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April 28, 2010

Locavore Lore: Vetting the validity of violets

The best advice I’ve heard all year — “If you want to improve something, find a way to bring rainbows into it” — was shared by one of my Changemakers students last month. As the same goes for creating a nourishing diet, maybe our current health imbalances are just the effects of a purple deficit. How often do we see that healing hue in our salad bowls? Rather than wait until fall for Peruvian potatoes to arrive, take a look outside and feast your eyes on the magenta meadow begging to be savored in healthy yards across the bluegrass. Violets, both leaves and blossoms, impart nourishment for the body, mind and soul.

Eating locally invites awareness of what the local environment is providing throughout the year, and savoring wild plants is an excellent step toward harmonizing with the local ecosystem. As Mother Earth naturally serves whole nourishment and balance, it follows that as we imbibe the visual feast of cascading weeping cheery blossoms, redbud wands and the aromatic clouds of floral pollen, we must also partake of the tactile, gustatory and audial goodness that come with spring. Only feeding certain parts of ourselves with the seasonal abundance can lead to imbalance, which often shows up as allergies. Turning to the purple pleasures of violets allow an opportunity to more fully engage and restore balance to ourselves. As the planet often provides remedial balance within growing spaces (poison ivy often grows next to jewel weed, a natural antidote), it’s worth exploring what local edibles the earth offers for wellness.

Attention to these first five senses helps us listen more intentionally to our own bodies, which are excellent guides for the passionately fulfilling lives we’re here to create. The type of nourishment required for such radiant living isn’t being advertised on billboards — these recipes are spoken more gently, often whispered from within. Tapping into this inner wisdom involves connecting with one’s intuition or sixth sense, which is located, by many wisdom traditions, in the sixth chakra, or “third eye,” and — surprise — it is associated with the color purple.

Adding wild edibles to your diet is a fabulous step toward health, and violets are not only in abundance right now, they offer a wide array of benefits. The leaves keep for up to a week in cool storage and are excellent in salads or cooked in stir-fries and soups. The flowers are best eaten fresh, and you don’t have to worry about interfering with the pollination process because they don’t set any seed (the seed flowers come in autumn), and it seems the more you pick, the more the plant produces.

High in both ascorbic acid and Vitamin A, the leaves are nourishing for the nerve, respiratory, immune, digestive, urinary and reproductive systems. Particularly great for breast health, teas made from both leaves and flowers are often used to ease pre-menstrual breast tenderness and support healing after breast cancer, and early herbal texts note the violet’s power for treating skin and reproductive system cancers, due to their high salicylic acid content. They have a restorative effect on the head and can ease hangovers, insomnia, weak nerves, weak memory, nervousness and general headaches. Fresh violet leaves pressed on the back of the neck also help with these ailments. Also try applying fresh crushed violet leaves to wounds, which can reduce swelling, inflammation and soreness. For mouth irritations, swish a fresh tea or infusion from the leaves in the mouth several times throughout the day. For boils or burns, mix a little honey with the leaves before applying. Try adding leaves or flowers in lotions or soap, as they’re a natural skin softener, and the salicylic acid in the plant is both fungicidal and a fabulous disinfectant.

About as low-maintenance as you can get, violets are ready for consumption upon harvesting. The shiny heart-shaped leaves have a terrific texture, and peek inside the gorgeous purple blooms to appreciate the tiny orange jewel inside — a sweet reminder of the treasures hidden within. Try adding leaves and flowers to your soup, salad, bath, tea or water bottle. Or try this preserve and use it as a remedy: Fill a glass container with 1 cup of firmly packed violet blossoms, add 1/4 cup pure water, juice of one lemon and 2 cups local honey. Blend well and store in a very cold refrigerator or freezer. Take 1/2 teaspoon at a time for overall wellness.

Violets are revered as harbingers of joy and happiness, and I heartily attest to their power to bring emotional wellness. For me, physically gathering the violets, taking time alone outside to listen to the birds while harvesting, and feeling the immense gratitude that such beauty exists is probably just as potent as any healing property the plant possesses. Incorporating wild edibles into your diet has myriad benefits, one of which is that it energizes the natural wildness pulsing within, opening us to more freely evolve into our divinely unique selves. As FlordeMayo, one of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers who blessed the Ohio River last fall, so eloquently said, “The forests permit me to hold the secrets of the invisible ... these secrets will soon become precious compasses for humanity.”