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.

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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.

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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!


Looking for online herbal learning? Or just want to say “thanks” and help support this blog? 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. And if you’ve got enough content in your life it’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!

























Spring 'Kraut

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

When spring finally comes here in the northeast it can sometimes feel like a race against time. After waiting months for the return of the green, the plants seemingly pop-up all at once, with wonderful exuberance, and at a pace that few of us can keep up with. Harvesting spring greens- if you let it- could easily be a full-time job! And there’s not only the challenge of collecting all your favorites during their prime harvest windows, there’s also the challenge of preserving the spring harvest because it’s simply not always possible to eat all the greens at once!

Enter fermentation, a form of food preservation that was developed and utilized by our ancestors for just this situation. What I love about fermentation is that it’s living medicine, and while I love making wild salad, pesto, frittata, soup, vinegar, and more with the wild spring abundance, there’s something special about knowing that the food you’ve prepared is probiotic and teeming with beneficial microbes that we enter into a reciprocal relationship with when we take them into our bodies. Symbiosis is a beautiful thing! You can read more about the benefits of probiotic foods in my recipe for New England-Style Kimchi, and read-on for my recipe for preserving some of my favorite spring greens in a seasonal-inspired sauerkraut.


Spring ‘Kraut

9 cups cabbage, thinly shredded (about 1 medium-sized cabbage)
3 cups Nettles leaves and stems (Urtica dioica), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), chopped
1/2 cup Garlic Mustard leaves and stems (Alliaria petiolata), coarsely chopped
4 tsp sea salt
other nice additions: Dandelion lvs, Wild Garlic (Allium vineale), Chickweed, Violet lvs, Yellow Dock lvs, Garlic lvs

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First-off, this recipe is meant to be played around with. If you don’t have access to one of the greens in the recipe it’s ok to leave it out or substitute it for something you have an abundance of! Start by chopping your cabbage. Pile it into a big bowl and sprinkle with about 2 tsp of the salt and begin massaging it with your hands. The cabbage will begin to breakdown, releasing its juices which becomes the brine. Once the cabbage is thoroughly massaged start adding the Nettles bit by bit, along with the remaining salt, and keep massaging. You can wear gloves for this part if you’re worried about the sting (which will be rendered harmless by the fermentation process). Once you’ve added all the Nettles, add the Garlic Mustard and Chives and mix and massage thoroughly.

Next choose your vessel- a fermentation crock or widemouth mason jar will work. Pack the ‘kraut into your vessel and press in with your hands or use a sauerkraut stamper (also called a pounder or tamper) until the brine covers the ‘kraut. Use a heavy lid or small plate with a sterilized rock on it for the crock or mason jar to keep the brine levels over the veggies, or another good trick for this if you don’t have a small lid is to fill a ziplock bag with water and use that to keep ‘kraut below the brine level. Lastly, you can always make brine to top-off the sauerkraut by mixing 1 1/2 tbsp sea salt with 1 quart water. The bottom-line is that the brine level needs to be over the veggies. Now you sit back and let it ferment! Fermentation time will vary based on the weather, but start checking it after a few days to track its progression. It’s ready when it tastes sour, crunchy, and still salty, but not nearly as salty as it tasted when it first started fermenting. Then put it into a jar with a lid and keep in the fridge or your root cellar, if you’re lucky enough to have one! Enjoy as a condiment, with sandwiches, with breakfast, with a heavy meal, as a base for salad dressing, on a picnic, or even as a simple snack. Happy spring and happy fermenting!

And for any of you wanting to learn more about working with our locally abundant medicinal and edible plants, the summer and fall sessions of our bioregional herbalism series, From the Roots Up, is OPEN for registration! This hands-on course meets outside and in the field and focuses on field botany and plant ID, medicine-making, gaining intimacy with our local plants, reading the herbal landscape, materia medica, and so much more!

Learn More Here


Looking for online herbal learning? Or just want to say “thanks” and help support this blog? 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. And if you’ve got enough content in your life it’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!


Autumn Olive & Apple Fruit Leather

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Have you met Autumn Olive (Eleagnus umbellata) yet? I absolutely love this plant. It’s abundant, easy to harvest, is insanely good for you, and is wild plant we can harvest without concern of overharvest since it’slisted as “invasive” in many states (I prefer to call it “opportunistic”). Also called Autumn Berry and Japanese Silver Berry, this northeast superfood was introduced to the US in the 1830's. It’s endemic to eastern and central Asia, including parts of the Himalayas where it is a traditional food, and has now thoroughly made itself a part of the northeast ecosystem. But they’re not just in New England! Autumn Olives can be found growing south to Florida, in the Great Lakes Region, and west to the Mississippi River. The Pacific Northwest also is home to these prolific shrubs.

