Violets Infuse Vodka for a Delightful Cocktail

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20160328_173928While we waited to see Book of Mormon at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square, we settled onto bar stools at Bin 216. I ordered the Aviation Cocktail- a mixture of gin, crème de violette, luxardo and lemon — because I’d never hear of the violette liqueur and I love new culinary experiences.

The drink settled into the back of my mind until the book Eat Your Roses reminded me that the violets were edible.

And, I’m compelled to make everything I can from scratch. At least once. Consider, in my 20s I thought about raising chickens so I could control the quality of my chicken stock, but I couldn’t decide what would come first – the chicken or the egg.

Laugh if you must, but the thought crossed my mind.

So, why not make crème de violette?

Problem was my obsession started in February, after a foraging trip through the mountains surrounding Asheville, N.C. Unable to find fresh violets in late winter, I bought the purple liqueur. For the budget-conscious, it comes in a classy package and, again, costs less than buying your own packaging and making it.

But that wasn’t the point. I grew up in a family where from-scratch food was de rigueur. Store-bought bread? Verboten.

20160326_155718So, when on Easter 2016, I found violets growing in my boyfriend’s yard, it was time. When you eat (and drink) with the seasons you act before the window closes. I was on a mission.

It didn’t take long to realize accumulating enough of these little fairy blossoms was going to be onerous. So, I made like Tom Sawyer and turned it into a game with my boyfriend’s grandchildren. With the help of four girls we lightly filled half of a quart mason jar.

The glass jar was a delightful way to collect because we were ch20160326_155708armed by the way the sun illuminated the delicate petals through the glass and the perfume was a promise of things to come.

I was almost reluctant to cover the vibrant violets with vodka. For a few seconds at least. Glug, glug, glug and the violets were giving up their soul to the spirit.

20160329_181527_001After marinating (macerating?) overnight the purple leached into the tasteless liquor. And, the flavor went with it, creating an almost berry-like balm. I knew because I’d sample every few hours. I call that quality control.

By day three, when the flowers were nearly colorless I strained the fledgling liqueur into another mason jar spilling precious drops onto the counter. I refrained from licking the liquid straight from the granite. It wasn’t five o’clock somewhere. Yet.

The sketchy instructions I’d found on the internet claimed their infusion was a light lilac. Mine was, but it oxidized to a light gold after a few days.  How could I improve the coloring? The purist in me resisted food coloring, but I may give in. Again, we eat first with our eyes.

I decided to make another batch and another and another. I tried six different vodkas. Not to belabor the details, but the flavors were all slightly different. I preferred the barely there hint of fruit from Ciroc vodka – made from grapes – as it married with the violets.  My second choice was Kamchatka, a lower-priced vodka.

Next step? Adding an equal part simple syrup.

Then, shake and serve over ice, splashed into bubbly or crafted into a cocktail.


NOTE: Simple syrup is a mixture of equal parts sugar and water, simmered until sugar is dissolved. After cooling I added it to my violette infusion.

Herb-Inspired Mother’s Day Gifts

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America
20160418_122630One of my favorite presents is a vintage, red glass punch bowl with 24 matching cups. It’s simple and classic. And, red. My favorite color.
I love it. Not just for its utility and aesthetics, but for its symbolism. It represents listening. You see, Gary-the-boyfriend, saw me studying it through the antique store window. He paid attention. He “heard’ that I liked it. It was one of the few times in life I received a gift that I wanted, not what someone wanted to give me.

That’s a rare happening. How often do we give the gift someone wants? Mother’s Day is an opportunity to do that. And, if my sons are listening (or reading this), anything herbal would make me happy.

20160315_135105Maybe your mom is an herb aficionado and, like me, would like something representational. Or, better yet, a combination of thyme and time.

Consider the following …

  • A trip to a garden center. Together
  • A few hours weeding. Together
  • An adventure to gather alpaca poop. (A great soil amendment.)Together.
  • A visit to a public garden. Or promise of monthly dates. Together.
  • Membership to The Herb Society of America. Or two.

These can always be combined with herb-themed jewelry, gift certificates, shiny shovels, garden books.

Mom and iAs for my mom, I’ll go to her church because it touches her. We’ll have brunch – maybe an herb-spiked omelet — on her mom’s china. Then, we can hit the garden center. Back home, I’ll help her with a container garden or maybe an herb-inspired fairy garden.

What are you doing for your mom on Mother’s Day?

