Thursday, March 08, 2018

Violets, Jewels of the Field

From Mar/Apr '16

    One of the things I look forward to most every spring is stepping out into the field, basket in hand, to collect the sweet smelling violets blooming across the fields.  Visions of candied violets and sweet smelling salve fill my mind.  As I follow my well-loved path I spy the first inklings of spring.  Blooming dandelions, the wild onions shooting up and chickweed starting to come to life. Often I find them cropping out in mounds along the wood line as far as I can see.  Before I know it my basket is filled to the brim with my sweet smelling harvest. 

    Violets are one of the easiest herbs to identify in the wild making them a great beginner herb to forage.  Wild sweet violets have dark green, heart shaped leaves and small, purple or white flowers. While there are no poisonous species of viola it should be noted that African violets are not true viola.  Violets are most often found in fields along a wooded area or in a damp shady wooded area.  When harvesting from the wild be sure to find a place away from the road and in an area free of pesticide spraying.  You can always ask any groundskeeper if the areas you have scouted out are sprayed.  As with any wild harvesting you truly need to find a place as far from auto pollution as possible. 

     While violets can be cultivated, and have been by the Greeks as early as 500 BC., I find wild harvested violets to have better flavor.  As they propagate by throwing runners much like a strawberry where you find one plant you are sure to soon find more.  Finding only one plant has always been a rare occurrence for me. In much of North America you will find them blooming anywhere from the end of February and well into April.  With two blooming seasons they can be harvested later in the year but spring will find an unmatched abundance. The spring bounty is also has sweetest aroma of the year.

    Native North Americans commonly used them for medicinal purposes, including the treatment of cancer.  More recently the list of attributes include the treatment of ailments such as eczema, psoriasis and cradle cap when made into a salve for topical use.  Making a syrup or dried tea from your harvest to aid in the treatment in migraines, whooping cough and other respiratory symptoms is a great item to keep in your home Herbal medicine chest. And my personal favorite uses, candied and fresh salad greens.  Rich in vitamins A & C, both the leaves and blooms can be added to salads. They have a delicious mild spring flavor. 
    Some of my personal favorite uses are to make them into a violet infused oil for salve and making violet sugar.  And of course, drying for herbal tea.  Always use fresh violets, picked early, just after the morning dew has burned off for the best flavor. For tea I use a 2:1 ratio of two parts dried violet leaves and one part dried chamomile or violet flowers.  Prepare this as you would any other herbal tea.  Aside from being delicious, it also aides in respiratory problems.  Especially handy around cold and flu season. 

    Here is a recipe I love making with my two young daughters.  Together we collect about half a cup or so of just the blooms.  We place them in a clean, dry pint jar and fill 3/4 full with sugar.  Cover and give a shake to mix well.  Let it sit for about a week, giving a shake once or twice a day.  This is my girls’ favorite part.  After a week or so sift out the now dried up blossoms and discard, leaving the sweet, lightly flavored sugar. This is wonderful for dusting treats and delicious in lemonade and teas. 

    One final recipe I'd love to share is my very own personal recipe for wild violet salve.  You will need one cup of violet infused oil. I make this using a very small crock pot set on warm.  I add about a cup and a half of grapeseed oil, and one cup of mixed blooms and greens to the crock and stir.  Be sure they are free from excess moisture.  I like to do this part in the evening and let the combination steep all night.  Be sure your crock pot has a warm setting which is very different from low.  In the morning simply strain your oil.  This will make a little more than one cup.  Exactly what you need for this recipe.  Set a double Boiler on low and melt about one half cup of beeswax.  When melted add the violet oil and blend well.  At this point I add five drops of lavender essential oil.  This is when you will want to test your salve for consistency.  Take a bit out on a spoon and allow to cool.  Test on your wrist to see if this consistency suits you.  If you prefer a harder salve simply add a bit more beeswax.  When you have it the consistency you like pour into your desired storage.  I like Small glass jars for this. Even repurposed jars if they are clean and dry work well.  Allow salve to cool before closing the lids. 

                I hope you're feeling inspired to add wild violets to you herbal medicine chest.  Confidently foraging for and harvesting your own supply. 
By Elisha Goulet, third generation wild crafter
Some recipes:

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