Violet Simple Syrup & The Heart-Strengthening Medicine of Violet

It’s spring and Violet season is upon us. There’s lots to say about the medicinal properties of this herb- it’s a cool and moistening nutritive tonic, especially rich in vitamin C and A, and is especially well-known for it’s ability to move lymph, especially in the breasts. I love making a Violet Oil every year for this purpose. It’s a lovely alterative that gently supports all the eliminatory pathways in the body and soothes irritated skin (lovely in a salve), and the infusion is wonderful for a raw sore throat or dry cough. But today I want to focus on the heart-mending properties of Violet.

violet harvest.jpg

One of the most amazing things about plants is that they work on us on both a physical and spiritual-emotional level. I’m so grateful every single day for these incredible herbal allies that support me and the people I love through heartbreak and grief. When thinking about the intersection of herbs and grief it’s important to recognize that the end goal isn’t about “getting over it” or moving-on. This is a capitalist influenced mind-set that values productivity over healing and has no place in the holistic model of plant medicine. What the herbs can help us with is navigating the painful, difficult, and often confusing terrain of heartache. They can help us access our grief if we feel frozen, they can calm and ground us if we’re feeling panicked, they can help us process and release, and they can help us move with more flow and ease through difficult times.

Violet has a long history of “strengthening the emotional heart,” as it’s written about in the old herbals. Used in ancient Greece to “comfort and strengthen the heart,” it’s associated with Aphrodite/Venus and was the symbol of ancient Athens.  In Macer's Herbal (tenth century) Violet is among the many herbs which were considered powerful against 'wykked sperytis.'  Gerard, in his herbal dating back to the 15th century, says Violets “comforteth the heart.” Violets were a common funeral flower for the ancient Romans who used it to decorate their graves and it was said to represent remembrance. In the Victorian Language of Flowers, Blue Violet was a flower of love that symbolized faithfulness and devotion. Violets that grow by your doorstep are said to provide psychic protection and ease for your heart.  When you take a close look you’ll quickly notice the leaves are heart-shaped. Another special thing about Violet is that the first flowers you see in the spring- the classic Violet flower- are not at all for reproduction and don’t set seed. They are just for beauty. The plant produces a secret, hidden, and very inconspicuous flower in the fall that is self-fertilizing and in-fact doesn’t even open at all, called a cleistogamous flower in botany. To me, the fact that these gorgeous early spring flowers of Violet are purely for pleasure speaks volumes about beauty and pleasure medicine and the role that has to play in the mending of the emotional heart. There’s also something to me there about sexual sovereignty and it’s also perhaps important to note that Violet was one of the flowers Persephone was picking when she entered the Underworld. The earlier versions of this Greek and Roman myth (said to take place near Enna in Sicily) imply that she took this underworld journey of her own accord and wasn’t accosted by Hades, like most versions of this myth tell…and if processing grief isn’t synonymous with an underworld journey, I don’t know what it is!

I have strongly felt the support of Violet, especially in times of acute grief. Strengthening doesn’t equate with shutting-out though. It’s more like a bolstering when you think the weight of the grief might be more than you can bear. Violet also imparts a sense of calm and drop-doses of the tincture of the leaves and flowers are especially effective for this- try 1-3 drops a day. You can also work with Violet by putting the leaves in your salads, doing self-massage with the infused oil, and putting the leaves and flowers in your baths, taking the flower essence, and sitting with the plant. But perhaps my favorite way to work with Violet, particularly the flowers, is as a simple syrup, which I find particularly calming to the emotional heart. And, while I don’t generally use sugar in my medicine-making, this recipe and its effects are truly worth it.  It’s also a very old and traditional way of preparing violet flowers. Here’s my recipe.

violet simple syrup.jpeg

Violet Simple Syrup

Gather purple violet flowers (this time spent with Violet is part of the medicine!) and put them into a mason jar, gently packing them down. Just barely cover the flowers with boiling water and let them steep for 24 hours.  Strain into a non-metallic pan and add 1/2 part of turbinado sugar for every 1 part of your violet flower infusion (which will be a gorgeous purple color). For instance, if you have one cup of infusion then add ½ cup sugar. Next, gently warm (but do not boil) until the sugar dissolves. And that’s it! Totally optional, but you can add lemon juice to change the color of your syrup to a more pinkish-purple color, adding it little by little until you get your desired shade. Store in a glass bottle in the fridge where it will keep for several months if not longer. You can freeze it for future use too. Add 1-2 tbsp: cup of sparkling water and stir. Notice from your first sip how calm and open your heart space feels after drinking it. You can also use to sweeten your tea, on it’s own in drop doses, to sweeten an herbal formula to make it into a cordial, or use in the kitchen drizzles onto cookies or cakes or even cooked-down to make a glaze. However you choose to use it, I know you’ll find the deep and mysterious medicine of Violet supportive and transformative.

