One of my all-time favorites, Sweet Aunt Vi is in the Violaceae (vy-oh-LAY-see-ay) family, and Viola (vy-OH-la) genus. She grows 2 – 5 inches tall and is found throughout the United States, except for the Rocky Mountains, I’m told. She also grows in Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, India and other places. She loves moist gardens, shady wood edges, and meadows. She is a “clumping” perennial with a fibrous root system, and she is aggressive. She walks over with a purpose, hikes up her ample skirts, and plops right down to stay.
There are many other species of violet, including V. arvensis, V.calcarata, V. canadensis, V. clandistina, V. diffusa, V. heterophylla, V. japonica, V. kauaiensis, V. palmata, V. pedata, V. pubescens, V. rotundifoli, and maybe a hundred or more others (S. Weed: Healing Wise, 1989, Ash Tree Publishing). Some of her common names include Blue Violet, Butterfly Violet, Common Violet & Sweet Violet.
Vi is easily identified by her beautiful green, smallish, heart-shaped leaves which are rolled in around the egdes, especially the young ones. They often take on a funnel shape. The leaves have been known to externally irritate some with very sensitive skin (they’ve never bothered me at all, and are safe and yummy to eat), but that’s just Aunt Vi. She doesn’t mean you harm … she just wants some respect. Keep in mind, though, that large doses of her roots or seeds could be toxic, causing upset stomach, nervousness, breathing problems, and also may affect blood pressure. Violet leaves are very nourishing and are wonderful in salads. They are alterative, anodyne, antineoplastic, antiseptic, demulcent, depurative, dissolvent, diuretic, emmolient, expectorant, laxative, mucilaginous, nutritive, suppurative & vulnerary. That’s a mouthful. Violet is a cooling, soothing herb. Imagine a kindly aunt smiling sweetly while gently stroking your fevered brow with her cool, soft hand. That’s Sweet Aunt Violet.
Her flowers range from white to blue to purple, and appear in my area (Zone 7) from March to May. The flowers have three lower petals and two lateral petals on long single flower stalks. I love that you can pick violet flowers to your heart’s content. They don’t set seed! In Susun Weed’s “Healing Wise”, she says that some botanists say violet’s flowers are “just for fun” and “out of sheer joy”. I love that. The seed-making flowers don’t appear until autumn, and are green (can you say camouflage?). The flowers are antiscorbutic, aperient, and are all edible. They are used in syrups for sore throats and coughs, and given to children for digestive upsets. Violet flower oil is used for relief from tinnitus. They are also absolutely dreamy crystallized in sugar or frozen into ice cubes. To candy I simply brush each fresh flower with an egg white that has been gently whisked with some white sugar, then allow to air dry in a cool spot. For the ice cubes, just drop two or three flowers into each cube before filling with your liquid of choice (if you freeze your flowers into whatever it is that you’ll be drinking, it won’t turn watery as the cubes melt), and freeze. I also love to use rose petals, pansies, and mint leaves. Any edible flower that fits in your tray would work, and they are so lovely.
I also love to make Violet vinegar, oil & tincture.
Now, in my Master Gardener class, Wild Violets were a topic of conversation during our “Weeds” lecture. I was surprised to learn that I was the only person in a class of 12 who loves Wild Violets, and was horrified to sit and listen to all of the creative ways mankind has devised to torture and kill her. Okay, so she’s aggressive and resistant to some herbicides. I loathe the very word “herbicides” Violet is prolific, and I love that about her. I can see why people who are lawn-obsessed harbor ill-will toward Wild Violets, but I’ve never been a “Lawn Person”, so I allow her to run wild and free wherever she may roam in my yard. The more the merrier! Grass doesn’t grow under Aunt Vi, and that’s just fine with me.