Mountain violets (Viola purpurea) are native perennials found in the western United States and British Columbia. The gravelly soil of exposed mountain slopes, grasslands and meadows up to 8,000′ elevation are their preferred habitat.
With over eight subspecies, mountain violets vary in appearance. Spread by rhizomes the bright lemon-yellow flowers arise from a basal rosette of leaves. The oval to triangular leaves are toothed or ridged along the margin and can be thick or fleshy. Mostly green, mountain violet leaves have a purple tinge, particularly to their undersides. The five petals are arranged as two upper, two lateral and one lower petal and show bilateral symmetry. The lower petal has a backward pointing spur that holds nectar. The two side petals are bearded. The two upper petals have purplish undersides while the lower petals are streaked or veined with purple.
Like all violets, mountain violet flowers are edible. They make a pretty addition to salads, but care should be taken not to decimate wild violet patches for culinary purposes. The leaves contain saponins (soap-like substances) and may cause digestive upset if eaten in large quantities. I never experienced any discomfort or problems by adding a few leaves to a salad.
The genus name, Viola, is the Latin word for “violet”. Purpurea, the species designation, means purple in Latin and refers to the color found on the leaves and petal undersides.
Herbalists use violet preparations as a diuretic, “blood purifier” mild sedative, expectorant and laxative.
Also commonly called goosefoot violet, the pictured specimens were growing along the trail following the power lines on the ridge above Baum Lake (Shasta County CA).