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And here are a few of my favorite ways to use the syrup:

Violet Spritzer

2 tbsp Violet Simple Syrup
1 cup sparking water or seltzer

Violet Lemonade

2 tbsp Violet Simple Syrup
1/2 cup water
1 tsp lemon juice

Enjoy!


And for any of you wanting to learn more about our locally abundant medicinal plants, our bioregional herbalism series, From the Roots Up, is open for registration! We’re currently enrolling for our summer and fall sessions, which meet 1 sunday/month in the Amherst/Northampton, MA area.

Learn More & Register For Class!


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Instant Golden Milk

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At this point most folks are familiar with this amazing beverage and for good reason! Golden Milk is a delicious, turmeric-based drink that’s a traditional home remedy in India, where it’s known as Haldi Ka Doodh, commonly drank for colds, flus, coughs, and congestion. It’s also often enjoyed simply as a nourishing and calming before-bed tea. Turmeric has been touted to have every health benefit under the sun but here are a few that are true: It definitely decreases chronic, systemic inflammation when taken consistently over time. It’s a vulnerary herb amazingly healing for the skin and especially healing for leaky gut. Many folks with lots of inflammation have injured their guts taking NSAIDS long-term and could really use this healing combo of being anti-inflammatory and gut-healing! It’s a potent digestive bitter, helping us absorb our nutrients and digest our food better (the root of health). And it’s super potent antioxidant, helping fight cancer-causing free radicles in the body. In counties where just 1 tsp/day of turmeric is consumed (largely in food) cancer rates are upwards of 10x lower than in the U.S.! It’s pretty drying though so more than 1 tsp/day isn’t really recommended, or you can mix it with demulcent herbs, such as cinnamon in this Golden Milk🧡 I make what I call Instant Golden Milk balls by mixing turmeric powder with cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom powder and a pinch of black pepper. Then I mix it with a combination of raw honey and ghee (at a mix of about 75% ghee and 25% honey) until I have a dough-like consistency. I roll them into little balls, store on the counter in a mason jar, and then simply dissolve one into hot water/milk when I want a quick cup of instant Golden Milk! See the details for this recipe below! It’s loosely based on the classic Golden Milk recipe, but so many other herbs could be added to this kind of herbal paste preparation, like adaptogens, different spices, and so on- let your imagination and creativity go wild!


Instant Golden Milk

Ingredients:
Turmeric powder 1 part
Cardamom powder 1/8 pt
Cinnamon powder 1/8 pt
Ginger powder 1/8 pt
Black Pepper powder 1/8 pt
Ghee
Raw Honey

instant golden milk mix.jpg

Directions:
Start by making your powder portion. I recommend making a large batch because these never go bad and don’t even need to be refrigerated! You can make 1 part equal whatever unit you want, so, for example, for the recipe above if you make 1 part equal 1 cup then you’d be using 1 cup turmeric powder and 1/8th cup each (or 2 tbsps) for the cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper. Next, add in the ghee and honey at a ratio of approximately 75% ghee and 25% raw honey. This is kitchen medicine, so basically what you’re going for is a consistency and taste that you like.  To make, I recommend adding a little of the ghee and honey at a time, then mixing, and then adding more and mixing. Keep adding the ghee and honey (you need less than you think) and mixing until it gets a dough-like consistency that you can easily roll into little balls, about 1 inch in diameter, using approximately 1.5 tsp/ball. Don’t worry- your hands won’t be permanently stained yellow, but watch-out because it can stain your clothes! One pound of honey and the ghee made from one pound of butter (the jar size that’s usually sold in stores) will be more than enough if you decide to make 1 part equal 1 cup. If you’re a measurements person, keep track of how much powder and honey and ghee it took for you get your desired consistency and taste (maybe you like less ghee and more honey, etc) in a kitchen journal.

