A Homebody's Guide to Common Blue Violets

Updated on April 13, 2020
The Dirt Farmer profile image

Jill likes cooking, writing, painting, & stewardship, and studies gardening through MD Master Gardener & Master Naturalist programs.

Also known as the common blue violet, Viola sororia is an edible flower that produces sweet scents.
Also known as the common blue violet, Viola sororia is an edible flower that produces sweet scents. | Source

Pretty, old-fashioned, picturesque. All are good descriptors of the common blue violet, Viola sororia.

Edible, useful, (sometimes) invasive are also apt descriptors, as is cheering, for common blue violets are harbingers of spring.

In late winter, when hellebore blooms, zoysia grass is still straw-like, and few trees are in bud, clumps of common violets emerge from the cold, damp ground. By March, they are in bloom alongside forsythia and narcissus, contributing bright pops of purple to landscapes long into June.

This article will break down how to grow and care for these wonderful plants, as well as provide information on potential projects and recipes you can use to fully enjoy their offerings.

Common blue violets thrive in moist, loamy ground.
Common blue violets thrive in moist, loamy ground. | Source

Growing Conditions

Viola sororia prefers moist, shaded soil and grows wild in swamps, thickets, and damp woodlands. Although it will grow in clay, it thrives in moist, loamy ground and can become invasive.

In the rich, moist soil of our front flowerbeds, clumps of common violets often emerge in unwanted places: among the roots of other herbaceous emergents, between the stone edging, and around rose bush canes.

Removing them can be difficult. Often, I dig up the entire mass of intertwined plants and pick out the fleshy roots and threads of Viola sororia by hand. Even then, I usually miss a few. It is tedious work.

Common blue violets sprout amid a patch of bee balm. Like the common blue violet, bee balm is an herbaceous emergent.
Common blue violets sprout amid a patch of bee balm. Like the common blue violet, bee balm is an herbaceous emergent. | Source

Characteristics

Viola sororia has many names in addition to common blue violet: Confederate violet, dooryard violet, Florida violet, hooded violet, meadow violet, Missouri violet, purple violet, sister violet, wood violet, and woolly blue violet.

No matter what they are called, these plants produce sweet-smelling flowers that are good to eat. Their leaves are also edible and contain large amounts of vitamin A and C.

Each violet blooms on its own leafless stem from a clump of heart-shaped leaves. At the top, the stem hooks so that each flower face appears to be modestly looking downward. Fine white "hairs" in the throat of the flowers create a "woolly" appearance.

Violets smell like burnt sugar cubes that have been dipped in lemon and velvet.

— Diane Ackerman, American poet
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Viola sororia produces sweet-smelling, edible flowers that contain vitamins A and C.
Viola sororia produces sweet-smelling, edible flowers that contain vitamins A and C.
Viola sororia produces sweet-smelling, edible flowers that contain vitamins A and C. | Source
Source

How to Propagate Viola Sororia

There are a few different ways to propagate violets, some of which can happen even without your involvement.

Rhizomes

Like irises and canna lilies, common blue violets grow on rhizomes, fleshy horizontal roots that spread laterally just beneath the surface of the soil to produce clones.

If conditions are optimum—that is, moist, loamy, and shady—the clones will form large colonies. For this reason, the common blue violet is good ground cover for moist areas in partial shade.

One way to propagate Viola sororia is to divide colonies and then transplant the clumps.

Another way to propagate them is to dig up the rhizomes. Cut them into sections, each with an eye or bud, and replant them shallowly, at the depth they originally grew.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Common blue violets grow on rhizomes.
Common blue violets grow on rhizomes.
Common blue violets grow on rhizomes. | Source
Source

Seeds

Common blue violets also grow readily from seed in moist, rich, shaded soil and are prodigious self-seeders—sometimes too much so.

As the growing season progresses and more plants emerge in our flowerbeds, I frequently find myself digging out clumps of Viola sororia and inadvertently spreading their seed.

The seedheads turn light beige as they dry and have a tendency to explode when disturbed, sending seed up and out from the plant, and more than once, I've gotten a face full of them while weeding.

Little Presents in Your Clothes

Pass through a colony of blue violets, and you'll likely find violet seeds in your pant cuffs and shoes.

Common blue violet seedlings, seed casings, and seeds.
Common blue violet seedlings, seed casings, and seeds. | Source

Butterfly Gardening

Common blue violets are eminently edible by humans and creatures alike.

Birds are attracted to their seeds and rabbits to their leaves and flowers. Deer sometimes munch on them, too, though they prefer the violet's cousin pansy, Viola tricolor.

Bees, butterflies, and skipperjacks love violets for their nectar. But the fritillary butterfly loves them most of all.

Violets are the host plant of the fritillary butterfly.
Violets are the host plant of the fritillary butterfly. | Source

For both meadow and great spangled fritillaries, violets are the host plant. In fact, some fritillaries synchronize their life cycle with that of violets so that they have plenty to feed upon during their larval stage.

The fritillary butterfly mates in summer like butterflies do, but females wait until late summer to lay eggs. In fall, when caterpillars emerge from the eggs, they eat their shells for sustenance over the winter and then become inactive until early spring—when violets are at their peak and there is plenty for them to eat (Stokes and Williams 77).

