10.18.2018

Herb Fairies: Violet

Shelbyville-Bedford County Public Library and LearningHerbs
Herbalism is one of many hobbies that I'm passionate about. I've always preferred the outdoors, but as I've gotten older, my imagination that used to conjure fairies and gnomes (and sometimes still does) has learned that personifying plants may not be too far-fetched. I love to watch documentaries, and after checking out titles such as David Attenborough's The Private Life of Plants and Nature: What Plants Talk About from my local library, I became enchanted by the life around us that is often overlooked. With increasing concerns over the food we put in our bodies and the growing rate of poverty, I decided to begin harvesting my own food and medicines (within reason). 

In addition to this program, I have also developed a Seed Library to encourage a more sustainable community. So far, the response has been positive and I have received an increasing number of participants in the exchange. 

Herb Fairies came about during some research I was doing. The family-owned company is called LearningHerbs and they developed this amazing learning system with Herbalists Kristine Brown and Rosalee de la Foret for kids to learn about safely foraging plants they likely come across every day. There is a book series that pairs with the curriculum to make the lessons entertaining and are delivered to you in various formats, including audiobook, ebook, and print (when offered). Materials include, crafts, recipes (food and medicinal), materia medica, songs, activities, journals, calendars, and more. The information is so rich, I can only hope to skim the surface in one hour. 

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I focus on four of the five senses. How may kids learn about this plant through touch, smell, taste, and sight? It is through our senses we create memories, and through this method I have had several parents tell me how excited their children get when they start identifying the plants in their yards. 

It is important to note that teaching herbalism is NOT giving medical advice. It is not to encourage families to avoid seeking medical attention when needed. There is a note that comes in the kit that should be distributed to parents about the safety of proper identification and consumption of plants. You may want to produce a contract for parents to sign. Before every class I make every child raise their right hand and promise they will not eat any plants without asking an adult first. 

One last thing: before distributing materials, please be sure to give credit where credit is due. I always tell parents how they can go more in depth by purchasing the system for themselves, and be sure to follow copyright laws when handing out resources. Libraries are permitted to circulate the Herbal Roots Zine as part of the collection, and we have subscribed to the zine for easy access and expansion beyond the 13 original plants presented in the books. To aid in memorizing plants and their uses even further, I created flash cards (all artwork is property of LearningHerbs) that I hand out for each plant.


Each book takes less than 30 minutes to read and will help children understand how each plant may be applicable in real-life situations. Per LearningHerbs.com


"Each of the 13 Herb Fairies books has a story of its own, but they’re all connected to tell the much bigger story of a time when the plant magic was fading from the world. When four young friends discover an herb fairy at the park, they are drawn into a healing adventure beyond their wildest dreams. 
The Old Man of the Forest has cast a terrible spell, locking up much of the plant magic and draining the magic from the world. The Herb Fairies turn to the children for help, and they all discover that only by working together and healing the magic keepers from all of the different magical races can the magic be fully restored."

A key element in the storyline is the discovery of a creature's name through riddles that surface each time an ailment is healed. The name discovered in the this book is Awareness. I like talking about the names and why they are important. It's a simple way of adding a short lesson on character.

For awareness, a good exercise to do is "Owl Eyes." Have kids put their hands in front of their faces as though they are going to clap them together. Instead, have them begin wiggling their fingers in their line of vision. Then slowly have them move their arms out while continuing to stare ahead (keep those fingers wiggling!). Have them continue this until they can barely see their fingers wiggling in their peripheral vision. The idea is to open up your focus and line of vision to see the world around you...even the fuzzy parts. Become more aware of your surroundings.

USING YOUR SENSES


Violet is one of my favorites! They are easy to see in the Spring because they are colorful among the ground (sight). In the book, it is mentioned that violets are related to pansies, so if you want to bring in some pansies to compare the two, it wouldn't hurt. Also, if you are able to find an ellipsoid seed pod (pictured above), I would highly recommend including it in your lesson. Not only are they cool to look at, but the fact they shoot seeds feet away is a fun fact your kids will enjoy. Bring in some leaves as well. The heart-shape is easy to identify and stays around most of the year. Keep in mind violets show up in the Spring and occasionally early Fall. In the Fall, smaller, less showy flowers will appear near the bottom of the plant, but you will find more seed pods at that time. 

With the help of the Herbal Roots Zine: Volume 1 Issue 3 we worked through how to identify the Viola Odorata species of violet. The Zines have worksheets and puzzles that I print off for plant identification and exercises. Going through the sheets takes a bit of time, so the more you can allow kids to connect what the paper says to the actual plant, the better. However, you may not always be able to get the fresh herb and that is perfectly okay.

