There are some really gorgeous plants in bloom right now in Greensboro, NC…some of the first flowers to show themselves before things start to really turn green. They are such a treat when things are still brown and crunchy. Here are a few of my favorites, maybe you have seen them around. And if you haven’t, maybe now you will!
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Spicebush is a beautiful native shrub that has spicy smelling twigs and leaves. It will likely be found in forests that have good soil moisture. I don’t know that it is used often for medicinal purposes, but it has a wonderful warm, spicy aroma that is very warming. It makes a great tea. You can use fresh leaves and/or twigs. Infuse fresh leaves in hot water for 10 minutes or boil twigs for 20 minutes, strain and drink.
A close-up of yellow spicebush flower buds. The twigs have buds on opposite sides of the stem. The terminology for this is colateral buds
Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)
Purple Dead Nettle is kind of a daunting name for such a tiny plant. This mint family member has purple irregular flowers and is edible and medicinal. The leaves are soft and pubescent (hairy) and tend to turn a purplish color toward the top. The uppermost leaves are short-stalked and packed more tightly together than the lower leaves. You can find this plant growing everywhere around town: in sidewalk cracks, lawns, gardens and old lots. (Remember to only harvest plants from areas you know have not been affected by chemicals/runoff, etc.) This plant medicinally, is considered a styptic (stops bleeding) and an astringent (tightens up tissue). It would be useful if you have an external skin wound to chew up the leaves and make a poultice (a mushy bandange basically) to leave on the affected area to stop bleeding and accelerate healing. You can munch on this plant as you walk on by, or gather it for salads or to throw in a wild green sautee.
Violet (Viola sp.)
The violets are out!! One of my all-time favorite spring flowers, violets are delicious, magical and medicinal. I gathered some with a 5 year old yesterday and we ate fist-fulls of the flowers. He noticed that they are sweet in the middle, which indeed they are. I would add violet flowers to anything, or eat them on their own to savor their subtle sweet. The heart shaped leaves are medicinal, generally used for coughs and sore throats as the leaves are mucilagenous (slimy) and provide a soothing coat on the throat. You can gather leaves and make fresh tea or even a syrup. I made a violet syrup last year from flowers (contain vit. A and vit. c as well as anti-oxidents) and drizzled it on ice cream and other sweet treats. Another special sparkly thing to do with violet flowers is to crystalize them by painting (with a small paint brush) each flower in egg white and then sprinkling sugar on both sides. Let them harden and you have a crystalized violet flower. I made some last year to top cakes with!
1. fill a jar with violet blossoms, cover with boiling water
2. cover and let sit for 24 hours
3. strain infusion, compost petals
4. for each cup of violet infusion, add the juice of 1/2 lemon* and 1 1/2 cups of unrefined sugar (not sure how this would do with honey…if someone experiments let me know!). Place ingredients in a stainless steel or glass pot
5. bring to a boil, then pour into sterilized jars and seal. store in refrigerator, lasts for one year
*color will change with lemon juice addition