How to Make Violet Facial Toner

violet9It’s spring here in the Mid-Altantic, and with it comes violets! In the past, I have posted recipes using these delicate purple flowers, including violet syrup and violet cordial. Besides being pretty, tasty and nutritious, violets also make a wonderful ingredient in natural skin care.

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They are moisturizing, toning, antiseptic, and healing. And violets contain significant amounts of mucilage that help soothe the skin, reduce inflammation, redness, and sooth irritated tissue. Violet flowers and leaves are excellent for dry, sensitive skin. Following is a recipe for violet facial toner, which you can make with either Apple Cider Vinegar or Witch Hazel.

Apple Cider Vinegar makes a great facial wash and toner, since it is great at removing excess oils and helps balance the pH levels. It has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties and also contains alpha hydroxy acids, which help remove dead skin cells, resulting in a healthier-looking complexion.

Witch Hazel has astringent, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and makes a great facial toner, even by itself, for all skin types. Be sure to use a true Witch Hazel extract, which contains mostly Witch Hazel and less than 20% alcohol.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (1 quart) distilled water
  • 1 cup violet flowers and leaves
  • 1 cup organic apple cider vinegar or organic witch hazel
  • Lavender essential oil (optional)

violet2Boil the water. Then make an infusion by pouring the water over the violet flowers and leaves in a glass or ceramic container. Cover and let stand for 1 hour (the closed jar keeps the water-soluble vitamins from escaping in the steam).  Strain out the flowers and you will have a beautiful purplish-blue liquid.

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Combine the violet infusion with the vinegar or witch hazel. Pour into sterilized bottles and store in a cool, dry place. The vinegar and witch hazel act as natural preservatives, so this mixture will last quite a while.

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Use this cleansing, pH-balancing, restoring toner after washing your face.  Apply with clean sterile cotton balls or pour a small amount in your hand and splash on, avoiding your eyes.

Both versions have mild, pleasant scents, but if you’d like something a little more flowery, you can add a few drops of lavender essential oil.

Jewelweed

While hiking in the mountains recently, I came across several patches of Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). The plants were lush, and several were about 4 feet high. I carefully picked off about two cups of leaves, stems and flowers, with the idea that I would create an infusion from them.

The plant gets its name from its leaves’ strange characteristic of resisting water — if you pour it on the leaves, the water simply beads up in balls that look like little crystal gems.

One of the medical constituents of jewel weed is Lawsone, which has  antihistamine and anti-inflammatory activity. I experienced the medicinal power of jewelweed several years ago while on a guided nature walk. I accidentally brushed against stinging nettle with my bare calf, which instantly resulted in extreme stinging pain and a raised, burning rash. The woman guiding us pointed out some jewel weed growing next to the nettle and instructed me to grab a bunch, smash it into a ball and rub it against the inflammation. It was miraculous how quickly it alleviated the pain. And the swelling went away just as quickly.

I have since read that it works equally well for insect stings and poison ivy. It also is effective in preventing poison ivy rash if rubbed on immediately after exposure to the poison ivy.

For an instant cure, you can just crush up a bunch of leaves, stems and flowers until they become juicy, then apply the poultice to the affected area. Or you can make an herbal infusion.

I made an infusion of the leaves, stems and flowers and used it to make jewel weed and calendula soap. It will be fully cured and ready for sale by the next Ballston Arts & Crafts Market, scheduled for August 14!

How to Make a Skin-Nourishing Herbal Salve

If you have a yard, chances are you are growing the ingredients for a skin soothing herbal infusion without even trying! Plantain (Plantago major) is considered a weed, but it also contains natural constituents that are wonderful for your skin. Violet (Viola odorata) leaves are in the same category (not to mention that the flowers are delicious in salads or syrups!).

Violet is moisturizing, toning, healing, and great for sore nipples. Plantain is good for eczema, acne, minor cuts, stings, insect bites, poison ivy itch, and diaper rash.

