The Incredible Nettle


Nettle (Urtica dioica), also known as Stinging Nettle, is a lovely plant that is is a favorite if many an herbalist (including myself!). It sometimes gets a bad reputation because its stems and leaves are covered in small, sharp spurs that can cause severe irritation and pain on areas of skin that come in contact with the plant. However, despite its sting, nettle is a valuable wonderful medicinal and a tasty, nutritious edible. There’s much to love about this wonderful herb!

Nettle grows in temperate regions all over the world. The entire plant can be utilized for food or medicine. Young nettle leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach. (Old plants may cause kidney damage when eaten raw.) Nettle is a valuable edible, as it is an excellent source of vitamins- including A, C, D and K- and minerals, like choline, lecithin, silica, and iron. The aerial parts are utilized for teas and tinctures and the roots are medicinal.

For some tasty ideas of how to add more nettle to your diet, check out these recipes:

Note: If eating nettles sounds a little dangerous to you, never fear – the plant loses its sting once it is dried or cooked. But, you may want to wear gloves while harvesting nettle and preparing any recipes with nettle to avoid getting stung during those processes. 

Nettle Beer from The Herbal Academy

Nettle Garlic Buttermilk Biscuits from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog

Stinging Nettle Spanikopita from Join Me For Dinner

Nettle Pesto Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes from The Bojon Gourmet

Nettle Chips from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog

Stinging Nettle Lasagna from Learning Herbs

Ali Baba’s Savory Stinging Nettle Muffins from Palachink

Garlic Cream & Nettle Pizza from Food & Wine

Wild Weed Frittata from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog

Nettle-Mushroom Pie with Pine Nuts from Voodoo & Sauce

Stinging Nettle Ravioli with Butter & Sage from La Tavola Marche

Hungry for more ways to enjoy nettle? Check out these 12 stinging nettle recipes from The Herbal Academy.

In addition to being a delicious and healthful edible, nettle is also a wonderful medicinal plant. It is a general toning herb that strengthens and nourishes the whole body, balances metabolic function, and improves circulation. It has been used traditionally as a cleansing herb because of its ability to aid elimination of waste from the body.

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Ode to Beets: 150+ Reasons to Love this Root Veggie

Beets, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 

Beets are definitely one of my favorite vegetables. One of the most amazing things about them is how good they are for your health. They are loaded with nutrients and are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, & phosphorus. They also provide fiber and antioxidants.

This root veggie also has some medicinal benefits. It helps to cleanse the liver and can be helpful for promoting healthy digestion. Because beets contain nitrates they aid in improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure, and can even boost stamina so you can excerise longer. They also contain betaine, an anti-inflammatory amino acid that helps to protect the body from environmental stress.

Beets contain several minerals that are essential to healthy nerve and muscle function and promote bone, liver, pancreas,and kidney health. They also contain B vitamin folate, which helps reduce the risk of birth defects.

Beet greens are extremely healthy too. They are an important source of essential nutrients, like vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium. They also contain more iron than spinach and are a good source of fiber and protein.

In addition to being super healthy, beets are also really tasty and versatile. They are a great addition to soups, pastas, salads, juices, smoothies, and even make lovely desserts and condiments.

Below are 150 recipes to help you fall in love with beets. If you’re already a beet lover, some of these recipes may be familiar, but there’s also a lot of fun, unique recipes that will have you wanting to eat beets for breakfast, lunch & dinner. Enjoy!

[BREAKFAST]

1. Beet Hashbrowns from The Roasted Root

Photo Credit: The Roasted Root

2. Beet & Chia Pancakes from The New York Times

3. Chocolate Beet Muffins from Cake Student

4. Beet Hash Breakfast Wraps from Reclaiming Provincial

Photo credit: Reclaiming Provincial

5. Pink Breakfast Bowl from Ricki Heller

6. Roasted Beet, Baby Spinach & Goat Cheese Quiche from Food52

7. Red Flannel Hash Cakes from Martha Stewart

8. Beet & Carrot Muffins from Hidden Ponies

9. Breakfast Beet Shakshuka from The Whole Tara

Photo Credit: The Whole Tara

10. Beet Crust Leek Quiche from Prevention

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DIY Bloody Mary Kit

This Bloody Mary Kit is a perfect gift for the cocktail lover in your life. It’s easy to put together and makes several tasty & unique bloody marys.