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Dosage & Use: For a daily medicinal dose of turmeric eat 1 ball/day. No need to be refrigerated.  These can definitely just be eaten as-in, or they can be dissolved into warm milk (any kind) or water to make an instant cup of Golden Milk- my favorite way to use this paste! Ashwagandha is a lovely addition too. An alternate way to use this preparation is to use this as a spice base for a dish, simply melt on a pan and use as the ghee-honey-spice base for whatever you’re making! You can leave-out the honey if you plan on using it this way but it’s such a small amount that the sweet flavor really hardly comes through once you add it to an entire dish. It’s a versatile preparation- enjoy!


Hungry for more herbal learning? In addition to our in-person classes, we also offer online learning through our Patreon Community! Membership starts at just $5/month and there are offerings like monthly online classes, monthly herbal study groups, and more. Join by June 15th to get my herbal ebook “For the Love of Nettles” as an added bonus and thank you! It’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!


Homemade Herbal Tallow Balm

Most Tallow Balm recipes I’ve seen out there just add essential oils to tallow, which doesn’t appeal to me on many levels. It’s much harder to make a truly local medicine, you’re missing-out on all the other medicinal constituents found within the herb other than simply the essential (aka volatile) oils, plus it often takes massive amounts of plant material to make just a few drops of essential oil making it highly unsustainable. So I created a recipe for Tallow Balm that works with plants in their whole, full-spectrum, unadulterated form. I love making tallow balm because its such potent kitchen medicine and the process of making it is quite nourishing unto itself. Read on to learn about the amazing medicine of tallow and how to make your own nutritious, non-toxic skin balm.


Suet ready to be rendered into tallow

Suet ready to be rendered into tallow

What’s Tallow?

Simply put, tallow is a pure form of animal fat (generally beef or sheep) that is made by cooking down (also known as rendering) suet, separating the pure fat from the leftover connective tissue. It’s been revered as a cooking fat and topical medicinal for centuries, and for good reason!

Some tallow benefits- it can be used as a high-heat cooking fat and is rich in palmitolic oil which is highly antibacterial and antiviral, so it’s immune-boosting. It’s also nutrient rich, containing high levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), niacin, vitamins B6, B12, K2, selenium, iron, phosphorous, riboflavin, and potassium.

There’s an old herbal adage- “Don’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t put into your mouth.” Your skin readily absorbs anything and everything you put on it, and in the case of tallow, this is a good thing meaning your skin care products can actually be nutritious. Plus it has a super long shelf-life, I have a rose-infused tallow balm from a friend that’s just so amazing that I use on my face often (it’s heavenly!) and has lasted for years and still never gone bad, even unrefrigerated.

Another HUGE benefit- tallow is extremely compatible with our own skin’s physiology. It’s made-up of 50-55% saturated fats, the same proportion of fat as our cell membranes, making it extremely absorbable. Isn’t that amazing!? Another cool fact- the word “sebum” actually means “tallow” in Latin! And its super easy to make your own, which is the first step to making you own tallow balm.


Suet melting in the rendering process

Suet melting in the rendering process

How Render Your Own Tallow

Purchase suet from pasture-raised/grass-fed beef at a local farm stand, farmers market or coop. If you don’t see it out don’t be afraid to ask, as most farmers have it available even if its not always in their meat cases! It’s usually frozen, which is fine. Thaw for at least day in the fridge and when you’re ready to make your tallow take it out of the fridge and start by chopping it into small cubes. It’s nice to give the cubes a quick zoom in the food processor to additionally break them up into smaller peices. This step can be skipped but it will move the whole process along faster. Next put it all in a pan on low on the stove and stir now and then. The fat (tallow) will begin melting and separating from the meat and connective tissue (called the cracklin’s, which are totally edible!). This process can take a little while, so be patient. I suggest doing this while you already have to be in the kitchen, ie cooking dinner, making ghee, etc. You’ll know it’s done when the cracklin’s start to brown. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool a bit then strain through cheesecloth into a wide mouth mason jar. Having a metal canning funnel and a strainer that fits into it will make this job very simple, since canning funnels fit into all sizes of mason jar and you’ll want to be straining either into metal or tempered glass because the tallow will be hot! I recommend straining into a pan if you’re making tallow balm, because then you can easily do the next step by just adding your herbs to that pot of tallow. It will solidify at room temp and can be stored refrigerated or frozen for years and several years (if not more) unrefrigerated.


