Violets are Delicious

Violets are Delicious

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America

violet bouquetOne of the loveliest flowers of spring is the Viola odorata or as it is commonly referred to, the “Sweet violet.” Violets have been used in herbal healing remedies for centuries, in fact St. Hildegard of Bingen, the famous 12th century German mystic and healer, was said to have made a healing salve of violet juice, olive oil, and goat tallow for its use as a possible anti-bacterial.

I use violets whenever I can for their healing virtues, and they are also an absolutely delicious ingredient in salads, drinks, and desserts. Back in the day, violet flowers, and leaves mixed into salads were one of my favorite spring remedies for pre-menstrual melancholy. When chopped liberally into extra virgin olive oil with some fresh comfrey leaves, they make a poultice that can soothe rashes , irritations, sore muscles, and tender breasts.

When infused into a simple syrup they enliven fresh lemonade or an elegant champagne cocktail. You can also use a delightful crème de violette in place of the syrup. If you are going to make a lavender lemonade, freeze some violet flowers into ice cubes to use in your glass. There’s really nothing prettier.

When I was 23, I met Jim and, shortly after we married, we bought a small farm in Burton, Ohio, complete with a century home, small barn, and several acres of unspoiled land. It was nestled on a little bit of hillside with an artesian spring that bubbled up by a little oak grove, providing me with fresh watercress whenever I desired.

We named the farm “Windesphere,” the place on earth where the winds and waters meet. We moved in that December and I’ll never forget that first spring. As the snow thawed, I began to see treasures in the gardens. First were the snowdrops that dotted the hillside like a blanket of down and the soft catkins of the pussy willows. Next flowering buds started to appear everywhere. I found a quince bush and several heirloom apple trees and a blackberry grove. field of violets

Then there were the violets. I’ll never forget when I found them. It was on one of those warm, early spring days when you’ve just shed your coat and begun to think that maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to put away your long underwear for a bit. I decided that it was a good day to go for a walk in the back just to see what was budding. We had a beautiful back porch made of fieldstone and the steps that went towards the back yard were hand hewn and lovely. As I walked, I began to notice the fragrance…something just a bit sweet and very green.

When the fragrance was so strong that I couldn’t ignore it, I looked down. In the grass all around me were the most beautiful little violets in shades of deep purple, lilac, and white. The smell was intoxicating. Over the years I picked them for little bouquets, crystallized them for desserts and made them into massage oils, tinctures, vinegars, and syrups. They appeared every spring, growing more abundant every year. I will always remember my son Alex lying face down in a huge patch of them and whispering for me to join him and the violet fairies.

IMG_7820In honor of all these memories I’ve made a violet ice cream with a lovely Fortnum and Mason tea from England that features roses and violets. I’ve also added some of my thick and sticky homemade blackberry jam just to gild the lily. This ice cream is rich, creamy and just perfect for spring. See the recipe below.

If you’ve never had them, crystallized violets are absolutely beautiful, sparkling little jewels and much better than candy. I became addicted the first time my sister brought these treasures home from Paris. Fortunately for me, they are so easy to make. All you need are fresh violets, beaten egg white (not quite frothy), superfine sugar and a soft, sable paintbrush.

Be certain to harvest your blooms from areas that haven’t been touched with pesticides or animals because you will not be rinsing them. Paths through the woods are usually the perfect place to find them.

After harvest, separate flowers from the stems. Then, dip your paintbrush into the egg white and gently apply it — very lightly — to the violet. Cover the entire flower or petal. Then turn the violet upside down, and while holding it over a plate, sprinkle with the superfine sugar to coat it evenly. Place each violet on a tray lined with parchment and allow to completely dry. You can hasten the process a bit by putting the tray into a 150-degree oven with the door left ajar or you can simply leave them in the oven with the light left on overnight. Whatever you do they won’t be around for long because they are absolutely delicious. Once completely dry store for up to six months in an airtight jar.

IMG_7819VIOLET ICE CREAM

1 pint whipping cream
2 cups sweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons crème de violette
1/4 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
3/4 cup Fortnum and Mason Rose and Violet Tea
4 ounces Ghirardelli white chocolate baking bar
4 tablespoons candied violets, (handmade or purchased)
3 tablespoons blackberry Jam
2 organic egg yolks

Combine the cream and coconut milk in a saucepan and bring to a shallow boil. Whisk in the honey, crème de violette and vanilla, then turn off the heat. Add the loose tea and let it infuse for at least 15 minutes stirring occasionally. When the flavor is as bright as you want it to be, strain the milk mixture through a fine mesh strainer and press the tea through the strainer to extract the maximum essence. It will still be quite warm. Put the milk /cream mixture into a high-speed blender and add the chocolate, candied violets and jam. Turn the blender on and adjust to one of the highest settings. Add the egg yolks and blend for a minute or two.

