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University of Minnesota Extension

Wild edibles: Common blue violets

Welcome to our summer series on wild edibles! Each week we will introduce you to a wild-grown edible plant and talk about the importance of proper identification, sustainability and etiquette when bringing wild-harvested plants to your table.

Wild violets come in over 100 different varieties. Although they all are edible, some are more palatable than others. The common blue violet is the most harvested. Flowers have 5 petals and a symmetrical, butterfly shape with varying hues of blue. The stem is bent at the point where the flower is attached giving the flower its characteristic drooping appearance. Leaves are green and heart-shaped.

Harvesting wild violet

Beginning foragers should only harvest the flowers of the violet. Leaves are edible but because the leaves are easily confused with other non-edible plants it is important to stick with the sure bet if you are unfamiliar with violets and their look-alikes. Violet flowers can be used to garnish salads or flavor vinegar and syrup. Pick them fresh for salads or freeze them while you continue to collect enough of the desired quantity for an infused vinegar or syrup recipe.

Confident foragers will find that leaves are great for salads, delicious in soup, or eaten as cooked greens. 

CAUTION: Gathering of wild products should be done safely and legally. Never harvest products on roadsides or other locations where pesticides may be used.

Be certain you have permission before harvesting wild products. Many products can be harvested on public lands but require a permit or specific use; make sure you are familiar with the policies for the products you harvest. Always respect private property.

Indigenous philosophy

Wild violet in the Ojibwe language is known as waawiye-bagag referring to the plants' rounded petals and leaves. All plants offer powerful healing properties. Medicinal knowledge must be sought from an elder using proper protocols and earned over time. There must be a relationship between the healer and the medicine being used.

Most all plants also offer food; waawiye-bagag is no exception. In the spring not long after the maple sugar harvest, Ojibwe youth and elder alike would harvest purple petals to fill Makakoon (birch bark containers). Warm water would be added and petals were allowed to steep overnight. The next day sugar snow from the swamps would be brought to camp and the infused water poured over the snow. The original snow cone or slushy is a springtime delight.

Gary Wyatt and Shirley Nordrum, Extension educators

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