Below is what I put in my Bloody Mary kits, but you can customize yours however you please.

Bloody Mary Kit

  • Black peppercorn infused vodka
  • Garlic & fennel infused vodka
  • Smoked paprika infused vodka
  • Horseradish infused vodka
  • Salt rimming mixture
  • Bloody Mary mix
  • Homemade pickles
  • Other additions: olives, skewers, hot sauce, lemons, or limes

Infused Vodkas

I like to make the infused vodkas a pint at a time so there some left over for more bloody mary kits or personal enjoyment, but you can easily scale these recipes up or down based on how much flavored vodka you want to end up with. Infused vodkas are shelf stable and will keep indefinitely.

Use good quality vodka, spices, and herbs. The vodka certainly doesn’t have to be top shelf, but you don’t want to buy the cheapest stuff at the liquor store either.

Black Peppercorn Infused Vodka

Garlic & Fennel Infused Vodka 

  • 1 pint vodka
  • 2-4 roughly chopped garlic cloves (this will depend on the size of the cloves and how much you like garlic)
  • 1 Tablespoon fennel seed

Smoked Paprika Infused Vodka 

Horseradish Infused Vodka 

  • 1 pint vodka
  • 1 Tablespoon of roughly chopped horseradish root

Directions: 

You will need one glass jar with a lid for each flavor of vodka you are infusing. For each flavor, add the herbs & spices to their separate jars and cover with vodka. Cap tightly and shake well. Label each jar. It helps to include the date on your label so you know how long your vodkas have been infusing.

Shake the jars daily, if you remember. After a week, taste each of your vodkas to test how the flavor is developing. If your vodka isn’t as flavorful as you’d like it to be, re-cap your infusion and let it go longer. Shake and taste it daily for up to a month until it tastes how you want it to. When the flavor is where you want it, strain out your herbs and re-bottle the infused vodka. When I give infused liquors as gifts, I like to put them in these pretty cork top bottles I get from Mountain Rose Herbs. As a finishing touch, label your vodkas.

Salt Rimming Mixture

A rimmed glass adds a little extra pizzaz to any cocktail. The herbs and spices in this mixture are well-suited to a bloody mary and are a tasty addition to the average salt rim. The below recipe makes roughly 1/4 cup of salt rimming mixture and can easily be scaled up or down depending on how much you want to end up with.

Ingredients: 

Directions: 

Powder celery seeds in a blender or in a spice grinder. A coffee grinder works great for powdering spices, but be sure to use one that has not been used to grind coffee beans as it will make your spices smell/taste like coffee, even if it’s clean. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Store in a labeled glass jar. If desired, add the below directions to your label.

To rim your glass when making a bloody mary, moisten the rim of the glass with a lemon or lime slice. Pour a small amount of salt rimming mixture onto a plate and dip the rim of the glass into the salt blend, twirling the glass to coat the rim.

Bloody Mary Mix

If you’re particularly ambitious, you can make your own bloody mary mix. Below are a few recipes to get you started:

If you don’t have the time to make your own mix, there are many options for bottled mixes available. Do take a peek at the ingredients list before buying as many pre-bottled bloody mary mixes are highly processed and can have some weird ingredients. Also, many mixes contain worcestershire sauce, which is made with anchovies, so this will be something to keep an eye out for if you have fish allergies or don’t want to eat fish.

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Black Currant, Blueberry & Wild Bergamot Syrup

Summer is in full swing in Michigan, which means fresh berries and herbs are available in abundance. I love to make various preserves throughout the season so that I have a few jars to give as gifts to friends & family and some wonderful treats to enjoy myself during the long winter months when nothing is growing.

This delicious, unique simple syrup combines some of my favorite flavors of these lovely summer months. Blueberries are a familiar favorite and the addition of black currants and wild bergamot gives this syrup a tasty twist.