Adding a substantial patch (at least a square foot) of Viola sororia to the landscape will provide a habitat for fritillary butterflies. As noted above, blue violets are easy to grow if the locale is right (shaded, moist, and rich) and easy to propagate by seed, transplant, and division.

A fritillary caterpillar eats the common blue violets in our flowerbeds.
A fritillary caterpillar eats the common blue violets in our flowerbeds. | Source

Cleaning Violets for Consumption

Southern Living recommends "washing [edible flowers] gently in a large bowl of cold water and letting them air dry on a paper towel" before consuming them ("10 Best Edible Flowers").

Gardener Sara Raven demonstrates a more thorough cleaning method involving a salad spinner in the video below. If you have a spinner, use Raven's method. It's much more effective in removing frass (insect poo) and eggs from flowers and greens.

Avoid Pesticides

Much like the butterfly garden above, the projects below call for violets that are uncontaminated by pesticides.

Kitchen and Beauty Projects for Homebodies

Violet leaves and flowers make lovely garnishes and are healthy additions to spring salads.

The flowers are also pretty in ice cubes and ice rings, and they give iced cakes and cupcakes a sweet, old-fashioned appearance.

Press violet flowers into cookies before baking.
Press violet flowers into cookies before baking. | Source

Blue Violet Sugar Cookies Recipe

To make blue violet sugar cookies, follow your favorite sugar cookie recipe or feel free to use this one, which is a modification of a recipe from Domino Sugar.

You could also use a shortbread, lemon thin, almond cookie, or other roll-out cookie dough recipe.

Prior to baking, center a clean violet flower on each cookie cut-out. Rebecca Desnos, creator of the British gardening journal Plants Are Magic, recommends placing wax paper over the cookies and gently pressing the violets into the dough with a rolling pin (43). You could also use the back of a spoon or your fingers.

Yield: 24 cookies

Ingredients

  • 24 clean Viola sororia flowers
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour + a little more for rolling
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup Domino Less-Processed Golden Sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions

  1. Collect and clean 24 Viola sororia flowers. (If you have no experience cleaning fresh flowers or greens, scroll up for instructions.)
  2. Place the clean violets on a damp paper towel, then put them in a lidded bowl or pot, and refrigerator until use. (They will keep up to a week.)
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
  5. In a large bowl, cream room-temperature butter and sugar at medium speed for two minutes or until sugar is well incorporated. Add egg, vanilla, and lemon juice. Beat another minute. Fold in the dry ingredients.
  6. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.
  7. Roll out the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness on a floured surface, and cut it into shapes (rounds are pretty) using a cookie cutter.
  8. If making violet sugar cookies, place a single washed violet flower in the center of each cookie. Cover the cookies with parchment paper and gently press the violets into the dough using the back of spoon, a rolling pin, or your fingers.
  9. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes. The violets will shrink a bit during the baking process but will taste just fine.

Blue violets can bolster a number of common recipes, including simple sugar cookies.
Blue violets can bolster a number of common recipes, including simple sugar cookies. | Source

Blue Violet Body Oil Recipe

Rich with violets? This project is for you.

Ingredients

  • 1 small clip-top jam jar or Kilner jar
  • 1/4 cup dried violets
  • 3.5 ounces of good quality almond, sunflower, or olive oil
  • Fine-meshed sieve
  • Small decorative bottles, preferably tinted

Directions

  1. Dry the violet flowers in batches in the microwave per the directions in the video below. Each batch will take 90 seconds.
  2. Place the dried violets in the jar.
  3. Pour oil over the violets. (There should be very little room left in the jar.)
  4. Place the jar in a sunny window during the day and inside a cool cupboard at night for three weeks.
  5. At the end of the third week, strain the oil. It's ready to use.
  6. Place the strained oil in tinted bottles.
  7. Store in a dark, cool place.

Resources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Jill Spencer

    Comments

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      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 weeks ago from United States

        Hi, Dolores. Yes, they can be invasive. I've decided to just enjoy them.

      • Dolores Monet profile image

        Dolores Monet 

        6 weeks ago from East Coast, United States

        Hi Jill - those violets seem quite invasive around here. Right now they are all over the place. But they are so pretty! I always wanted to make candied violets but never have.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        6 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        We grew violets in Wisconsin many years ago. At the time, I did not know that they were edible. This article is so complete. You have given us the growing conditions for violets and even a couple of recipes. Great job!

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        7 weeks ago from United States

        Hi, Ms. Dora. Thanks for commenting, and I hope you are keeping well at this time. Take care! I know you have lots of great support. Jill

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        7 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Such a great article answering the questions I would have asked, and even those I wouldn't have known I should ask. I appreciate all the details. Of course, facts on the edible flowers were most interesting. Thank you.

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        7 weeks ago from United States

        Thanks, Linda. The cookies were tasty, too. I think as more of the edible flowers bloom in our yard this year, I'll make more. Maybe a salad, too. And flower ice cubes! lol Glad you stopped by.

      • Carb Diva profile image

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        The first thing that caught my attention was that beautiful blue violet. I have wild violets in my corner of the world, but they are orchid-colored (like the Crayola, not the flower).

        This is such a well-written article, and as a fellow Hubber, I can appreciate the amount of work you put into it. Wonderful details, and arranged very well. I love the idea of the sugar or shortbread cookies.

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