The Joyful Violet
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows”
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1
My Dear Herbal Friends,
I hope that this letter finds you safe, healthy and warm....
This year I have found real solace in my kitchen, family and my garden. It feels wonderful to be spending this much time at home and I feel like a little bit like a Brambly Hedge mouse!
I’ve been enjoying Zoom sessions with my family and I’m sure that many of you have been too! Tea parties with my friends and herbal happy hours have become the new normal. Thank goodness we have had this wonderful technology to enjoy each other with. Now with the vaccine becoming available to all, there’s finally some sunnier days in sight and how nice that this is happening in the spring, just when we’re ready to go outside to play.
And then of course, there's the garden! If you’re anything like me you’ve been waiting impatiently for it to come alive again with seed catalogs and books piled up all over your dining room table!
This spring I’m continuing building my kitchen garden patterned after the yellowed and frayed blueprints of my parents Victory garden that I found in the attic of my family home months after my father died. The trees in my orchard are beginning to bud and my big experiment this season will be to try to naturalize my own patch of ramps (wild onion). They are notoriously fussy so we’ll see how that goes!
A lot of people have been asking me what I’ve been doing to support my health and wellbeing during these uncertain times.
Really, the most important things for me are the simplest things…Lots of love and laughter, home cooked meals, 8 hours of sleep, some extra zinc and vitamins C and D. Lots of fresh vegetables, especially onions, garlic and leeks and relaxation, yoga and plenty of hydration consisting of herb and fruit infused spa waters and herbal teas.
This year I’ve made many pots of herbal tea to enjoy using my favorite immune supporting botanicals: rose petals, star anise, cinnamon, white pine needles, holy basil and lemon balm and are traditionally thought to be very supportive of your immune system.
All of these herbs and spices blended together into a tea are wonderful at any time, but with lots of violet infused honey stirred in, they are absolutely ambrosial. Sweet Violets make the sweetest springtime memories…
Speaking of which, have you ever tried violet infused honey? It’s an absolutely delicious springtime treat and so very easy to make! Soon I’ll be picking fresh violets from my lawns and garden beds and stirring them into some local raw honey. It’s really easy to do. Just pick your violets, make sure they’re clean and pack them into a jar. Be sure to harvest your blooms from areas that haven’t been touched with pesticides or animals because you will not be rinsing them. Cover them with fresh honey for a couple of days. Stir a spoonful of the honey and violets into a cup of tea and enjoy! It doesn’t matter if it’s herb tea or English breakfast. The violet infused honey will impart a lovely springtime flavor to almost any tea.
Most people don’t realize this but the common purple and white violet we all love is thought to be a wonderful support tonic for the respiratory system. It has been used in Europe for centuries as a pulmonary remedy for bronchitis and a dry hacking cough. Both the flowers and leaves can be made into syrups, poultices, compresses and salves and they can be easily infused into honey and vinegar. I use violets whenever I can for their healing virtues, and they are also an absolutely delicious ingredient in salads, drinks, and desserts.
So as Spring begins arriving in so many parts of the country get outside! Breathe deeply and make time for yourself! Find a patch of wild violets and lay face down, relaxing into their sublime scent…I really don’t think there is anything lovelier!
Pick a violet and pop it into your mouth... they taste as lovely as they smell and they’re good for you too! Violets are said to reduce inflammation both in body and soul. When I was a young herbalist and still getting regular periods and the accompanying cramps and fibroids, I’d eat spring salads of with violet flowers and violet leaves for their supportive cooling and soothing properties.
Over the years I’ve picked them for little bouquets, crystallized them for desserts and made them into massage oils, tinctures, vinegars, and syrups. They’ve appeared like clockwork every spring, growing more abundant every year. I will always remember my son Alex lying face down in a huge patch of them and whispering for me to join him and the violet fairies.
When you infuse fresh violets into a simple syrup made of honey and boiled water, the flavor will really enliven fresh lemonade or an elegant champagne cocktail. You can also use a delicious French Crème de Violette in place of the syrup. For a lovely lavender lemonade, why don’t you try to freeze some violet flowers into ice cubes to use in your glass. There’s really nothing prettier and they hold their color beautifully.
When I was last in France, I was able to buy beautiful candied violets that smelled as wonderful as they tasted, but most people don’t realize that it’s very easy to make your own. If you’ve never had them, crystallized violets are absolutely beautiful, sparkling little jewels and much better than candy. I became addicted the first time my sister brought these treasures home from Paris. Fortunately for me, they are so easy to make. All you need are fresh violets, beaten egg white (not quite frothy), superfine sugar and a soft, sable paintbrush.
I love to pick them, paint them with egg white and then dip them into superfine sugar . Then I let them air dry and sprinkle them all over cakes, cupcakes and mousses... wild violets bring with them not just beauty , but magical properties of love, luck and peace. All reasons to love this extraordinary little flower that blooms in such a fleeting fashion during this time of year. If you don’t have wild violets growing in your yard you can do this with pansies or violas that you purchase at your favorite garden center. I love to buy pots of violas in the spring and nurse them through summer, picking them for salads, iced teas or to sprinkle fresh or candied cakes and ice creams!
Some people can be very allergic to violets so please take that into consideration before using or serving any herbal teas or eating anything made with the fresh flowers or petals. That being said, there are so many wonderful ways to use the beautiful flower that you will never be at a loss.
Please remember that herbs and essential oils are very powerful medicines and can often times be contraindicated with medications that you may already be taking. Please be sure to consult your physician before choosing to treat any medical condition you may be experiencing with herbal medicine.
Wishing you an abundance of violet bouquets this season,
Beth Schreibman Gehring