Black currants are not extremely popular, at least in this area, and can be a bit tricky to find. If you’re lucky, you might be able to get them at a farmer’s market or find a fruit farm that will let you pick them yourself. We are fortunate enough to have a great orchard nearby where we can pick these tasty berries. If possible, growing your own is a great option. If you can’t find black currants and still want to make this recipe, just substitute an equal amount of blueberries. The currants add a lovely flavor, but blueberry-bergamot syrup is also wonderful.

Freshly picked black currants

When eaten fresh, black currants have a sweet, earthy flavor that some people don’t enjoy. I personally think they’re wonderful, but they are definitely different. Most people do like black currants when they are added to syrups, jellies, and wines as they have a delicious flavor that is similar blackberries, though it is a bit richer and more concentrated.

Wild Bergamot is a lovely plant that can be found flowering in the fields, meadows, and roadsides in our area right now. I love its strong, spicy, oregano-like flavor. It’s definitely not what you would expect from such a delicate and pretty flower! It is wonderful as a cooking spice, garnish for salads, and to flavor syrups and jellies. The below graphic – excerpted from Dina Falconi’s book, Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook – provides lots of wonderful information about how to wildcraft and use wild bergamot. This is one of my favorite books on foraging wild edibles as it has very thorough plant profiles, amazing recipes, and is beautifully illustrated. Click here to get a copy of your own.  Continue reading

Curry Ketchup Recipe

This homemade ketchup is quick and easy to make and is definitely worth the effort. Whip up a batch before your next cookout to impress your friends. After all, nothing screams gourmet like handcrafted condiments.

The best homemade ketchup is made by cooking down ripe, fresh tomatoes for 10-12 hours until they turn into a thick sauce. But, most of time tomatoes aren’t in season (at least here in Michigan!) and sometimes you don’t have half a day to make ketchup. So, in those cases, you cheat a little and use organic tomato paste. The flavor will be just as rich and tomatoey and this little trick will definitely save you a lot of time!

Because you don’t have to wait for this ketchup to cook down, you can make a batch in about 15 minutes, meaning you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying the wonderful summer weather.

The curry in this recipe compliments the tomatoes in delightful way and lends some interesting flavor to a classic condiment.

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz organic tomato paste
  • 4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 5 Tbsp water
  • 2 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • A pinch of chipotle powder, I use just the tip of a spoon
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Directions:

Combine tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, water, and molasses in a sauce pan and whisk together til well combined. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk well to get rid of clumps.

Simmer on low for about 10 minutes to let the flavors meld. Add more water if needed as the sauce is cooking and before serving if the ketchup is too thick.

Serve with hot dogs, burgers, or potatoes.

Making your own condiments is a wonderful way to reduce your intake of highly processed foods and honestly, they just taste better! Enjoy making this handcrafted ketchup for your next cook out this summer. This tasty twist on an old favorite is sure to be a hit!

Grilled Tempeh Sliders

Summer is just around the corner, which means it’s a perfect time for some outdoor cooking. We love spending warm evenings on the deck or by the fire pit cooking our dinner and enjoying the weather. Not heating up the house with the oven or stove is an added bonus!

When many people think of grilling, they think meat – hog dogs, hamburgers, steak, chicken, etc – but there are many tasty meatless ways to enjoy cooking on the grill this summer. Tempeh, tofu, and many fruits and veggies are delicious grilled. There are also some very tasty  veggie “hot dogs” available at the natural food stores near us that are made from real vegetable not weird “meat like” ingredients. They are worth trying if you can find them.

This easy tempeh burger recipe is a favorite warm weather recipe around our house. Grilled veggies make a simple, delicious side dish. We use whatever’s in season. Asparagus, corn, zucchini, sweet potatoes, leeks, beets, and peppers are just a few tasty options. Be creative!

This recipe makes enough for 4 slider size tempeh burgers. This is enough to feed 2-4 people, depending on how hungry people are and what your side dish options are like. You could easily double the recipe to make more burgers if you are feeding more people.