Pour the custard blend into a dish suitable for freezing or if you¹re lucky enough to have an ice cream maker use that. Freeze until solid, scoop into pretty bowls or glasses, garnish with candied violets, a light shortbread cookie and enjoy.

This recipe will easily serve about 6 reasonable people or two very greedy ones…you decide!
Note: Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs may increase the risk of foodborne illness.

Herb Cook Gift-Giving Idea: Drying Rack

I’ve asked five blog contributors to share their favorite herb-related gift ideas.  HSA’s blog will be running one per day during the first week of December. – Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster

By Mary Nell Jackson, HSA Member

herb drying rack 2Drying my herbal harvest often takes over my home. No more eating on the dining room table because baskets of herbs are gathered en masse; guest beds hold large, drying baskets.

A few months ago on a leisurely day I settled in to check out my Instagram  account and as I scrolled, up popped a photo of a hanging black mesh, tiered,  cylinder herb-drying rack filled with a herbal harvest.  The source was not given but from that moment on I was hooked on finding my own drying rack.

I googled Amazon and to my delight up popped many choices of mesh drying racks.

I researched each choice for my needs and decided on a four-tiered model with zipper closures. A week later my holy basil and passion vine blossoms had a perfect place to dry and my dining table and guest beds were swept free of drying baskets.

I hung my cylinder drying rack in an out-of-the-way corner in an entry porch room that usually stays cooler year around; perfect place to dry my herbs and a great place to check on them as I come and go about my day.

I’ve gifted myself and my herb gardening friend for her birthday; we both are smitten.  I can’t think of a better holiday gift to give an herb gardener, wish I had been introduced to this nifty drying rack 20 years ago perhaps my husband would have welcomed my herbal harvest!

Gift giving contest

Herbal Kitchen Gift-Giving: A Large Stainless Bowl

I’ve asked five blog contributors to share their favorite herb-related gift ideas.  HSA’s blog will be running one per day during the first week of December.– Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster

By Peggy Riccio, member, Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America

stainless-steel-bowl.jpgWhen I was studying horticulture at Virginia Tech, I was required to complete an internship. I spent the summer with a young married couple on a Maryland farm. The land came from the husband’s side of the family and the wife, armed with her masters in horticulture from Virginia Tech, was determined to turn it into a successful produce farm. Although they had help from the local high school kids, I was their first college intern.

At the end of the summer, they thanked me by giving me a large metal bowl. Thirty-six years later, they have a very successful produce farm and I use this bowl almost every week. It is the perfect size and weight for washing herbs. Although I do not spray my herbs, I always soak them in cold water after I cut them. Inevitably, something crawls out.

The bowl is heavy enough to be able hold the weight of the water and large enough for handfuls of green herbs. I have also learned that cheap plastic bowls are flimsy and collapse under the weight of the water. To anyone growing herbs, I recommend purchasing a large metal bowl to wash your herbs regardless if you spray or not.

Gift giving contest

Author Peggy Riccio gardens in a typical suburban Northern Virginia home. She graduated from Virginia Tech with a horticulture degree and has been involved in horticultural communications for more than 20 years. Currently, she is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America. Riccio produces pegplant.com, a local gardening website for the Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC metro area. Pegplant offers local gardening news, resources, and information about gardening, gardens, and plants.

 

 

 

 

 

Herb Potions Enhance Your Love Life

Making Love Potions

Eye of newt, and toe of frog, 
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog, 
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, 
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,— 
For a charm of powerful trouble, 
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. 

Macbeth, Shakespeare

If you could create a magic potion, what would that elixir do? Vanquish your enemies? Improve your love life?

Let’s go with the latter, enhance your love life. Curl up with Stephanie L. Tourles’s  book  Making Love Potions, 64 All-Natural Recipes for Irresistible Herbal Aphrodisiacs  and learn love life elixirs.

Stephanie Tourles

Both playful and serious, Tourles applies science to selecting arousing aromas. She writes, “In clinical studies performed in the 1990s at the Chicago-based Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Dr. Alan R. Hirsch examined the degree to which various scents can trigger sexual arousal in men and women as measured by an increase in blood flow to the sexual organs.”