Homemade Herbal Tallow Balm

1 cup tallow
1 cup dried herbs (by volume)
1.5 tbsp olive or coconut oil (optional)

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Melt your pure, rendered tallow in a pot on the stove on low. Next add 1 cup of dried herbs (by volume, not weight) for every cup of tallow you add. You may choose to add olive or coconut oil if you’d like the balm to have a softer consistency, but over-all tallow balms have a hard consistency. This is one of its benefits in my opinion, because a little really goes a long way and these balms last forever! When adding oil I generally choose to add coconut oil because that has a high flash point just like tallow and can take heat without becoming rancid, unlike olive oil.

There are any number of herbs you can add. For an all-purpose tallow balm choose herbs that are categorized as vulneraries, meaning they are known for their wound-healing properties. Common examples in the herbal materia medica include Plantain (Plantago spp), Rose Lf & Petals (Rosa spp), Chickweed (Stellaria media), Violet Lf (Viola spp), Goldenrod flowering tops (Solidego spp), and Calendula Fl (Calendula officinalis). It’s also always important to add antimicrobial and antiseptic herbs to an all-purpose balm. Common and effective herbs that come to mind include Lavender Fl (Lavendula spp), Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis), Oregano (Origanum vulgare), and Bee Balm (Monarda spp). There is no right or wrong here as long as you choose herbs with these herbal actions so I recommend using herbs common in your garden or bioregion, or are easy to purchase in your local herb shop. You will also definitely notice that tallow has a strong smell and smells like the animal fat it is! So I recommend choosing herbs that smell nice, which is how you can avoid adding essential oils, since the tallow will take-on the smell of the herbs. And to be clear- there’s no issue with adding some essential oils if you like! For my balm I chose to use roughly 1 part Calendula Fl, 1 part Plantain lf, 1 part Rose Lf & Fl, and 1/2 part Lavender Fl to make-up the herbs. You can make 1 part any amount you want, so for instance if you need one cup of herbs (8 oz) and were using the ratio of herbs I used then you would use approximately 2.25 oz by volume for 1 part of each herb and for the half part you would use approximately 1.125 ounces. But remember this is kitchen medicine and exact measurements are really not necessary for this preparation. That being said, glass pyrex measuring cups are a wonderful kitchen medicine-making tool to have and list ounces on their sides- I highly recommend them!

Next infuse the herbs into the tallow (and oil if using) on low for hours- the longer the better! It’s ok if the tallow is on a low simmer because it can take some heat. The idea is that you want the tallow to take on the aroma of the herbs but without burning the herbs! If you have a crockpot with a low setting you could also do this in the crockpot, but I prefer the stove. My favorite trick to get it on a nice low temperature and infuse for hours is to stack two of the burners from my gas stove so they’re criss-crossed and stable and set the burner to the lowest setting possible and infuse the pot of tallow and herbs on there. I’ll often let the balm infuse all day this way while I’m home, turn it off at night, and then infuse another day or so, however, you get quite a nice balm with even just 4 hrs of heat. Be sure the oil smells like the herbs before your strain it- let your nose be your guide! When its ready, strain through cheesecloth into a pyrex measuring cup using your canning funnel/strainer set-up if you have one (which I highly recommend!). Then have your tins or glass salve jars ready and pour out your balm and let cool!

USES

Tallow is an amazing skin-healer, perfect for folks with dry, chapped hands or skin. It also makes a wonderful facial moisturizer, which is my favorite way to use it. It’s especially wonderful for folks whose skin suffers in the cold, dry winter air (which is all of us) and is an excellent supportive winter skin care product that nourishes the skin with all the nutrients we discussed above. Our skin is our largest organ of elimination and absorption and is how we take-in much of our sensory information, and when its dry and frazzled our nervous system can often feel frazzled too! Nourishing this literal first-line of defense supports our health-including our mental health- immensely. It also makes an excellent all-purpose salve for common household bumps, scrapes and abrasions. Lastly, tallow balm often helps clear-up, or at least give much relief, to stubborn flare-ups of eczema and psoriasis when nothing else works!

Wishing you all happy medicine-making and healthy winter!

Jade



Hungry for more herbal learning? In addition to our in-person classes, we also offer online learning through our Patreon Community! Membership starts at just $5/month and there are offerings like monthly online classes, monthly herbal study groups, and more. Join by June 15th to get my herbal ebook “For the Love of Nettles” as an added bonus and thank you! It’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!