Category Archives: In the Kitchen

How to Make Homemade Yogurt

There are a gazillion and one “how to make homemade yogurt” posts out there, so I don’t offer any new knowledge here when I write this. However, I may bring the knowledge to a new audience, and that is what I care about!

How to Make Homemade Yogurt

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Homemade yogurt is really simple to make, at least half the cost of store-bought yogurt, and healthier because you can control what goes in it. In only has 2 ingredients, and takes only a couple minutes at each step. It’s also a perfect way to help me get in some inexpensive, healthy protein and gut functionality when I’m on my $25 grocery challenge to myself.


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Strawberry-Honey Preserves (No Pectin or White Sugar)

Strawberries are one of the few fruits we reserve for an annual U-pick farm trip. Why we haven’t grown them ourselves yet, I’m not sure! However, the trip to our local farms makes for a fun tradition. What’s more, the kids are getting better at actually getting some in the bucket each year.

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The Craft of Herbal Fermentation: A Course Review

Foraging for plants in your neighborhood. Fermentation and bubbling jars. Homemade concoctions and kitchen experiments. Community. Joy! Can the combination get any better?

I received a free copy of the Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. 

If you’ve been reading for the past few months, you may know that I was gradually working my way through the Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course from Herbal Academy. Today, I wanted to follow up on my previous posts and sum up my experience with the course.


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Roasted Asparagus & Almonds

Asparagus grows more like a shrub than a quick garden plant. If you plant it from seed, it takes about three years before you can harvest it. But once it’s coming- oh my!- those fresh stalks are so delicious and tender. I hardly get them inside because I’m usually eating them straight from the ground.

If you happen to have some fresh asparagus in your yard, count yourself blessed and go pick some for this recipe. If you don’t, take advantage of seasonal sales to bring some home from the store this spring!


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Fermentation: Building Culture & Community

Lacto-fermentation is a hot trend right now. However, though it may seem like a new thing for young, health-conscious weirdos, the practice has  been around for thousands of years. In fact, for about as long as there have been people, there has been fermentation. As it turns out, it’s also been a huge part of culture and community for all that time.

How fermentation has played into culture and community for thousands of years.

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Preservation & Food Safety

Fermentation is a fantastic way to preserve food without refrigeration. How does it work? While methods vary from food to food, generally the process  is the same. Fermentation occurs when the naturally occurring bacteria on food is combined with some sort of culture: whey, wild yeasts, or, in modern days, a purchased strain of starter culture. Keep the fermenting food away from oxygen and leave it at room temperature. The good bacteria will grow, and the food will transform into a tangy, bubbly treasure that can safely be stored in a cool environment for months.

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Fried Dandelion Heads

My husband and I rarely see weeds as mere yard infestations. Usually he’s the one asking, “Can we eat it? Make something from it? Use it for some medicinal purpose?” It’s no different when dandelions begin popping up everywhere in the spring.
Fried Dandelions Feature
(By the way, the violets in this picture are edible too.)

Dandelions are one of the most common intruders creeping into yards everywhere. While many people spend time, work, and money trying to keep their lawns free of the brightly colored visitor, others spend just as much time and work (though rarely money) to find uses for the golden weed.

Dandelions have been used for human consumption in many different ways. Dandelion leaf salad, dandelion root tea, and dandelion wine are just a few examples to get you started. Today, I will share a recipe with you that my good friend Alexis taught me how to make: fried dandelion heads.


They taste very much like fried chicken cutlets- only the “meat” inside is free from your yard!

dandelion2Ready to get started? You will need:

  • About 2-3 C Dandelion heads
  • White Vinegar (just a splash)
  • Olive Oil as needed (try starting with about ¼ C)
  • 1 Egg
  • About 1 C Plain Bread Crumbs
  • 1 Tbsp each Garlic, Italian Seasoning, & Parsely (or to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Unfortunately, the above amounts are just estimates. Depending on how many dandelion heads you have, you may need to alter this recipe accordingly. The nice part about breading & frying is that you can always add more oil to the pan or more bread crumbs & seasonings to the mix if you run out.