 

Ingredients:

Sliders –

  • 8 oz tempeh patty
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1/2 cup liquid aminos
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 small, “dinner roll” sized buns, sliced in half

Toppings –

  • 2 slices onion, diced
  • A handful of fresh arugula leaves
  • Condiments of your choosing. Some great options are: homemade pickles, slaw, ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce (click here to find out how to make your own!), or mayo

Directions:

Cut tempeh patty into 4 equal pieces.

Combine liquid aminos, molasses, and diced garlic together in a wide dish. The dish does not need to be very deep, but ideally will be wide enough for the 4 tempeh pieces to sit in the bottom next to each other.

Add tempeh to liquid and spoon marinade over the pieces so they are drenched. Let marinate for about 30 minutes, occasionally flipping the tempeh so that each side has soaked for a bit in the liquid.

Start your grill. Once it is hot, add your tempeh patties. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until both sides look nice and brown. As the tempeh cooks, spoon some marinade over it occasionally to keep it from drying out and to add more flavor.

When the patties are nearly done, add your buns to the grill, sliced side down and cook them just a few minutes, until toasted. Then take everything off the grill and assemble your sliders using the arugula greens, onions, and condiments of your choosing. We like topping our sliders with things like ketchup, mustard, diced olives, assorted veggie pickles, and barbeque sauce.

homemade veggie pickles – asparagus, kohlrabi, & beets
We make our own super tasty pickles and condiments. It’s a lot easier than you think and it’s more than worth the effort. Some of the best condiment and assorted veggie pickle recipes come from my favorite canning cookbook, Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. We especially love her recipes for zucchini pickles and ketchup. So tasty! I would definitely recommend picking up this book if you like preserving your own food.

 

Enjoy crafting your own tasty tempeh sliders this summer. We’d love to hear about any awesome variations you come up with!

Purple Dead Nettle: Not Just A Weed

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium Purpureum) is a lovely and useful herbaceous plant. It grows abundantly around our site in Southwest, Michigan and I see it popping up all over this area. It can be found throughout the US, Canada, and many other parts of the world. This hardy weed thrives in lawns, roadsides, and can grow in a variety of conditions. It is also frost tolerant. It is most commonly found growing in loamy or sandy soils, but will also do well in clay soils. It is an self-seeding annual. Each plant produces lots of seeds (it’s estimated to be several hundred to several thousand) and those seeds can germinate year round.

Purple dead nettle is considered to be an “invasive species” due to its ability to thrive and reproduce in many environments. In fact, much of the literature available on this plant is geared towards methods of eradication, including pulling up the herb to control its population. It is interesting to note that purple dead nettle seeds germinate better when the soil is disturbed. “Invasive” plants like purple dead nettle often grow in places where humans have disrupted the natural balance.  These plants are simply trying to restore equilibrium to their environment. When we pull and spray these plants we are further disturbing the areas where they grow and actually increasing their ability to return and spread.

If we care about the environment, should be be attempting to eradicate these species, like purple dead nettle, that have been determined to be invasive? Research shows that meddling with nature isn’t necessary and could cause more harm than good. Tomás Carlo, assistant professor of biology at Penn State, states that “Invasive species could fill niches in degraded ecosystems and help restore native biodiversity in an inexpensive and self-organized way that requires little or no human intervention.”In 2011, he conducted a study on how invasive species affect their ecosystems.  He found that some invasive plants actually helped improve natural areas that had deteriorated due to human use. He stated that attempting to get rid of invasive species could actually harm the newly found balance in these ecosystems. In fact, the areas he studied, for example,have actually had an increase in the native migratory bird population because the invasive plants that grow abundantly there provide an important food source that had previously been displaced by human development. Carlo also stated that trying to eliminate invasive species on a large scale could also be a waste of time and money. He explained that when organizations try to rid an ecosystem of a particular invasive plant, it often ends up growing back despite all of their efforts.