While individual history and experience can certainly skew results, the researchers found that women were most aroused by the aroma-combination of Good-and-Plenty candy and cucumber. Meanwhile, men preferred a lavender-pumpkin-pie blend. Don’t ask how they determined that or why those mixtures because Tourles doesn’t say. But, Thanksgiving dessert could make for an interesting nap.

Tourles used the research to formulate several recipes for body powder, including one scented with, yup, pumpkin spice and another with lavender. I’m thinking “lavender.”

The book continues with potions for aromatic baths, massage oils, herbal tonics and edible body butters.  Get energized with a ginseng wine or a tingly mint body honey. Chapter 8, Aphrodite’s  Apothecary is a helpful digest of herbs and ingredients.

With 64 recipes, there’s bound to be a magic potion for everyone.

 

 

 

 

Make Herbal Lollipops for Gift Giving

Make Herbal Lollipops for Gift Giving

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

Every Christmas I craft gifts for family and friends. In previous years I’ve made scarves, herbal sachets, infused liqueurs, jams and jellies. This year, my family and friends are getting colorful, handcrafted lollipop bouquets.  With herbal flavors

20171217_094512It started with a Liquor Lollipop book I found at Horizontal Books in Cleveland.  I was reading it in bed one night in October when the idea of bourbon lollipops got stuck in my brain.

I made them. They were good. And the Great Lollipop Project began.

Playing with sugars was sweet. I got stuck on the process. Soon, I was tweaking the basic recipe and adding herbal influences. More than 300 lollipops later I’m sharing what I learned.

20171217_094142-e1513522917422.jpgWhile Lorann brand drams are typical flavoring choices, I also found flavor emulsions at Home Goods and Joann stores.  I used lavender oil (the tiniest amount) and rosewater. Even with standard flavors I did a little twist. I grated nutmeg onto eggnog suckers. I created cordial flavor mixing chocolate, cherry and vanilla.  I needed to infuse my creativity into these lollipops.

After a bit, I had dozens of lollipops and  wanted to share them with everyone I knew. Thus, Christmas gifts. To impress recipients (and feed my ego) I wanted credit for new experiences. So, I dug back into the Liquor Lollipop book with herbs, not spirits, in mind.

My thought was to infuse the spirit with herbal goodness, then make the lollipop. The alcohol would carry the flavor. And, in most cases it worked.  I made lemon thyme, blackberry sage, herbal tea and other unique flavors.

Here’s what I learned

  • 20171217_094454Choose silicon molds. I learned that the hard way. They release the candy every time. They cost a little more, but reduce frustration.
  • Add flavoring and coloring last. They may burn or cook off if added while cooking.
  • Herbal oils are potent, use small amounts.
  • Sprinkle in ground chile pepper – chipotle-chocolate, watermelon-jalapeno – when using, at the very end.
  • Infuse vodka/bourbon/others with herbs overnight.
  • Use only true spirits. Flavored or sweetener-enhanced liqueurs are unpredictable and may burn.
  • Temperature rises quickly after 260 F. I putter around the kitchen while cooking the syrup, until 260 F. Then, the syrup needs close babysitting.
  • Color lollipops for edible appeal.
  • Be willing to fail. Improvisation sometimes fails. Trash bad results and move on.

 

BASIC RECIPE

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup liquor, infused
  •  3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon infused liquor OR other flavoring
  • Coloring

Prepare molds with sticks.

Place sugar and first three liquids into heavy-bottom sauce pan. Boil until temperature reaches 260 F. Then, continue to boil, watching closely until 300 F. Remove from heat. Stir in flavoring and coloring.

Working quickly and carefully, pour into prepared molds. Wait at least 20 minutes until set.

Remove, wrap in small bags and secure with twist tie.

20171217_094058MORE IDEAS … For the holiday add crushed candy canes (mint) to the molds before adding mint- or chocolate-flavored candy … Instead of herbs, add chile pepper powder to molds and cover with hot candy … Use herb-fruit combinations like blackberry sage … Enhance lemon-thyme infusion with lemon flavoring … Sprinkle dried herbs or fruit into molds and cover with hot candy … Substitute rosewater for water. Add dried rose petals to molds.

RESOURCES … In addition to the garden, craft shops and herb suppliers consider

 

 

 

Flowers: Are You What You Eat?

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not long ago I threw a Champagne Garden Party. Driven to offer only elegant hors de oeuvres matched to bubbles, I made everything myself. (Call me a control freak or food snob. I can handle the labels.)