1) Collect and Wash Dandelion Heads! This is a great time to get your kids helping you. J loves it when I send him on flower-picking assignments.

dandelion3

* Make sure that you haven’t been spraying your yard with anything toxic if you’re out foraging for weeds!

Pick just under the bloom, where the head easily snaps off. Rinse them off well through a colander if you’re not into eating bugs.

2) Coat your dandelions. First, mix your dandelions with a splash of white vinegar. Next, set up your assembly line for coating. Beat egg into one container. Combine dry ingredients in another. It should look something like this:

dandelion4Heat oil on stovetop over medium heat until it’s shimmering. Dip your dandelion heads first into the egg, then into the bread crumb mixture, making sure that they get completely coated at each step.

3) Fry ‘em up! Carefully place the dandelion heads into the hot oil using tongs or some other such tool. (Or jump back as you drop them so you don’t get splattered.)

Turn them partway through frying to get both sides nice and golden brown. This step won’t take more than a couple of minutes if your oil is good and hot, so watch them carefully to avoid burning them.

dandelion5
4) Drain and enjoy! Remove the dandelion heads with tongs and place them on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the oil. Once they’ve sat a couple minutes, you can eat them up immediately!

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You’ll most likely keep popping them til they’re gone. If by some chance you don’t finish them, it’s always fun to pack leftovers for lunch and relish in telling your co-workers you’re eating fried weeds. And besides, they’re yummy, I promise! Hope you give them a shot. 🙂

Make these delicious flower poppers with weeds and just a few ingredients you already have in your pantry.

The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg

I used to work in a few different cafes, and each sous chef hard boiled his eggs a little differently- often with adverse results. The most amusing occasion was a boss who microwaved an under-boiled egg as an attempt to speed its readiness. Said egg ended up exploding when the boss peeled it prematurely. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the process.

Hard-boiled eggs that end up liquidy, un-intentionally green, or explosive are all undesirable outcomes. I’m happy to say that my mom tipped me off to an egg-boiling method that lends the perfect hard boiled egg- every time.

The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg


Now, as a caveat, you must know that I don’t eat hard-boiled eggs. I only do this for an occasional seventh grade science project (for my hubby’s students) or Easter egg dying. But every time, on all the different stoves I’ve tried, it comes out right!

Ready?

1) Put your eggs in a pot and cover with cold water.

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2) Turn on the burner and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes only.

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3) Turn off the heat. Let the eggs sit in the hot water for 22 minutes.

4) Run cool water over the eggs.

April 2015 011

5) Let cool completely before peeling.

That’s it!

The kids were slightly suspicious of their eggs…

April 2015 022 April 2015 028But I thought they looked just right! 🙂

Thanks to my mom for sharing another great life secret. If you’re a hard-boiled egg eater, let me know how these taste to you!

How to finally get the perfect hard boiled egg, every time.

Water Bath Canning 101

 

How to water bath can, plus a free printable checklist!

(Your checklist is at the bottom, so keep reading!) 

My great-grandmother lived in the last house at the end of a street in a little town that time forgot. The seven lot yard sprawled out to the garden and backed up to the dike by the town river where the kids liked to go fishing. A bench swing at the end of the porch rocked lazily in the summer breezes.


My Granny had two kitchens- an indoor kitchen, complete with cast iron cook stove and a cheery multi-color dish set, and an out-kitchen by the smokehouse. She also had a concrete-floor cellar beneath the house. Every time we saw her, she would take us down into it.

There were treasures there. Shelf after shelf of what she had “put up” for the season. Meat, vegetables, fruit, all lined up neatly in jars. Barrels of potatoes enough for the winter time. It wasn’t as plentiful as when Great-Grandpap was living, but there was still an impressive array of food. She was so proud of all her hard work.

These memories made me love the idea of growing and preserving food. However, it was years and years before I tried canning myself. I was in my mid-twenties and we had a tiny pot garden on the deck of the house we were renting.

Our first little pot garden on which we practiced our preserving skills.

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My mom offered to come help me can our tiny tomato crop. Sure, I’d give it a try, I thought.

We spent the afternoon in the kitchen, where she walked me through the process. It took a long time. (It always does when you’re first learning!) When all was said and done, I think we canned a grand total of six quarts of tomatoes.

