. Naturalized in North America, it’s clearly taken over backyards across the continent! Every spring my yard becomes an “ocean of violets in bloom” (Prince, “When Doves Cry”, 1984). While some people spend an awful lot of time, energy, and (unfortunately) chemicals to eradicate these boldly invasive plants to have pristinely, golf-course-like lawns, I revel in the waves of purple and variegated purple/white that take over the yard for just a few weeks in April.
As it turns out, these perky little 5-petaled purple (violet?) flowers with bright green, heart-shaped leaves have a slew of medicinal properties AND provide tasty flavoring to jellies, syrups, or just a simple tea infusion. For an extensive biography of this anything but common herb, see my Viola odorata monograph that was published in the Journal of the American Herbalists’ Guild a few years back (scroll down to the SILVER JUBILEE SPECIAL issue - it's in there!). But to summarize, traditionally herbal preparations of violet leaves and flowers have been used to soothe respiratory afflictions such as coughs, sore throat, and tightness in the chest. It was also used for various liver and kidney afflictions. To date there have been no human clinical trials on whole violet herb preparations, but in vitro (cellular) and in vivo (animal) research showed various extract preparations of Viola odorata demonstrated anti-pyretic (lowers a fever), diuretic, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive and anti-dyslipidemic effects in the context of the particular study.
How about the tasty stuff I mentioned? It’s so much fun to go outside and ‘harvest’ the plants and make my own foods and medicine from them like I did this past weekend. The easiest thing to do for a medicinal tea is to pick a handful of healthy leaves and/or flowers – being sure that the area of harvest is free of chemicals. Rinse them off as needed, then chop them up and steep in about 2-3 cups of boiling water for about 20 minutes. Strain and enjoy ‘straight’ or with a little honey. The tea can also be used to saturate a cloth and used as an antiseptic compress to soothe wounds.
Slightly more complicated is to make a simple syrup from the flowers. I just used this recipe from Henriette’s Herbal webpage (scroll down to ‘Violet syrup’). In short, dissolve sugar in water over a double boiler, then add violet blossoms and simmer for 10 minutes before straining. The delicious, and beautiful, syrup can be used to sweeten tea, and also to soothe a sore throat (it’s particularly nice for the little ones).
Less medicinal thanks to the sugar, but no less satisfying, is to make violet jelly from an infusion of the flowers. Here again I started from a recipe I found on Henriette’s Herbal (“Violet flower jelly”), but check out my latest blog post to see how I modified it to make a ‘low sugar’ version.
These are but a few things that you can do with the lowly and sometimes (unjustly) reviled backyard weed. The next time you consider ‘total annihilation’, turn around and make peace (or tea, or syrup, or jelly!) with the violet.
Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master's Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.
Donna currently practices as the professional herbalist at the MUIH Natural Care Center (410-888-9048x6614) in Laurel, Maryland. Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at www.greenhavenliving.com, or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 240-353-8754.