Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
Foraged violets for homemade recipes

Buttery, melt-in-the-mouth biscuits, sandwiched together with a vibrant, sweet violet infused butter-cream. These are a dreamy experience, leaving you feeling like you’re eating sweet violets. Here I share one of my favourite, homemade violet recipes.

You can also read more about violets in my Wild Food: Violets post and A Dozen Violet Recipes.

Foraged wild violets for making violet infused recipes

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Crystallised primroses and violets for a wild, foraged dessert

Crystallised flowers and petals are an attractive way to preserve flowers out of season, or prolong their use in season. Flowers candied in this way can last well for several months. This traditional method is a little fiddly and detailed, which suits some people. I find the effect is worth it, but a session once a year is enough for me!

Wild food recipe from forager Rachel Lambert

Which flowers are best to crystallise?

Only use edible flowers and ones that are in abundance, never rare nor sparse ones. Flowers are an important part of many plants’ reproductive system, so only pick what you need. In my environmental policy I suggest never picking more than 30% of a plant, and with flowers 10% or less is more appropriate.

Suitable flowers include but are not exclusive to; violets, primroses, apple blossoms, mint flowers, lilac flowers, gorse flowers and rose petals. This works well with flowers that aren’t too small nor too big. Though a variety of shapes and sizes can also look really effective on top of a cake, for example.

I also have plenty more recipes for gorse flowers, rose petals and violets.

A sculptured-shaped violet from a wild food foraging course

My favourites flowers for crystallising

Are sweet violets and primroses. Violets because they’re easy to paint (see below) the colour is fantastic and the flavour so violety (floral and like violet sweets, if you’ve never had them). Primroses because they’ve been used for hundreds of years in this way and I’m the kind of person who likes traditions. They are rather delicate though - I find the petals break more easily and the colour and flavour is more subtle. My preference would be to use primroses unadulterated - just as as raw, pure flower decorations or popped straight into my mouth. 

You’ll need;

  • Edible flowers or flower petals
  • A small, clean paint brush (the right size to get into all the nooks and crannies of a flower’s anatomy)
  • Fresh egg white
  • Really dry sugar (see below), I prefer to use golden caster sugar
  • A warm place to dry the flowers
  • Time and patience
Sugar-coating wild violets to preserve them, with a professional forager

How to dry sugar

Darina Allen suggests warming the sugar first to ensure it’s completely dry. This isn’t essential, but it will help ensure your flowers dry well and don’t go soggy. I warmed mine, it’s easy to do and reassuring. Just preheat the oven to 275F/140C/fan 120C and sieve the sugar into a baking tray. Warm for 30 minutes.

How to crystallise foraged primrose flowers at home

How to crystallise flowers

Check the flowers over and brush off any dirt or debris. Some people prefer to wash them and pat them dry, though I avoid this if I can, as it also removes some of the flowers’ scent and you then have wet flowers to dry. 

Loosen the egg white in a small bowl, use your paint brush to coat each flower with a thin layer of egg white. Some advice to place the flowers in a salad spinner at this point, to spin off the excess egg white. I find that a bit harsh for delicate flowers! Just paint lightly and be sure you coat every crevice. Pour a little of the sugar over the flower or petal until it has a layer of sugariness. Place on a plate, board or clean/sry surface. Continue with all the flowers. Leave in a dry place overnight or until crisp to touch. I dry mine on top of a radiator. 

Store in a clean, sealed jar. Darina Allen stores hers in a pottery jar or tin box interleaved with silicone paper. I just store mine in an airtight jar or clean container.

Want to know more? Why not take a look at my;

Crystallised wild violets collected on a foraging course

Homemade, foraged biscuits with violets

I've had such fun experimenting with edible violets! Their colour and aroma are a delight, if not a little elusive to pin down! So I thought I'd share my best Dozen Recipes for using Violets for sweet and savoury, complete with notes on colour and flavour.