Instead of pulling and spraying these weeds, we can appreciate and utilize them. Invasive plants often play important roles in their ecosystem. For example, purple dead nettle blooms in the early spring and is an valuable food source for insects when not much else is is flowering.  Many invasive plants are also useful to humans and make wonderful food and medicine. They require little to no care as they often occur and thrive naturally in our gardens and yards. These wild edibles can be a great low-maintenance, free food source. Foraging wild greens like purple dead nettle is easier than tending to more fickle commercially grown greens and is certainly cheaper than buying organic greens at the store. If you aren’t sure how to forage purple dead nettles, visit the Edible Wild Food site for more tips on finding and identifying this plant so you too can enjoy this spring green.Always be sure you properly identify a plant before eating it! For more foraging tips, check out our post on foraging spring edibles.

Purple dead nettle can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves have tiny little hairs that some may find strange texturally, but I have found that they aren’t bothersome when the plant is cooked. The leaves taste similar to spinach. When bruised, the plant has a noticeable green, earthy scent. Purple dead nettle leaves are great source of fiber, iron, and other important nutrients. They can be used in recipes much as one would use more conventional greens like kale or spinach.

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Foraging Spring Edibles

Spring is my favorite time for a walk in the woods. I love seeing everything come back to life and explode into green again. One of the very best things about spring though is the great opportunity it provides for foraging and wild crafting some fantastic wild foods. Finding and harvesting wild food is a great way to get outside, learn more about nearby the forests and fields,  and to enjoy unique, fresh foods.

Though foraging for your own food may seem daunting, it’s actually really easy to do. Many of the woods, fields, and riversides by your home will be full of plants that you never realized were edible. When I go anywhere where wild plants are allowed to grow, I am on the lookout for wild edibles (even if I won’t have the chance to forage them). You would be surprised to see the many places that food grows. You probably have some food growing in your front yard right now.

As a society that is very out of touch with nature, it is important for us to learn about wild plants and their multitude of uses. The following tips will help you begin to take advantage of the food that is growing all around you.

  1. Choose your foraging site wisely. I never forage plants for food off the sides of roadways or in places where I think people may be inclined to spray chemicals. Though many plants found in the wild are safe to eat, the toxic chemicals that people carelessly introduce to the environment are not at all safe for human consumption and can make you very sick. I don’t say this to scare you. Just be smart about where you forage and consider any potential toxins that may have been introduced to the area.
  2. Respect the Forest. Be sure to treat the area that you have chosen to forage with respect. Do not over harvest one small area. You want the plants to keep coming back every year so you, and others can enjoy them. Insects and animals depend on plants and fungi for food and habitat. Don’t ever take more than you need and never ever take all the plants from one spot. Be considerate to the plants you are harvesting and don’t harm them any more than necessary. For example, if you are foraging something just for the greens, snip only the leaves, and leave the roots and part of the established plant intact.
  3. Don’t Forage from Nature Preserves. Nature preserves protect the health and well-being of their land and the plants that grow there. Don’t ever collect plants from protected areas.
  4. No Trespassing. Know who owns the land you plan to forage and make sure you have their permission to do so. Most people don’t mind if you take their nettles (actually most people thank you for doing so), but just make sure you ask first.
  5. Know What You’re Harvesting. While much of what grows in the forest is edible (even though it may not taste great), there are certain plants that can be dangerous if consumed. Know how to identify the plants you plan to eat and make sure you know the proper methods for preparing them (some plants aren’t edible til they’re cooked). In general, our nature phobic society is too cautious of plants, however, there really are some plants that can make you sick so just be smart about what you eat.

wild ramps growing in the forest
Now that you have an idea how to forage, let’s talk about what we’re looking for. The plants available will certainly vary based on where you live, but the following plants are common in many areas of the United States.

 

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) 

Nettles are by far my favorite spring food to forage. They are delicious and amazingly versatile. I’ve used nettles in teas, soups, smoothies, paninis, pastas, pizzas, spanakopita, infused vinegars and oils, and more. Nettles are also great for you. They are low in calories and high in important nutrients like potassium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. After a long, hard winter, nettles are the perfect nourishing food. Below are some great recipes for using the nettles you harvest this spring.