We smelled the plant to see if it had any kind of aromatics. Some plants are more obvious than others (mint, lavender, chamomile, etc.) and at times you can use the sense of smell to determine if you're dealing with a look-alike or not.


TASTING - Candied Violets


I started the series about a month too late (I would recommend beginning in March or April, depending where you live), so I did not have fresh violet flowers, only leaves. If I did have fresh flowers, there is a very easy recipe to make candied violets that I would have included in the program. Instead, I found these candied violets that worked just fine (ingredients include real violets, sugar, gum arabic and certified food coloring). The kids could not stop eating these! They were fairly sugary, so they weren't able to get the full flavor of violet flowers, but it was still a fun tasting experience for them. 

Tasting the leaves was a whole other experience. Some kids didn't like the flavor, and others I had to encourage to save some for when we needed them later because they were eating them like candy!

Of course we observed some of the "energetics" of violet: was it sweet, sour, or bitter? Did it cause their mouths to pucker, salivate, or dry out? Plants that have an edible flower are great for this, because you can show how the different parts of the plant have different flavors and uses (as long as all parts are edible).

CRAFT - Potpourri
Taken from Herbal Roots Zine: Volume 1 Issue 3


Materials:
Organza bag
Dried Violet Flowers or Orris Root (root of Iris that smells like violet)
Assorted dried herbs of your choosing (rose petals, pine needles, rosemary, sage, lemon balm, etc.)
Essential oil of choice to add scent

This time we made potpourri that could be used around the house, in a bowl, in a jar (open jar and release scent), and pretty much anywhere a nice aroma is desired. If you don't have a good stock of organza bags, I would highly suggest keeping them on hand. I use them all the time as they are versatile in the world of crafting with herbs. You can get them in varying sizes, but if I'm limited on certain herbs and need them to stretch for several kids, I use the smaller sizes. You can get them in different designs, too. 

Mix the herbs together in the organza bag and add the oil. I just brought in two oil mixtures I had and let the kids pick which scent they wanted (this is also good if you have kids that dislike florals). For maximum strength, encourage them to put the bag in a jar when they get home (or provide the jars if your budget allows) and allow the scent to permeate for 2-3 weeks.


MEDICINE - Violet Leaf Oil

Taken from Herbal Roots Zine: Volume 1 Issue 3



Materials:
1C Freshly Wilted Violet Leaves
Olive or Coconut Oil
Optional: a Pinch of Slippery Elm Bark Powder
Mini Crockpot or Crockpot Designated for Herbal Medicine Making
Knife and Cutting Board
Strainer 
Jar/Little Essential Oil Bottles
Small Funnel
Label

This time, we made an oil out of violet leaves. I created some oil and bottled it up beforehand because the mixture needs to be heated for 8 hours in the crockpot. However, I brought in a tabletop stove, crockpot, and all my ingredients and simulated how I made the oil to give kids and parents a visual. 

The oil does not smell...great. This is not an aromatic oil, it is a medicinal oil. I explained this to my kids and asked if any of them wanted to smell it. Some of my parents were curious enough to give it a sniff as well. It has a very strong "plant" smell, but the medicinal properties are worth it.

Put all your leaves in the crockpot and pour enough oil until the leaves are just covered. Heat the crockpot on the lowest setting for 8 hours. Once the leaves look spent, allow the mixture to cool completely. Strain off the leaves and either throw them away or put them in the compost if able. Pour the mixture into a jar (do not fill the little bottles yet!) and allow it to sit for 2 days.

The next part can be tricky. If after 2 days you see a line on the bottom, that is water that did not evaporate and needs to be removed or the oil will go rancid. Save your oil, discard the water, and now you are ready to bottle up.

It's always important to label your creations, so on our labels we wrote what the oil was (Violet Leaf Oil) and the date. 

The jar pictured is my personal jar of oil that I use at home (the recipe makes A LOT of oil). You may mention to your mommies that violet leaf oil is great for reproductive health. If you suffer from cysts, I can attest the oil helps immensely.

RECEPTION: In the kits there are many more recipes and ideas you can incorporate into your teaching. I take a lot of time to familiarize my kids with the plant so they may understand how to properly identify it in nature. I had so many people at this program we had to pull out more chairs and materials! Their favorite part was definitely the candied violets, and on their way out the door they kept asking for more. Another successful Herb Fairies.