Most of the recipes I share here use sweet violets, though some are suitable for other wild violets. Check my my Wild Food: Violets post to find out more.

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Forager Rachel Lambert lives in Penzance town

People often assume I live in the countryside with a beautiful garden, which isn't entirely true. Yes, I do live in Cornwall, 3 minutes walk from the sea, though I also live in Penzance town and have a small Cornish backyard rather than a garden. Myth broken!

I love my town house and from the moment I moved in I started carting unwanted soil from my friend's garden down to my yard. Up and down with a wheelbarrow, I carted about 20 bags of soil to fill a greatly prized wooden box. I loved having my hands in that soil, getting dirty, tired and slowly filling my 1 m x 1 m box, first with stones and gravel then with soil. My garden was born!

Forager Rachel Lambert's small box garden

How this forager grows weeds

The second thing that people often assume about me is that I am a good gardener. I am not. I am a forager, someone who is in awe of nature and benefits from her intelligent, natural growing techniques by plucking what grows wild and free in abundance. My gardening follows a similar style, or you could say that I am a lazy gardener. When my foraged soil was firmly in its new home I started to research plants that were good for wildlife as well as think about my favourite edible weeds and a little about beauty too. Beauty can be the glue that holds a functional garden together.

I was also given several plants. My preliminary box garden looked something like this;

  • Dog violets (locally grown)
  • Sweet woodruff (does well in the shade)
  • Nettles (arrived naturally)
  • Dead nettles
  • Wood sorrel (arrived naturally)
  • Various mints (curiously they disappeared within a year)
  • Cowslips (these almost disappeared in Britain in the past so good to plant them)
  • Primroses (locally grown, I love these)
  • Blackcurrant (grown locally)
  • Nasturtiums (arrived naturally)
  • Montbretia (arrived naturally)

Within a year my garden self-selected what was staying and what was going. The mint disappeared, the violets were adored and eaten by slugs (rather quickly), the blackcurrant struggled, the woodruff got frost bite and where on earth did my dead nettles go?! Meanwhile, my stinging nettles, nasturiums, primroses, wood sorrel and montbretia flourished! And so my naturalised garden was born.

Since then my blackcurrant has produced about 10 fruits (hurray!) and I have added a honeysuckle to the gang. Somehow a healthy dandelion and alexanders have crept in too - all welcome, oh, and I've slipped in a locally grown wild garlic in the shady, back corner.

Nasturium flowers   Nasturtium microphyllum and Nasturtium officinale

Loving a wild garden

I love a wild garden for many reasons, it is a lazy gardener's way - I rarely weed, instead I just allow my garden to evolve. Sometimes I grieve the loss of plants that didn't make it - I tried planting local violets twice though the slugs were just too keen. Luckily there are some successes too, right now I'm celebrating the evening scent of honeysuckle as I come through my gate into my yard.

Cultivating wild spaces is something which is close to my heart. In the UK, and world over, as our wild spaces shrink it is good to put something back and provide opportunities for 'weeds' and wild flowers to freely roam and take root. I gain small pleasures from, eventually (having plucked a few tops first for myself, for soup, cake, pakoras, or syrup) letting my stinging nettles go to flower and letting the bees and butterflies benefit. Well, that is if one or two pass-by. Butterflies numbers have drastically plummeted in the last 40 years, with 76% species in decline. As we know, bees are struggling too, and one cause is said to be loss of habitats for them to forage. Planting or allowing wild flowers to flourish, as well as avoiding the use of pesticides and insecticides in our gardens, can potentially help the bees and butterflies along.

As a forager I take care in the amount I take from the 'wild', though I do take. The opportunity to convert my bare yard into a small growing plot is my token effort to give back, and yet, my garden still gives me so much more than I give it. Time for a salad of nasturtium leaves and flowers, dandelion leaves and a little wild garlic I think, courtesy of my wild back yard garden.

Trailing plants in my garden

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