Fast forward about six years and there were seasons that we were canning almost fifty quarts of tomato products- whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, salsa, and tomato juice. We’ve canned jellies, peaches, applesauce, pickled beets, dill pickles, maple syrup, and more.

My mom, awesome lady that she is, also bought me a Presto pressure canner for my 30th birthday. I was so thrilled. That year I canned turkey soup, chicken broth, green beans, and other low-acid foods.

My pantry still isn’t as stunning as my Granny’s used to be, and it may never be. But canning has become a passion and a joy to me over the years. I want to share a “quick start” guide to canning 101 with you. Hopefully it will take out some of the mystery and fear of canning, and give you the motivation you need to give it a go yourself.

Note: canning isn’t really what I’d call quick process. However, it doesn’t have to be laborious and intimidating, and once you get the hang of it, it will become more simple. It will take practice, so have patience and enjoy the process!

How does canning work? 

When you practice home water-bath canning, you aren’t actually using cans.  You are preserving food in glass mason jars designed especially to withstand the heat and temperature changes that come with canning. The food is heated high and long enough in the jar to kill off any potential harmful bacteria. As the jar cools, a vacuum seal is created so that no oxygen can enter the jar and spoil the food. A properly processed jar of food can be shelf-stable for years!

What types of food can I can? 

You can can almost anything, BUT there is an important distinction you must know for safety. Today, we will go over water bath canning. Water bath canning is safe for high-acid fruits and vegetables only. If you want to can meats or low acid vegetables, you must use a pressure canner. This is because a water bath canner cannot heat the food to a high enough temperature to kill off potential bacteria in low acid foods.

How do you know which is which? Simple- always check an approved canning recipe to ensure that you are canning safely.

Reliable recipes have been tested by the USDA (or an equivalent source) for safe pH levels. That means they help to keep you from creating food poisoning in a jar. Why is this so important? Because you can’t see or smell botulism, and if you don’t have a way to test pH and bacteria levels at home, then you can’t tell if your experimental recipe turned out okay or not.

Play it safe. NEVER change the amount of acid in a recipe (or any proportions when you’re first starting), as doing so could make your food unsafe. Here are some very reputable approved canning recipe sources:

Note that you should use a modern preservation cookbook. Some of the ones from 50 years ago have some pretty sketchy guidelines.

If you ever have any questions about a recipe, you can always contact your local county extension office. Questions by phone or email are happily answered!

Learn how to water bath can!

Supplies Needed

For a full description of canning supplies, you can read this post. If you just want the quick-start version, here’s what you need:

  • Water bath canner with canning rack: essentially a big pot, specifically sized to fit multiple canning jars. The canning rack can be lowered and raised to put jars in and out of the water.
  • Mason jars: Size & mouth style will depend on recipe
  • Lids & rings: New packs of jars come with lids & rings. However, each new jar you can needs at least a new lid. The rings will need to be replaced as they become rusty or bent. Make sure your lids & rings match the jar mouth style.
  • Canning tool set: This should include a canning funnel, canning tongs, a ring tightener, and a magnet lid remover. Some also come with a tool to remove air bubbles, but a long spatula should do the trick.

Terms

  • Water bath canning: The type of canning in which jars are submerged in boiling water for processing.
  • Pressure canning: The type of canning in which jars are processed in a small amount of water inside a pressure canner. They are heated at high pressure to a high temperature in order to safely can low-acid foods.
  • Head space: Refers to how much space is left at the top of the jar. Necessary head space can vary widely by recipe, and is measured in inches. Measure from the very top rim of the jar down. Too much space can cause spoilage of the food, and too little can cause the food to expand and break the jar.
  • Lids vs. rings: Lids are the flat, round piece that you put on top of the jar. Rings are- you guessed it- the thing that looks like it could be a big ring. Or, more accurately, a bracelet. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re new to canning it can all sound confusing.
  • Finger-tight: Many recipes will say to secure the rings “finger tight.” This simply means that to screw on the rings as tight as you can using your fingers. It doesn’t mean to screw it on to death. You can use the special ring tightener from your canning tool kit to avoid handling hot jars, but only screw it on as tight as if you were using your fingers.
  • Process: In canning, the term “process” refers to boiling the jars in the canner. So when a recipe says to “process for 20 minutes,” that just means to start the timer when the water comes to a boil, and leave the jars in for 20 minutes.
  • Approved recipe: A recipe tested for safety by the USDA or equivalent.

