Weeds or Wild Craft: What to Do with Your Yard
Welcome to my yard. I don’t believe in lawn maintenance. Strike that, I believe in periodically giving my lawn a haircut so I don’t deal with a wilderness of tall grass where copperheads lurk unseen. Aside from that, my lawn grows wild. No pesticides, no weedkiller, no demon Monsanto shenanigans. Maybe I’ll halfheartedly throw around some grass seed and see what happens.
In the springtime, like now, my lawn overflows with violets and dandelions. While many members of society look at these flowers and scream “Weeds!”, I see only resources. Dandelion greens are excellent companions to the usual lettuces in a salad, and violets are, in fact, also edible. Used in teas by herbalists or on cakes by bakers, violets add a pretty pop without an overwhelming flavor.
While I’ve always been interested in botanicals, my knowledge subsisted of academic facts, not practical workings. This year, I sought to change that. I’m working on my wild crafting. I’m learning how to grow and care for herbs by expanding my gardens and to preserve them by drying or creating tinctures. Until I have time to attend a practical course, I’m working through the online curriculum of the Wild Ginger Community Herbal Center. I’ve already learned so much, and I’m ready to put it to use.
Violets and Vodka -A Short Term Tincture
Step 1: Collect your violet flowers. As with all wild herb gathering, please be very sure you’re correctly identifying your herbs. Mistakes can range from uncomfortable to deadly. My yard is filled with the common blue violet (Viola sororia) which is indeed the edible sort. I walked out the door, gathering basket in hand, and after about 20 minutes of sitting on the ground gathering flowers, I had what I needed.
I’m a scientist so I’m incapable of not performing experiments when trying something new. I knew from the decorated cakes I’ve seen that the entire violet is edible. This includes the green budded base of the flower and stems. Leaves are also edible, the only portion of the violet you should NOT eat is the roots. Though edible, the bud with its green stems surely contained the bitter compounds, standard for almost all greens. I wanted to see what would happen when I made a tincture of the full violet flowers versus a tincture of just the flower petals.
It was time consuming to separate the petals from the stems for half my batch, but relatively easy. Pinch the green base while pulling the petals up and away until the petal separates.
Step 2: Fill your container with herb is easy provided you didn’t chose the experimental route I did. As I learned in the Wild Ginger course, when using fresh herbs, you fill the container completely with the fresh herb. If using dried herbs, fill the container only halfway with herb. With my separated batches of flowers and petals, I filled my two glass jars. My pantry is filled with saved glass jars from jellies and sauces. If you don’t have your own collection of miscellaneous glassware, purchasing a set of mason jars is recommended. Mason jars allow you to monitor your progress and seal tightly to prevent bacteria or contaminants from entering your extraction while it soaks.
Step 3: Cover your herbs in alcohol. I use vodka to capture the full essence of the herb, but you can use brandy or any other alcohol 80 proof and above. Sometimes it’s nice to have a sweeter brandy combined with bitter herbs. Whether you used fresh or dried herb, fill the container to the brim. Shake to ensure all of the herb is covered. This prevents molding on the exposed portion as a “just in case”.
If I were making a real tincture, at this point I would let the herb sit for 4-6 weeks. However, violets are very fragile compounds. With thin petals and lots of surface area, they wilt within one day even when not immersed in a vodka bath. Heartier herbs with sturdy cell walls will take longer to give up their compounds and should sit the full wait times. Since this was only a short term experiment to see what happened, I let my herbs sit for only two days.
Violet Vodka-The Results
As I suspected. two days was more than enough for the violet petals to soak. I was delightfully surprised by the difference produced in the two batches. Ever the pessimist, I’d expected there to be little to no color difference meaning my meticulous plucking was for naught. If you’re looking for impactful color, the process of separating petal only seems to be the way to go. Remember, the fresh herbs added occupied roughly the same volume of space. But the petals only version radiates a real violet while the full flower mixture produces only a pale purple.
Step 4: Strain out the the flowers. Since the flowers and petals were relatively bulky, I was able to use a simple mesh strainer. If you’re a stickler, place a cheese cloth or light muslin cloth in the strainer to squeeze out all the vodka you can
The flavor? Well, remember how I said violets don’t have much flavor, that’s why they’re ideal for cakes? Well that’s the case here too. Other than a whiff of violet scent and a slight twinge of sweetness, the vodka tastes like vodka. But the pretty purple color does make for a fun cocktail filler. If you’re lucky, a slight purple hue will persist when you mix your drink as for the recipe below.
- 2 oz Violet Infused Vodka
- 1/2 oz Lemon Juice
- 1/2 oz Simple Syrup
- 2 oz Bubbly
Combine vodka, lemon juice, and simple syrup until thoroughly mixed, Pour in glass to top with bubbly and lemon garnish.