I don't know about the rest of you, but I have periods in my herbal life when things seem very mundane and uninteresting and then something happens which is just so exciting it takes your breath away. That happened to me today, so I thought I would share.
Part of my apprentices' tasks, which I am sharing, is to find a herbal ally for the year and observe, grow and make things from them. My ally is sweet violet, viola odorata. I have a patch of violets at the bottom of my garden grown from a transplant from my parent's farm which was in turn transplanted from the local stone quarry/tip where my sister and I used to play as children nearly fifty years ago.
In the autumn, I gathered a bag full of leaves to dry and I've been trying them as a herbal tea. They are pleasant when drunk with food, but not especially exciting. Now the violet flowers are blooming, I promised myself I would make my first batch of violet syrup. I first came across this in Susun Weed's "Healing Wise" book and Zoe Hawes uses the same methodology in her recipe for violet syrup in "Wild drugs, a forager's guide to healing plants".
The basic recipe is to fill a clean glass jar with violet flowers, cover with boiling water and leave overnight with the lid screwed on. The next day, strain and measure the infused liquid. For every 7fl ozs of liquid add 5 ozs of sugar. Zoe Hawes also recommends adding a good squeeze of lemon juice. Put all the ingredients into a pan and bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes. Pour the resulting syrup into a sterilised bottle or jar, seal, label and date. Store in the fridge and discard if it starts going mouldy. The suggested dosage for a child’s cough or slight constipation is 1-2tsps given at bedtime. If you are making this for a child under two years old and usually make your syrups with honey, use sugar this time.
I gathered the plants yesterday morning after my planned trip to Sheffield had to be aborted at the last minute. There weren't very many flowers, but I covered them with a cupful of boiling water and sealed them in a glass jar for 24 hours. (The recipe says overnight, but I was busy this morning and couldn't get back to them until early afternoon.)
The strained liquid smelt green and uninviting and tasted of nothing much. I was expecting a subtle aroma of violet, but I think it was too cold for the flowers to produce any scent! For 5 fl ozs (1cup) of liquid I added 3ozs of sugar and put it in a pan to bring to the boil while sterilising a glass jar in the oven. Zoe's recipe suggested adding a good squeeze of lemon juice to the mixture, so I found a forgotten half lemon in the fridge, squeezed it and added the juice to the heating syrup.
This is where the magic occured - the syrup suddenly turned the most delightful shade of pink! I wanted to dance around the kitchen with excitement!. I realise it was probably just a litmus reaction to adding the acidic lemon juice, but it would be a fantastic demonstration to show children! (Not quite as good as watching St John's wort oil turn red, but similar and much quicker!)
When the syrup had been brought to the boil and simmered for a couple of minutes, I strained it out through muslin into the sterilised jar, labelled and dated it and left it to cool on the kitchen table. It's now safely in the fridge waiting for a child to emerge with either a cough or constipation. (Don't you love it when herbs can be used for such different things!)