For more information about nettles, check out this video where herbalist, jim mcdonald, talks about them in more detail.

Morels

You’re probably already familiar with this edible mushroom. It is one of the most well known wild springtime foods and I often see people looking for them along the forest trails I frequent. Often morels are sold in grocery stores and at the farmer’s market in the spring, but they are very expensive. This definitely makes it worth it to forage your own if possible. As with anything you are harvesting, be sure you are able to properly and confidently identify any mushrooms before consuming them. For more tips on hunting morels, check out this quick guide.

There is a very short window of time during which you will find these delightful fungi, but if you can locate some, it’s certainly worth it. They are very tasty sautéed with butter or as a unique pizza topping. Check out the recipes below if you’re looking for ways to enjoy morels this spring.

Ramps

These wild leeks are another one of my favorite spring foods to forage. They have a fantastic onion-garlicky flavor and are great on salads, pizzas, and eggs.

Though ramps are easily enjoyed in a variety of dishes, it is best to harvest them sparingly. Recently, ramps have become an increasingly popular wild edible. Over harvesting this slow growing plant can easily cause an area to stop producing and that’s what’s happening more and more now that ramps are in high demand. If you’d like to read more on the topic, this wonderful post from Heartstone Herbal School goes into more detail about how to harvest ramps sustainably and why it is important to do so. 

When foraging ramps you should harvest only the leaves (and don’t take more than one leaf per plant) so the rest of the plant can remain and continue to grow. The leaves are just as flavorful and versatile as the bulbs , so you won’t be missing out.

For some ideas of how to use ramps, check out some of the recipes below.

 

Violets

Violets make wonderful infused vinegars, gins, vodkas, syrups, and other beverages. They can also be used in wild flower jellies. I love using violets as a delicate garnish on a salad or any other spring dish.For more information about using violets and some great recipes, check out this post I wrote earlier this spring about wildcrafting violets.

Dandelions

This common weed is one of my favorite springtime foods. All parts of this cheery little plant are edible and each has a variety of uses. The nutritious leaves are great in salads, stir fries, egg scrambles, pizzas, pastas, and more. The root can be used in teas, bitters, and stir fries. I especially enjoy using the sunny yellow flowers in the springtime. These make syrups, wine, fermented condiments, and veggie burgers. Check out the recipes below for more ideas.

For more information on foraging dandelions, click here.

Chickweed

Chickweed is another nutritious and tasty common weed that is easy to find in the spring.  There are many delicious ways to enjoy this pretty little plant. Some of my favorite uses are adding it to salads, sandwiches, pizza, pesto, or egg scrambles. Chickweed does not store well because it is so delicate, so it is best to use it fresh and soon after harvesting.

 

There are many more spring edibles worth collecting and eating. I’ve just mentioned a few of the ones I find and use most commonly to help get you started. We are always finding and foraging new things, so check out the blog throughout the season for more recipes and information about our favorite wild edibles.

If you’re looking to learn more about plants you can forage and how to enjoy them, I recommend checking out the book Foraging and Feasting by Dina Falconi. It is beautifully illustrated and has lots of great recipes and tips for foraging and cooking with a variety of wild plants. You may also enjoy perusing the following blogs for foraging tips and seasonal recipes:

 

Happy foraging!

Peanut Butter Banana Breakfast Smoothie


 This tasty smoothie makes a great breakfast. It’s perfect when you’re short on time as it is very easy and quick to make. The peanut butter in this recipe provides protein and fiber to help keep you full. Additionally, both peanut butter and almond milk are a good source of magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, and other important nutrients. 

Bananas pair well with the peanut butter in this smoothie while providing potassium, vitamin C, and many more vitamins and minerals. Maple syrup adds sweetness and can be omitted if you like your smoothie a little less sweet.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of almond milk
  • 2 bananas
  • 3 Tablespoons of natural peanut butter
  • 1 Tablespoon of pure maple syrup

Combine ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth. This recipe makes about 4 cups of smoothie. 