Safety Rules

  • Always wash your jars, lids, and rings, & sanitize as needed.
  • Always wash your hands before handling food or equipment.
  • Follow an approved recipe & processing time to ensure a safe acidity level and sufficient heating.
  • Remember to be careful as you handle hot tools and food.
  • Avoid sudden temperature changes. Keep jars hot before putting into boiling water, don’t put freshly processed jars directly on a cold counter, etc.
  • Follow safe practices as outlined below to avoid broken jars or introduction of unsafe bacteria.

Process

  1. Check all jars for cracks & chips. Run your fingers along the rim of your jar, checking for cracks or chips. Check the bottom and sides as well. Any imperfections in the jar can compromise your canning project. Better safe than sorry. Only use jars in perfect shape!
  2. Wash and/or sanitize jars, lids, & rings. Wash all parts in hot, soapy water. I sanitize my jars and keep them hot by putting them in a 200 degree oven for 20-30 minutes. I place my lids in rings in a pan of hot water on the stove top to sanitize them. Note that lids should NOT be boiled during this step, as it will wear away the seal on the jar.
  3. Prepare canner. Fill the water bath canner with hot water and bring it to a boil while you prepare the food. (All that water can take a while to heat up!)
  4. Prepare food. Prepare the food you want to can according to an approved recipe for water bath canning. Often this can be done ahead of time, then reheated when you’re ready to can. The only caveat is that you don’t want to cook the food to death before it goes into the jars.
  5. Ladle food into hot jars. This is where it gets exciting. Ladle food into hot jars, using a canning funnel to avoid hot messes. Remember to pay attention to the recipe’s head space!
  6. Remove air bubbles. Put a long spatula (or the specific tool from your tool kit) down to the bottom of the jar, and run it once around the outside edge of the jar. Any air bubbles should pop to the surface. This will prevent breakage later on.
  7. Clean jar rims. Wipe rims clean with a clean towel to ensure a sanitary and strong seal.
  8. Secure lids & rings. Place lids on top of jars, then screw on the rings finger tight. Optionally, you can use the lid tightener in your canning tool kit. Just remember that those jars are HOT.
  9. Put jars in canner, lower canning rack & close the lid. Carefully place the jars upright onto the canning rack in the water. Once the rack is full, lower it into the water and put the lid on.
  10. Process jars for correct amount of time. Start the timer only when the water comes to a boil. If you start your processing time when the water isn’t boiling yet, it might not be hot enough to properly kill off bacteria in the food. Keep the jars submerged in boiling water for the full time the recipe suggests.
  11.  Remove jars from canner. After the processing time is complete, use oven mitts to help you lift the rack out of the water. Now, use your trusty canning tongs to remove the jars from the canner and place them gently on a towel. (The towel helps avoid sudden temperature change.)
  12. Let jars cool completely. Leave the jars on the counter until they’re completely cool. Don’t move them or touch the lids during this time. You should hear little pings and pops as the jar lids seal. (The most satisfying part of canning!) You want the lids to seal, and you don’t want to accidentally burn yourself or break a hot jar of food.
  13. Check the seal. After the jars have cooled, run your finger over the lid to make sure the “button” in the middle is down. This means your jar sealed and you are ready to store it! If your jar didn’t seal, it can be stored in the fridge and eaten soon, or it can be reheated and reprocessed with a new lid.
  14. Remove rings and store jars. Unscrew the rings from your jars to reuse for your next canning venture. (I do this to avoid rust! Of course, you can always put a ring on if you plan to gift your canned food.) Store the jars in a dry place.

These are the basic steps and rules to beginning safe home water bath canning. I know it might seem like a lot, but once you try it once or twice it gets easier. You can join our mailing list to grab your own printable water bath canning checklist. It’s a great tool to keep in your kitchen to follow as you first learn to can.

Here's a reminder checklist to keep in the kitchen while canning!

