Experimenting With Syrups
What could be more evocative of the summer than a light and sweet, floral and fragrant drizzle of a fresh blossom syrup on your morning oatmeal or in your evening cocktail (or just by the plain old spoonful)? Herbal syrups are a delight – both to create and to consume. An abundance of those herbs that make for syrupy goodness pop out in mid-late spring and early summer. Those herbs which best tend to lend their powers to syrups are often those herbs that are themselves the most, well, syrupy! Think of our favorite demulcent, nourishing, gentle, slightly sweet, moist, mucilaginous plants: violet, linden, marshmallow, slippery elm. These blooms, barks, and roots already have those slippery sweet qualities that we associate with syrups, so when they are infused or decocted and cooked down with some good-quality honey, a nourishing herbal treat is the natural product.
We’ve been trying out a couple of different herbal syrups this week which highlight two of the most showy purple flowers here in the Appalachians. The first, violet blossom syrup, is a timeless tradition. Creme de Violette, the classic purple-hued Italian liqueur, is a staple in drinks like the Aviation, a popular craft cocktail during the warm months. Your everyday weedy lawn violets will work just perfectly for this syrup, and you may munch on the leaves while you’re harvesting the blooms. Fill a quart mason jar with your harvested violet blooms, pour boiling water over the flowers so that they’re covered, and let that steep 4-8 hours or overnight. Strain the flowers out, and gently heat the remaining liquid on very low heat with honey/sugar (an equal amount by weight). Until your desired sweetness is achieved. This is a wonderful activity for getting the whole family involved in the harvest, unless you don’t mind spending a sunny afternoon picking violet blossoms (if you offer to pay a penny per flower harvested, we’ve found this generally works pretty well on the younger ones).
Violet syrup is a well-known traditional soother and softener of tissues and may be a gentle stimulant to the lymphatic system. Violet leaf and blossom nourish the waters of the body and are used in tandem to ease coughs and chest congestion. The royal turquoise-amethyst colored syrup is a delicate friend of the throat and sometimes of tummy troubles, and traditionally a specific for nourishing the breast tissue. Children love violets, adults love violets…what’s not to love? And now we head to the experimentation station, where we’ll meet with a not-so-classic herbal syrup. In fact, this one may never have been made before! For this recipe, we used the lavender colored flowers of the princess tree, or royal Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa). This invasive tree is not well-loved due to its non-native status, but in our corner of the world it grows so prolifically that we have accepted it and decided to make the best of it. In contrast to the violets, the princess tree flower harvest takes only a few minutes. The edible blooms are so hefty and decadent that they fall from the tree, making harvesting a cinch. Like the violets, we collected about a quart’s worth of paulownia blooms and poured boiling water over them, lidded it, and let it steep overnight. The resulting liquid had turned a deep amber hue, and smelled vaguely of vanilla.
We preserved our princess tree syrup by stirring equal parts (by weight) sweetener into it (you may gently reheat to get the honey/sugar to dissolve). Or you can add equal parts simple syrup (one part water to one part honey/sugar). We added a few teaspoons of vanilla to pull out more of that sweet flavor. You may refrigerate the syrup for a few weeks before it will begin to ferment. Those of you who believe that rules were made to be broken will already know what we’re about to say – don’t hold steadfast to this recipe! Recipes are made for experimentation! Why not try making a syrup from your favorite bloom? Dandelion, calendula, or birch bark? Why not? Check out our Wild Cherry Bark Syrup here, or our recipe for violet leaf and honeysuckle syrups below.