Wild Crafting Violets

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Violets are one of the first plants to come up in the spring bringing a dash of cheery color to the forest floor. They are lovely little plants and have a variety of uses in food, medicine, and body products.

There are over 200 species in the Violet family that can be found growing abundantly in temperate and tropical areas all across the world. While they are herbaceous plants in North America, Europe, and Northern Asia, violet family plants native to tropical regions and South America are trees and shrubs. In North America, the violets start appearing in late February and generally bloom by the end of April. We are located in the Midwest United States, so the violets I’ll be talking about are a herbaceous variety.

Violets have heart shaped leaves and drooping flowers that are generally a deep purple. Light purple, blue, yellow, and white colored flowers are also common. The many different types of violets have similar properties and can be used the same way. The flowers and leaves of this plant are both wonderful food and medicine. They are rich in minerals and vitamins, like A and C. The flowers are sweet and a little astringent. They make a lovely garnish on salads or desserts. Their delicate flavor also lends nicely to infused liquors, vinegars, jellies, and springtime beverages.

There are many delicious ways to enjoy violets. Gin infused with violets has a very nice flavor and turns a lovely purple color when mixed with tonic water. Apple cider or rice vinegars infused with violets are wonderful in a light spring dressing. Violets can be added to tea, wine, and make a very pretty purple lemonade. They also can be used in making wild flower jelly.

Another simple, traditional way to enjoy violets by making violet syrup. In the 1930’s herbalist M. Grieve published this classic recipe in her book, A Modern Herbal. I have made a similar rendition of this recipe and it was quite delicious.

Violet Syrup: Infuse 1 lb of freshly picked violet flowers with 2 1/2 pints bowling water in a covered pot or glass jar for 24 hours. Then strain the flowers out, put the liquid in a pot, and add double the weight of the liquid in sugar. Simmer until liquid cooks down into a syrup. Do not let mixture boil. 

Violet infused water

Medicinally, violets are a diverse and potent remedy. They provide blood purifying action and help to eliminate waste in the body. They also help stimulate the lymphatic system. They can be helpful for swollen glands, congestion, coughs, and sore throats. They are a mucilaginous herb and thus, are good for soothing irritation and reducing inflammation. They are a good addition to skin care products are they are very healing and soothing for skin. This violet leaf soap from the Herbal Academy would be a perfect way to utilize the healing properties of violet leaf for sensitive or irritated skin. Click here for the recipe.

  Wild Crafting Violets

When wildcrafting any plant it is important to follow a couple basic guidelines.

  1. Only harvest plants from areas that have not been sprayed by chemicals or are near roadsides where there is pollution from cars.
  2. Do not over harvest plants. Make sure that you are leaving enough plants so that you are not harming the plant population and the supply for the animals and insects that also depend on wild plants.
  3. Always take general safety precautions. Wear orange if you are going to be in the forest during hunting season. Know whose land your are foraging on and be sure that they don’t mind. Just be smart.
  4. Make sure that you know exactly what plants you are foraging if you are going to be eating them or using them in body care products. Many plants are totally safe to consume, but there are a few that can be very poisonous. Don’t be discouraged. Plant ID can be pretty easy when you start learning about it. If you don’t know how to identify a plant you could invest in a field guide that is suited for your area, ask a friend who knows a bit about plants, or find an herbalist in your area who does seasonal plant walks. There are also many great herbalists online. Much can be learned by reading their blogs and websites. Some favorites are listed here.

Wild crafting is a very enjoyable experience. Once you are able to identify a few medicinal and edible plants its very exciting to see that food and medicine grow all around us. Foraging keeps us better connected to the natural world and is a great way to get inexpensive, unique, and potent herbs, flowers, fungi, berries, greens, and barks for use in foods and medicines. Enjoy your violet wild crafting adventure. I’d love to hear about any amazing violet concoctions you come up with.

 

References:

  • A Modern Herbal: Volume II. M. Grieves. “Violet, Sweet.” 834-840.
  • Violet.” Jessica Modino. www.susunweed.com.
  • Violet Herb.” jim mcdonald. www.herbalremediesadvice.org.