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Now you can take pleasure in your own home-canned pantry If you found this post helpful, please share it with your friends!

Learn the basics of water bath canning & get a free printable checklist!

 

 

Adventures in Making Herbal Ale

To me, herbal homebrewing conjures up images of a hipster with a man bun tinkering away in his home kitchen laboratory. He sniffs at delicate green herbs and tastes worts with care and refinement. He pours carefully from carboy to bottle, and shares generously with his skinny jean wearing friends.

Happily, brewing herbal ale is for anyone who is interested in reaping the benefits of plants in their beverages. You don’t have to be a hipster, a drunkard, or a pinky-in-the-air connoisseur to learn the craft. (Dear hipster friends, I love you and I’m not really making fun of you!) Though I warn you, you just might develop a kitchen laboratory by the time you’re done. 😉

How to brew your own herbal ale at home.


This post contains affiliate links. I received a free copy of the Herbal Academy’s Herbal Fermentation Course in exchange for my honest review. 

One stereotype that homebrewing usually isn’t associated with is the alcohol-obsessed, “give-me-more-beer,” drunken and foolish brand that we are all too familiar with. Generally speaking, the people you find foraging for edible weeds and thoughtfully crafting them into a fermented beverage are not the same people looking for Bud Light and hot girls at a party. In fact, most folks who are specifically interested in herbal homebrewing are interested in the nutritional and medicinal properties of the drink.

Most of us recognize that many herbs are wonderfully beneficial ingredients in home cooking and home remedies. According to the Herbal Academy Herbal Fermentation Course, fermenting herbs also means making them more bio-available to your body. So quite literally, creating an herbal ale means creating a powerhouse for nutrition and health.

Foraging has become one of my passions over the last several years. Although I still consider myself a novice, I get quite the thrill out of hunting for wild food. Fermenting has also become a favorite pastime– so the idea of putting the two of them together? It’s almost more excitement than this 30-something mama can take at one time. 😉

Note: The Herbal Academy prefers to use the term beer instead of ale. The course instructor feels that “ale” has nose-in-the-air connotations, but beer, by contrast, speaks of community and every-day accessibility. I’m using the term “ale” in this post because that’s what it technically is called when brewing with herbs, but I’m all for community too.

So here I am, experimenting with adventures in herbal home brewing. I want to share the basic process with you, but please know that I’m new at this, and I’m learning right along with you.

      1. Find tasty, edible herbs or plants. You can purchase bulk herbs online, or you can hunt for them yourself in the wild. Just be sure to know your plants and follow basic foraging safety and ethics. A quality guide to wild edibles is a must when you are learning to identify plants.
      2. Make an herbal tea. This can be done via an infusion (pouring boiling water over the herbs and letting them steep) or a decoction (simmering the herbs in water for a longer period of time). The method depends on which herb you have chosen. The tea should be made in a non-reactive container. I’m using (you guessed it!) two half-gallon mason jars.
      3. Add sugar. You need about a pound of sugar to make a gallon of ale. (Don’t worry, all that sugar will be eaten up during fermentation.) The type of sugar you use will affect the end flavor of the ale. Generally, you can use malt extract, brown sugar, white sugar and 2 tablespoons molasses, honey, maple syrup, or straight molasses.
      4. Add the yeast. Different yeasts will behave differently, so it’s a good idea to read the instructions on the package!
      5. Install an airlock and let it ferment. I use Fermentools airlocks– and I love them because they work with mason jars! Alternatively, you can opt for a traditional fermenting vessel and accompanying airlock. Your ale should ferment until it stops bubbling and the ale is clear- and maybe a few days past that. (Make sure the fermentation is complete so you don’t create a potential explosive inside the bottle later on!)
      6. Bottle the ale & perform a second ferment. Using clean bottles, put 1/2 tsp of sugar in the bottom of each 12 oz bottle to start a second ferment. Pour in the ale through a funnel and cap the bottles.
      7. Let the second ferment complete & monitor bottles. Let the ale sit at room temperature in the bottles for another week or two to create carbonation. During this time, watch to make sure there is no increasing air space in the bottle. If you see this, it’s an indication of increasing pressure, and you may have a potential bomb on your hands! However, this can be avoided by making sure the first fermentation was complete before bottling.
      8. Enjoy! Move to the fridge, and/or keep in cool storage for up to year. If you keep your ale at room temperature, do so in a sheltered location to avoid the possibility of a a sudden temperature change that could re-introduce the danger of explosion.
      9. Homemade nettle-ginger ale in its bottles!