Identification: ID is easy- the medium to large shrubs have alternate leaves that are silver on their undersides, sometimes have thorns, and bear small, fragrant, cream-colored, 4-petaled flowers in the spring. The berries are red with silver speckles- one of our favorite nicknames for them is “Sparkle Berries”! One poisonous look-alike is Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp)- but those shrubs don't have silver leaves and the berries don't have the silver speckles, plus Honeysuckle berries ripen in the summer not the fall. If you find a bush with silver, alternate leaves with silver-seckled berries, you’ve got Autumn Olive.

Harvest: Autumn Olives ripen in the fall-Sept through Oct here in New England. They are sour and sweet (like most berries) and get sweeter with cool nights and a frost. Flavor can vary quite a lot from bush to bush, so taste each one to see which is to your liking and harvest from that one. You will find them growing everywhere! But they especially like hedgerows, old fields and farms, and any area that was disturbed in the past. They are an early successional species and are especially abundant in fields in my area that are transitioning from meadow to forest. Be sure you’re harvesting from an area free of chemicals and remember to practice reciprocity in your harvest. For more on this look to my article “Wildcrafting, Wildtending, and Reciprocity” on this blog.

autumn olive underside.jpg

Nutritional Value: Nutritionally, these berries are just awesome. Amazingly, they are the highest known source of the potent antioxidant lycopene, which is cancer protective, anti-inflammatory and promotes longevity. The primary way the average American gets lycopene in their diet in by eating tomatoes, however Autumn Olives have been shown to contain up to 17x more lycopene than tomatoes! The berries are also rich in vitamins A, C and E, flavonoids and essential fatty acids. And they're free.

What to Do With Them: There are sooooo many ways to preserve the abundant Autumn. I’ve made jams, added them to applesauce, made into and incredible sweet and warming fall cordial, frozen for smoothies and baking, and of course they’re also just super yummy and safe to eat raw. They also make a great substitute for tomatoes for folks with Nightshade sensitivities. But one of my favorite ways to preserve them is in fruit leather and I’ve found that their sour flavor profile combines especially well with the sweetness of apples, which also happen to be in season the same time as Autumn Olives, making an amazing bioregional, localvore treat!


autumn olive fruit leather.jpg

Autumn Olive & Apple Fruit Leather

Ingredients:
Autumn Olives 2 cups
Chopped Apple 1 cup

Supplies:
Food Mill (optional, but will make your job easier if you want to remove the Autumn Olive seeds- see details below)
Parchment Paper
Baking Sheet or Pyrex Baking Dish
Blender or Food Processor

Step 1: Start by combining your Autumn Olives and Apples in a pan with just a tiny bit of water. Chop the apples into small 1-2 inch pieces. It’s ok if some of your Autumn Olives have stems attached to the berries but be sure not to include larger twigs or leaves. If you have more than 2 cups of Autumn Olives, then use a ratio of roughly 2/3rds Autumn Olive and 1/3rd Apple. Cook it all down on low with a little water, stirring often to make sure there's no burning happening on the bottom.

autumn olive bowl.jpg

Step 2: Once it’s all cooked put the entire mixture through a food mill to remove the apple seeds and Autumn Olive seeds. NOTE: You don’t have to do this part. If you don’t have a food mill then be sure not to include any apple cores since otherwise you won’t be able to easily remove the seeds. And having the seeds of the Autumn Olives is simply a matter of preference. They likely have some nutritional value and are not at all harmful. For some folks they just like the texture better with or without. The picture here of my fruit leather contains the seeds- if you look close you can see them!

Step 3: Put the entire mix (whether or not you used a food mill) into a blender or food processor and puree well

Step 4: Line a baking tray or oven safe pyrex dish with parchment paper and spread your pureed Autumn Olive and Apple mix thinly (1/2-1 inch thick) onto the paper. Bake at 170 degrees for about 6 to 7 hours, being sure to check it often, since sometimes the edges burn a little bit...if the edges are burning and the center is still moist keep cooking it, knowing that you’ll just have to trim off the edges but the majority of your fruit leather will be perfect. Try it as you go, since it’s "to taste" in terms of how leathery you want your fruit leather to be. I like mine still pliable and not crisp. Basically you’re going for the consistency of fruit roll-ups! NOTE: if you have a food dehydrator you could use that for this recipe instead of the oven!

Store it between wax paper in the fridge where it will stay fresh for weeks, or freeze and take-out as needed. Enjoy your local, free, nutrient-dense, antioxidant rich super- food fruit leather!


Looking for online herbal learning? Or just want to say “thanks” and help support this blog? 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. And if you’ve got enough content in your life it’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!