One of my favorite dishes was a romaine salad with homemade Champagne vinaigrette.  The best part? Deep purple pansies contrasting bright red strawberries. This was a hit of the party. After all, you eat with your eyes first.

The pansies came from my gardens. I knew they were organic and safe. While their flavor was subtle, their aesthetic was undeniable.

For that party I only needed a handful of flowers. Imagine duplicating this on a large scale for a wedding or convention. To do so, you’ll have to start planning your flower garden now.  And, cross your fingers for the right weather and perfect timing of blooms.

Edible flowers angelicaOr you can order them from several companies on the web. Marx Foods , for example, offers edible flowers in bulk, shipped FedEx overnight for freshness.

In-house food writer, Matthew Johnson, says, “Herb Blossoms are an integral seasoning. .”

Both Matthew and Kim Brauer, the culinary concierge, offer the following suggestions:

  • Chive Blossoms make lovely compound butter and are fantastic on eggs.
  • Garlic Flowers add flavor and looks.
  • Fennel Flowers are lovely on entrees like pork tenderloin and fish, or as a replacement for tarragon.
  • Arugula Blossoms are delicate and very tasty in a low-acidity salad (not too much vinegar) .

Edible flowers borage“We’ve seen Herb Blossoms used as sticks as cocktail stirrer/garnish,” says Kim. “For example, rosemary blossoms add something extra to a rosemary martini or bloody Mary. Fennel Flowers are good in a bloody Mary or chili martini. Or you can freeze them in ice cubes – made with boiled distilled water for clarity — for use in cocktails.”

A chart of edible flowers and their flavors makes menu planning easier.

A search for other edible flower purveyors turns up Gourmet Sweet Botanicals, and Melissa’s. I’ve also found organic edible flowers with herbs in my grocer’s produce case.

DISCLAIMER: Many flower varieties are unsafe to eat. Most often flowers found in stores were grown to be looked at, not eaten. And so, they have likely been sprayed or grown with chemicals that may be unsafe to consume. Edible flowers from specialty suppliers have been selected for color, appearance, AND are grown to be safe for human consumption.

 

Check Out Penzeys for Herbs and Philosophy

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

1887857506When snow blankets the landscape in Northeast Ohio, Deb McIver brushes it aside to harvest thyme. When other herbs are needed in those dark days, she turns to Penzeys for quality dried herbs. (And spices.) Of all the herb companies, Penzeys is her favorite.

Deb is a professional garden designer. She incorporates herbs into her work.

“I discovered Penzeys herbs and spices in the late 1980s when my brother Craig gifted me the company’s herb blends,” says Deb. “And, when we visited Craig and his family near the original store, we would walk two blocks for even more.”  Today, the company operates stores in foodie cities around the country. In fact, it operates two in Northeast Ohio.

Not long after that, Deb found the catalog. And, like many who stumble on the company, she became a disciple. “I have always ordered all my herbs, spices, cocoa, and vanilla from them. My husband and I have given their products as gifts for Christmas, weddings, showers and housewarmings. I have turned many people on to the power of Penzeys.”

Of course Deb dries what herbs she can, but must turn to Penzeys for those either not grown in her area or those difficult to find. From them she buys Mexican oregano, cumin, sumac, bay, and a variety of chilies. Her chili collection includes smoked, sweet, and half-sharp paprika; whole and ground chipotle and ancho peppers; and dried Aleppo peppers. (Chilies were HSA’s Herb of the Month in January)

“I have a shoe box of dried chilies, and three lazy-susans filled with herbs and spices,” she notes.

Deb has found recipes in the catalogs to be successful and tasty. “I love reading stories in the magazine, the stories of the unique people who are featured.”

Those stories represent a philosophy owner Bill Penzey summarizes in the company’s first cookbook “How We Became One.” He writes:

“Cooking is ultimately an act of kindness. It may seem like a small thing, but I believe it is the biggest thing out there. People everywhere making an effort to do nice things for others … And the wonderful thing is that this desire to do for others is not the sole possession of any one group or organization. The kindness of cooking transcends all. It does not happen in just one race, one religion, orientation one political party or even one shoe size. … It is the desire to do for those around us that binds us together. It is the one piece we share.”

Who else could make cooking and herbs sound so sacred?


The blog for The Herb Society of America is written by members, staff and guest authors, to promote herb appreciation from cultivation and use to learning and research. It supports the Herb Society’s goals to protect botanical heritage, steward scientific diversity and promote personal enjoyment. Membership is open to individuals and businesses. 

 

Do you have a favorite source of herbs? Tell us more in the comments below.