The basis of a skin-nourishing herbal salve is an herbal oil infusion. Gather about 4 cups of plantain and violet leaves, making sure to choose ones that are fresh and green looking, with no major brown spots, rotten areas, or major insect damage. And make sure that they have not been sprayed with chemicals of any kind.

Rinse the leaves in cold water to remove any dirt, bugs, etc. Drain thoroughly, then gently pat the leaves to remove excess water.

Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at the lowest temperature for a couple of hours, until the leaves are dry and crispy.

Put the dried leaves into a glass quart-sized jar, then fill to the top with olive oil (preferably organic). Use a chopstick or blunt knife to poke the leaves down into the oil and release any air bubbles. Place a piece of waxed paper over the top of the jar and screw the top on tightly. Label it with the date.

Keep the jar in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks. It’s a good idea to place a dish under the jar in case of leakage. Turn the jar over from time to time to move the oil through the herbs.

Strain the oil through a sieve, lined with cheesecloth, into a glass measuring cup or top of a double boiler, squeezing out any last bits of oil from the herbs. You can throw the cheesecloth and drained herbs into your compost pile.

Add 1-½ tablespoons of natural beeswax for each ounce of oil (I used unbleached beeswax pastilles). Set the glass measuring cup in water (or the double boiler top over a water-filled bottom) and heat over medium heat until the beeswax is just melted.

Remove from heat. Add 1 teaspoon of Vitamin E oil. Stir unti well-mixed.

Pour into clean containers (I used tin, but you can also use glass jars), and allow to cool.

This salve can be used for all types of itches, irritations, insect bites, and minor cuts, as mentioned above. There are no known contraindications for using plaintain or violet leaves internally or externally, so this salve is safe for use as a nipple cream.

Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate

On our recent travels through the west, we passed through Boulder (a place I definitely need to spend some time exploring in the future). We stopped by the Pearl Street Mall and took a walk around, looking for a good place to have lunch (we chose Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace, which turned out to be an excellent decision!).

image copyright Almightydad.com

We passed by cute boutique after cool-looking storefront. But the one that caught my eye was The Boulder Bookstore. It was filled with lots of books, fun gift items, and a surprisingly large selection of fair trade chocolates! I wanted a copy of Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring to read on the plane home, and figured this indie bookstore would have to have a copy in stock. I inquired at the desk, and was told that I could find it in the Ecology section. I found Silent Spring, and also made a wonderful additional discovery – Edible Wild Plants: Wild Food from Dirt to Plate, a new book by John Kallas, PhD, founder of Wild Food Adventures.

I have been on Kallas’ mailing list for over 2 years, but have yet to attend one of his amazing wild food events, which are mostly held in Oregon. So I was very excited to find a book through which I could glean some of his expertise in the field of wild foods.

While I love my collection of wild foods books by Euell Gibbons and Jim Duke, I was thrilled to see the detailed information provided on each plant profiled in Edible Wild Plants. Like Gibbons, Kallas goes into depth on just a few plants (only 15 plants, as this book is part of a series he plans to write over the next few years). And like Gibbons, he includes recipes for each plant.

However, Kallas’ book has the added feature of multiple photographs showing each plant during its various stages of development. This has been my major complaint with other wild plant books, in that it is often very difficult to identify a plant based on just one photograph. As Kallas points out in his book, “The same plant can look different not only in this book but in other books, depending on the angle of the photograph, the condition of the plant…” and “While moving through different stages of growth, a plant can transform so much that young and old versions look like different species.”

When I opened the book in the store, it fell open to the first of 17 pages devoted to one of my favorite wild plants, garlic mustard (which I wrote about earlier this year), including 16 photographs and two recipes. I knew I had to buy it!

Mmmmm…Yard Salad: As Local As It Gets

The Salad, before dressing was added

Yesterday I created a salad made from ingredients that are as local as they get. Each of the ingredients originated on my property – either our month-old garden, or from wild plants.

