General: perennial with short to elongate slender rhizomes, hairless to densely short-hairy depending on variety, mostly stemless in the early season but later with leafy stems as much as 10 cm long.
Leaves: alternate, the blades 1-3 cm wide, usually cordate to ovate, finely blunt-toothed, from narrower to broader than long. Stipules linear-lanceolate, 3-10 mm long, entire to remotely slender-toothed.
Flowers: solitary from leaf axils, the stalks from shorter to considerably longer than the leaves. Flowers 5-15 mm long, the spur conspicuous, slender, usually over half the length of the lowest petal and somewhat hooked. The 5 petals blue to deep violet, the lower three often whitish at the base, pencilled with purplish-violet, the side pair white-bearded. Style head bearded with thick, short to long hairs.
Fruits: capsules, 4-5 mm long, with 3 valves, splitting open explosively and shooting out seeds.
In dry to moist meadows, woods, and open ground, foothills to near timber line, mostly in w., c. and some e. parts of MT. Also throughout most of w. N. America, eastward to the Atlantic coast.
All violets are edible. The leaves and flowers can be eaten raw in salads, used as potherbs or thickeners, or made into tea. Violets are high in vitamins A and C. The flowers can be used as a garnish (fresh or candied) or as a flavoring and coloring in vinegar, jelly and syrup. When added to soup the leaves of early blue violet thicken it in much the same way as okra. A tea can be made from the dried leaves.
Early blue violet was used medicinally mostly by the Blackfoot and Bella Coola Indians. An infusion of the leaves and roots has been used to treat stomach problems and asthma in children, and also as a wash and poultice on sore and swollen joints. The roots and leaves have been chewed by women during childbirth. A poultice of the chewed leaves was applied to sore eyes. A poultice of the crushed flowers was applied to the side or chest in the treatment of pain.
The rhizomes, fruits and seeds are poisonous, causing severe stomach and intestinal upset, as well as nervousness and respiratory and circulatory depression.
A blue dye can be obtained from the flowers.
var. adunca Sm.: Leaves usually short-hairy, mostly considerably longer than broad. Plants usually over 5 cm tall, with the range of the species.
var. bellidifolia (Greene) Harrington: Leaves hairless, plants mostly dwarf, generally not over 5 cm tall. Petals usually whitish at the base, about 5 mm long. Chiefly in the Rocky Mts.
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