Saturday, 5 March 2011

Violet Magic

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!)


karisma said...

Oh I was getting excited right along with you! I will have to give this a go too one day. I don't have violets but plan on expanding my herb selections in the near future. Can the syrup be made with other flowers like Elder for example? I have been thinking a lot on what sorts of flu remedies and such I can come up with for this winter with what I have readily available.

Also I think I am ready to move out of my comfort zone of only using the herbs that I know well already. :-) Thanks for sharing!

Hugs xox

Sarah Head said...

Hi Karisma, This isn't my usual method for making syrups, but should work well with delicate flowers and herbs where you want to extract the maximum minerals or mucilage. I usually dry my elderflowers so they can be made into a tea in the wintertime to be given hot in the case of colds/fevers where you want its diaphoretic effect or cold if you want a general cooling drink (hence elderflower cordial/champagne for summer). Please do try making an elderflower syrup using this long infusion tea method and let us know how you get on.

JoyceAnn said...

Hi Sarah ~ Enjoyed reading your post about Violet magic. I remember feeling the same excitement , the first time I made Violet jelly. I haven't made Violet syrup , but it's on my list to make this year. Did you try the syrup , how did it taste ?

~ Violet Blessings ~

tansy said...

lovely! it's a tradition for us to make violet jelly every year. the color transformation is such a neat thing! violet jelly is my 13yo's favorite jelly and i have to make a case of it to get her through the year. :)

i've never tried the syrup but i just might this year!

Sarah Head said...

Hi JoyceAnn, I just went and tasted the syrup again to confirm what I tasted yesterday - it is delicious! I think the taste comes more from the lemon than the violet as you taste it on the back of your tongue and there is a definite mucilagenous after-effect. This was such a miraculous improvement on the original smell of the infusion - which was not good!

Sarah Head said...

Tansy, what is the recipe for the jelly? Do you use apples as the main fruit base?

karisma said...

Thanks Sarah, I also dry my elder flowers and only have dry at the moment. I usually make a mix of elder flowers, yarrow, chamomile and honey tea for flu or just chamomile for sore throats but some of my kids refuse to drink it :-( I am hoping a syrup might be more appealing to them. :-)

Plantain said...

How wonderful, Sarah! I can't wait until ours are up enough to make syrup.

Herbaholic said...

love it! I never seem to get enough flowers to make anything violet based, I'd love to try a syrup or jelly though, I'll keep the violet effect in mind whilst re-vamping the Herb Society children's website. I can still recall the WOW factor when you made me eat my first violet leaf lol! Hope to see you soon flower!

Herby hugs - D x

Nine Curvy said...

Hi! I'm new to your blog, actually found it yesterday and I am loving it already. It'll be definitely added to my favorites. ;)

Thanks for the wonderful recipe, I will have to give this a go in the future. I am very new to medicinal herbs but so excited to learn and have just bought my first books on the subject. Hopefully I can also take part in some courses in the future.

Greetings from your new reader from Finland! :)

Sarah Head said...

Good to hear from you, Coco! I think you're my second reader from Finland. Any thing I can help with, please let me know.

Mermaiden said...

I just created my first violet syrup last week, and also experienced that wow factor! I'm wondering exactly what it is about the lemon juice. I think it unlocks more than just the color. It sure smelled "planty" until after the cooking in with that, haha.

Sheryl at Providence North said...

I must do something with all the violas growing around here!

The same colour change happened to me when I made organic mint wine. Whan I added the acid, it turned a lovely pale pink. Pink is not a colour one usually associates with mint, but it will do.