        For full instructions, helpful videos, answers to FAQs and a more experienced teacher than me, consider purchasing the Herbal Fermentation Course from Herbal Academy! You’ll also get units on herbal mead, herbal kombucha and water kefir, and lacto-fermentation of fruits and vegetables- starring herbs, of course! I am having an absolute blast with the course and recommend it to anyone interesting in playing with herbalism and fermentation.

        The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

        I’ll be sure to come back and update/write more posts as I learn more! Stay tuned. 🙂

        Make delicious & healthy herbal ale at home!

         


Violet Jam & a Recipe Round Up!

We recently talked about one of my favorite ways to eat dandelions. Now let’s talk about another beautiful, edible wildflower: violets!

Violet Jam & a Recipe Round-Up!Our first spring at our house brought hundreds thousands of violets. And what would we do with them besides figure out if we could eat them?

Upon seeing this glory spread through our front lawn, we first made sure that we did indeed identify the plant correctly. Next, we checked on its edibility. The flowers and leaves are edible, but the roots and seeds can make you sick. So make sure you only pick the tops, please, and always double check your plant identification and edibility when foraging.


I found a recipe for violet jam on the blog Emergency Outdoors. J has always been eager to help gather flowers, so this project was a welcome excuse to get a bowl and get picking.

Spring 2013 081We washed our flowers and got ready to make the jam.

Spring 2013 087After sanitizing my canning jars and lids, we blended up the ingredients as per our recipe, and ended up with this lovely lavender gel:

Spring 2013 095This was a sweet, floral jam that pairs well with lemon poppy seed muffins or a light springtime bread. The color made me think to give it away for Mother’s Day. While I prefer jams with less sugar, it was still very satisfying to prepare a treat from wild food growing in our yard.

Spring 2013 100 Emergency Outdoors provides all the details for this violet jam recipe. You will also find a wealth of information on violet there, including edible, medicinal, and perfumery uses- not to mention recipes for violet vinegar and violet syrup. Yum!

While we enjoyed trying the jam, I’d like to branch out this year and try using violet in other ways. I’ve compiled a list of violet recipes & resources that I’d like to try:

The Common Blue Violet– Common Sense Homesteading shares a violet jelly recipe (for those of you who prefer a clear spread), and shares various medicinal uses of violets.

The Health Benefits of Violets– From the Herbal Academy of New England. This amazing website provides a thorough review of violet and her medicinal uses. Check out her instructions for several different violet teas for health.

Let’s Talk About Violet- Amber of Pixie’s Pocket is bursting with enthusiasm for the little purple blooms that fill her yard each spring. Visit her blog for information on using violets for warts and acne, as well as a few links to wild violet recipes- like adding them to a wild greens pesto? That sounds delightfully different!

How to Make Wild Violet Syrup– ABCs & Garden Peas shares a method for making violet syrup- without heaps of sugar- and some ingenious ways to put it to use. I may have to try this to change up our maple syrup habits for springtime.

Five Uses for Violet Vinegar- I’ve seen a few recipes for violet vinegar, but always wondered what in the world you used it for. The Nerdy Farm Wife takes out the mystery and gives you five concrete ideas to get you started.

And of course, you can just plain eat them. They go well in salad, and the flowers are a wonderful outdoor playtime snack. The kids think it’s tons of fun to sit and munch flowers with mama. The novelty masks the health benefits, so they consume the blooms without hesitation. 😉

Did you know violet can also be used for personal body care? Try your hand at Herbal Academy’s Violet Leaf Soap Recipe, or The Nerdy Farm Wife’s recipe for Herbal Deoderant for Women’s Health.

Which recipes are most appealing to you? What will you try first this year? I am eager to get started soon!

How to make pretty purple violet jam- plus a round up of other violet uses!