Herb of the Month: We Be Chiven’

Herb of the Month: We Be Chiven’

By Rickie Wilson, Guest Author

Garlic chivesVincent van Gogh paid homage to a wonderfully versatile herb in his 1887 oil painting entitled “Flowerpot with Chives.”

Whether you call the plant gow choy, ku ts’ai, nira, cuchay oriental garlic or Chinese chives, April 2016 Herb of the Month — garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) — has myriad 10uses.

DESCRIPTION:  Garlic chives, unlike thin, tubular common chives, are strap-like. In contrast, they are firm and light green in color. The flavor and fragrance of this herb is more like mild garlic than onion-y chive.  The plant produces small white, star-shaped flowers which grow in loose bunches, on stalks much taller than the leaves. Both the leaves and flowers of the plant are edible. While most species of garlic chives do not produce bulbs, the few that do produce edible bulbs.  Although the herb originated in parts of Mongolia, Siberia and Northern China, it can now be found throughout Europe. Garlic chives grow wild and abundantly in parts of Ohio, Illinois, Alabama, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Arkansas, California and Michigan.  Because of aggressive growth and readily available seeds/seedlings, it is believed to have migrated to many other parts of the north.

CULTIVATION: The herb grows well in damp soil but prefers well-drained, organic soil. The plant grows best in total sunlight and will not tolerate shade. Garlic chives usually repel insect invasion but must be protected from disease and fungi which can occur if they are too congested and saturated with water.

 CULINARY USES: The leaves are wonderful when infused into butters and cheeses. They are used to flavor sauces, vegetables, meat, poultry, egg dishes, soups and salads. The herb is a tasty addition to seafood, especially, salmon, caviar and oysters.  Garlic chives are used prolifically in Asian cooking. In Asian countries the fresh Garlic chive leaves are often fried with vegetables and meat. Chinese dumpling of pork, egg and shrimp are flavored with the leaves.  In Northeastern Indian cuisine the herb is used as a substitute for onion and garlic and is called maroi nakupi. The flowers should be picked fresh for use. It is best to use fresh leaves as well.  However the leaves may be frozen in ice cubes if necessary. Never dry this herb for storage as it will lose its flavor and color.

Michael Michaud Talks about His Herb Jewelry

Michael Michaud Talks about His Herb Jewelry

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

7238BZIn the early 1970s, when the late President Richard Nixon was bugging the Watergate, Michael Michaud started his jewelry career. Known, today, for his cast botanical jewelry, including an extensive herb collection, Michaud, then, pounded a sterling silver fork into a bracelet for his girlfriend.

Now, he works with real plants to develop molds. His copies of nature reflect the beauty and detail of the natural world. We caught up with him recently to learn a bit more about his Four Seasons Jewelry and Table Art.

Among his herb pieces are basil, lavender, mallow, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme.

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Napkin Rings from the Table Art Collection

Where did the original inspiration come from?

A handful of grapes. I was managing a jewelry casting operation in the 90’s when one of my assistants asked me if I could cast the grapes she was eating. One idea led to another through experimenting with casting organic elements.

What was your first piece of herb jewelry?

The first herb I cast was the rosemary. The texture and shape allowed it to be easily interpreted into jewelry.

What are you most proud of?

I haven’t designed my favorite collection yet. However, I am most proud of the cherry and scallion pins that were featured in former secretary of state Madeline Albright’s 2009 book Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box.

How do you keep fresh? Keep yourself inspired? How often do you design new pieces?

Nature offers so many inspirations; it’s easy to keep moving forward. We are constantly designing new collections from different demographics all over the globe.

Do you still design all pieces? Are they made in the US?

I have my hands on every piece that leaves the studio. However, in the design process it is important to get input from others and collaborate in order to stay current. I have an assistant designer who helps with that. I still sit at the bench every day and continue to make each component by hand. All of our production is done in New York, but can be purchased all over the world. We sell to a variety of places such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Victoria and Albert museum, and galleries all over the United States, Europe, China and Japan.

Do you have a favorite herb jeweler?


HSA Educates with Four Member Newsletters

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Vol20_SpringNewsletter_CvrThe Herb Society of America keeps members informed with 14 to 16 newsletters each year. HSA members have the option of instant newsletter delivery via email, which they can read online or print. For those who prefer printed newsletters, a subscription is available for an annual price.

“Timely communication is essential for a group with members spread around the United States,” says Executive Director Katrinka Morgan “The newsletters address information that’s important to members. This includes organizational information, a calendar of events, what’s new and herb news from the natural world.”

“These publications support our mission to promote knowledge, use and delight of herbs through educational programs, research and sharing experience of its members with the community,” says Katrinka. Anyone with an interest in herbs can join HSA to receive this educational benefit.