I was able to harvest a cup full of arugula from the garden, and a few marigold flowers. For the bulk of the salad, though, I turned to the wild plants in my yard.

My newly discovered favorite, garlic mustard (Alliaria Petiolata), provided a very nice mustard-green-and-garlic flavor to the salad. I included both the heart-shaped leaves and the petite white flowers in the salad.

garlic mustard - a very yummy weed

It is a highly invasive plant, which can be harvested throughout the year. It grew in abundance on my property in Connecticut – if only I had known then how delicious it is!  In my area of the country, garlic mustard will flower from April to June. After that, the plant goes to seed.

Besides being delicious, renowned ethnobotanist Jim Duke (in his book, Handbook of Edible Weeds) points out that it is a highly nutritious plant, containing twice the betacarotene of spinach, as well as the cancer preventive constituents of both garlic and mustard.

I also included some young dandelion leaves. I have long avoided eating dandelion because I disliked the bitter taste, but I found that including a small amount of young leaves added a nice bite to the salad, along with plenty of nutritional value. Euell Gibbons, in his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, recommends using leaves from dandelions before they have produced flower stalks.

Garden herbs

I topped off the salad with a delicious vinaigrette, made with a blend of fresh herbs from my herb garden, and a few violets for color. Here is the vinaigrette recipe:
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and parsley)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon of prepared mustard
2 garlic cloves, crushed
a pinch of sea salt
a dash of freshly ground pepper

Whisk all of the ingredients together, then pour over salad. It tastes best if prepared a couple of hours ahead of time to allow the flavors to blend.

our nascent garden

Please Note: Make sure not to use any plants that have been exposed to chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. And if you are harvesting wild plants, only use those that are at least 8 feet from the road in order to avoid potential chemical runoff.

How To Make Violet Syrup

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I love the deep purple hues of violets. These beautiful little flowers grow in abundance this time of year, so I took the opportunity to try out one of the recipes from Gibbons’ book, “Stalking the Healthful Herb.” According to Euell Gibbons, violets are “nature’s vitamin pill” containing 150mg of vitamin C per 100g of blossoms, three times the amount of that in oranges weight for weight.

I decided to make violet syrup, since it is healthful and a gourmet addition to desserts or cocktails.

So, I went out into my yard and picked about a cupful of violet blossoms. I did this in the early afternoon on a sunny day, a good time to harvest blossoms and herbs since the sun has dried off any moisture that might have collected on them overnight.

I placed the blossoms in a clean, dry canning jar.

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Then I covered them in an equal amount of boiling water (1 cup). You can see from the photo that the water begins to take on a beautiful light blue hue.

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Then, I let the mixture steep for 24 hours. I then strained out the violet blossoms (and put them in my compost canister, pictured behind the jar). What was left was this gorgeous jewel-toned blue liquid. Violet essence!

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I put the strained liquid into a sauce pan and added the juice of half a lemon, and 2 cups of sugar (the only sugar I had was vanilla sugar that I had made by placing a halved vanilla bean in a jar of sugar and letting it sit for two months — the color was a light brown, which may have affected the color of my syrup). The addition of the lemon juice caused a chemical reaction, turning the blue liquid into a pinkish-purpleish liquid. I brought this to a boil, and cooked it at a low boil for about 10 minutes.

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I then poured the syrup into a sterilized canning jar, and placed it in the refrigerator. The final result is below. I will try this recipe again with less lemon juice. I’m not sure how the taste will compare, but I’d like to preserve as much of the gorgeous blue color of the violet water as possible.

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According to Gibbons, ancient herbalists used violet syrup to cure epilepsy, pleurisy, jaundice, consumption, insomnia and more. He found that it had demulcent and expectorant properties, making it a tasty cough syrup. However, he recommends enjoying just for the pure pleasure of the taste, putting on pancakes, making drinks from it, or pouring some over shaved ice.