The Faithful Violet

Listen to Susan’s Violet Podcast

You might not think of the violet as an herb, but the plant has a long and interesting history of culinary and medicinal use. And while violets have come to be symbolic of steadfast devotion, they have also been associated with faithlessness and death. One ancient legend claims that violets sprang from the blood of the dying Attis, a Phrygian vegetation god who was slain beside a pine tree. In an annual ritual, the Phrygians hung an effigy of the god on a pine tree decked with violets.

Medicinally, violets were used to treat sore throats and respiratory ailments, and appear as the main ingredient in Saint Hildegard of Bingen’s famous remedy for external cancers.

Violets are lovely in the garden, sweet to eat, and a helpful remedy.

Recipes from Susan’s Podcast

Sweet Violet Syrup
2 cups boiling water
6 cups freshly-picked violet blossoms (unsprayed), washed thoroughly
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Place violets in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over them, then place a saucer on top to submerge the flowers. Let stand for 24 hours. Line a colander with cheesecloth and pour the violets and liquid through it, squeezing out the liquid. Discard the blossoms. Add lemon juice to the liquid and simmer in a non-reactive pan until the mixture is the consistency of syrup. Cover and refrigerate. Use within a week.

Some culinary uses for violets

Here are some other culinary uses for violets, from Susan’s short story, “Violet Death,” in An Unthymely Death and Other Garden Mysteries:

  • Violet conserve was a favorite Elizabethan confection. Flower petals were beaten to a smooth paste with twice their weight in sugar, then put into a jar and sealed.
  • To make violet vinegar, fill a sterilized jar half full of washed flowers, cover with white wine vinegar, and allow to steep for a week. Strain and pour into a pretty bottle. A lovely cosmetic vinegar, but good on a spring salad garnished with fresh violet petals.
  • Violet honey is both a sweet treat and medicinal, as well. A cup of fresh, washed petals was added to two cups of honey and heated until the honey took on the scent of violets. A favorite on biscuits, or to soothe a sore throat.

And here, for a special treat, is a recipe from a cookery book compiled by Hannah Woolley (1622-1675) and printed in 1672:

The Queen-like Closet
Scored with all manner of
Preserving, Candying and Cookery
To make Violet Cakes
Take them clipped clean from the whites and their weight in fine Sugar, wet your Sugar in fair water, and boil it to a Candy height, then put in your Violets, and stir them well together, with a few drops of a Limon, then pour them upon a wet Pye-Plate, or on a slicked paper, and cut them in what form you please; do not let them boil, for that will spoil the colour: Thus you may do with any Herb or Flour, or with any Orange or Limon Pill, and, if you like it, put in a little Musk or Ambergreece.


Check out these sites to learn more about violets.