  • The National Newsletter, published four times per year, includes a message from the HSA President, a calendar of events by district, special articles about herbs or herb-related topics and what’s new with HSA.
  • District Newsletter – three times per year – contains news from the District Membership delegate, local district as well as national news, and unit updates from around the district.
  • Herbal Bytes e-mail newsletter is sent to members four times per year. Herbal Bytes is a short, quick newsletter sharing the latest information on herbs and HAS. An HSA business member spotlight and the Executive Director message are always included.
  • The Leaf, a library newsletter — three times annually – tells what’s new in the library.
  • GreenBridges Newsletter – twice yearly — is newly created to support GreenBridges members by sharing information and working toward a more sustainable gardening style.

Vol19_FallNewsletter_Cvr (1)All newsletters can be accessed in the Members-Only section of HSA’s website.

Six Reasons to Read The Culinary Herbal

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

The Culinary Herbal bookAn herb gardener and enthusiast for nearly 30 years, it’s been a while since I’ve met an herbal reference I couldn’t live without. Well, I just met one:  The Culinary Herbal, Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs (Timber Press, 2016, $27.50) by Susan Belsinger & Arthur O. Tucker. Both are members of HSA.

The book is  a guide, not a cookbook. With carefully chosen words, and straightforward pictures by Shawn Linehan, it sates the appetite for information. You don’t walk away hungry for more or overwhelmed by too much.

Six reasons to add The Culinary Herbal to your library include

  • It discusses common and uncommon herbs. For example, the first listing is “ajowan.” The seeds smell/taste of thyme and are used in savory Indian dishes.
  • It covers food uses. About lemon verbena the authors write “[the leaves] make a delightful syrup. Extracts and tinctures are used in the formulations of liqueurs. They can also be made into an aromatic paste for baked goods.”
  • It explores taste like a good wine catalog. Violas or Johnny-jump-ups “have pleasingly mild sweet tastes like baby lettuce. Some of them have a slight, mild hint of wintergreen, and a few bring bubblegum to mind.” 
  • It notes growing information. Atop the page for each herb is a summary of ideal conditions. French Tarragon prefers full sun in well-drained soil of a 6 to 6.5 pH. 
  • It cautions of dangers. Did you know that green, unripe elderberries are poisonous? 
  • It offers lush, definitive photography. Relevant photos of each herb show essential parts such as leaves, flowers, fruit, seed, roots.

The only thing missing is a spreadsheet so I don’t have to flip pages to find like-herbs for my shade garden with dry soil, etc. Then, again, the growing information is a top each listing. So, flipping page by page is simple enough.

What’s your favorite herb reference book?




Bring Your Credit Card to Asheville’s River Arts District

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

If you’re one of the 250-plus HSA members attending the 2016 Annual Meeting, April 29, in Asheville, N.C., bring your credit card. The River Arts District has inspiring art you’ll want to take home.

For me it was a watermelon tourmaline ring. The ring was Asheville - ringsynchronicity. I’ve wanted a watermelon tourmaline ring for 20 years. Every now and then I’d visit NEOMA rock shop in Northeast Ohio lusting after slices of the pink and green stone. I’d make
hints to my ex-husband. (Maybe that’s why he’s an ex; he couldn’t hear me.)

Anyway, I could never bring together beauty and budget.

Just two weeks before my trip to Asheville, I’d renewed my quest, searching for the perfect piece. I must have wasted an hour drooling. But nothing was quite me.

Asheville artistEureka! I stumbled into Bluebird Designs studio in Asheville and knew I couldn’t leave without the chunky sterling silver and gemstone ring.

For your own shopping epiphany,  you must get a River Arts District guide. Peruse online, but you’ll save printer ink if you pick up one in town.

Know that 200 artists are housed in a string of 22 converted industrial and historical buildings on a one-mile stretch along the French Broad River. This is not a mall, but a walking or driving tour. You may go by foot and pick up your art later. Or even have it shipped home. We drove because I’d recently had foot surgery.Asheville RAD

You’ll find notable artists like Matt Toomey making sculptural art baskets and hand-dyed, felted wearables at Dyed in the Wool Designs.  And those are just a tease.

The studio guide will help you decide which buildings hold the art medium/artists you’re most interested in. And, that will help you make the best use of your time. NOTE: Some studios require climbing stairs

Know that, true to their reputation, artists may keep funky hours. You’re most likely to find them in their studios on weekends.

Tell us about your favorite Asheville artist.