The sound of trickling water signals the snow melting as the trees are bathing in the warmth of a brighter sun. The first green shoots are popping up out of the gray, cold ground. Opening the windows in the morning, we’re treated to a symphony of birdsong.
Two or three weeks later, yellow, white and violet flower carpets appear. Spring is here!
“And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
and each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.”
― Percy Bysshe Shelley
Around the world, spring is known as the season of love. While love celebration is now globally associated with buying gifts and sending roses on Valentine’s Day, many Slovenes are carrying on the tradition and celebrate it in their own special way, on March 12th, Saint Gregory’s day. Saint Gregory’s day or Gregorjevo used to mark the beginning of spring according to the old Julian calendar. Oral folk tradition has it that birds are getting married on that day. On the eve of St. Gregory's Day, craftsmen used to throw flaming torches into the water as artificial light was no longer needed in workshops. To keep the custom alive, children nowadays still gather to craft little lamp-lit boats and houses, called gregorčki, and send them off downstream, saying goodbye to cold winter days.
Valentine’s day has been of great importance to Slovenes for a long time as well, but not in relation to romance. Saint Valentine has been related to the advent of spring and a proverb goes that “Saint Valentine brings the keys of roots”. Plants and flowers start to grow on this day and first chores in the fields begin.
Snowdrops, hellebores, crocuses, primroses and violets are among the first ones to appear. Although beautiful, the first three mentioned are highly toxic if ingested, so it’s better to only admire them from afar. Primroses and violets, on the other hand, are edible and full of nutrients, an excellent place to start if you want to forage food for the first time. Both violets and primroses can be used to liven up your salads, decorate cakes or include them in spring herbal teas.
In Slovenia, foraging and herbalism have a reach history. When visiting friends or grandparents in rural areas, you’ll often encounter drying rooms or herb drying racks covered with leaves and flowers. Every Slovene knows a quote from Kekec, the first Slovene youth movie, that says: “For each disease, there’s a flower”.
The primrose (Primula vulgaris) is known as a remedy for muscular cramps, headaches, anxiety and insomnia. It is called trobentica in Slovene, meaning “little trumpet”, and as children, we would blow in it to produce a trumpet-like sound and eat it afterwards. Both the flowers and the leaves can be made into a syrup or a tea. To preserve the nice yellow color and their beneficial effects, they should be dried at 40° C.
Safety note: Some texts advise the P. vulgaris should not be used by pregnant women, patients sensitive to aspirin, or those on anti-coagulant drugs such as warfarin. Ingestion of excessive amounts of leaves and roots can cause nausea and vomiting.
Sweet violets (Viola odorata) are known for their scent, and the lovely blooms symbolize loyalty, making them the perfect gift. The flowers can be crystallised and used to garnish cakes or freezed into ice cubes and added to your summer drink. The French are known for their violet syrup, which can be used to flavour cakes and biscuits, poured over pancakes and waffles or in a G&T, adding both sweetness and colour. To make violet tea, fresh or dried flowers can be used. In Slovenia, there are around 20 species of wild violets, white violet (Viola alba) also being one of them. However, only sweet violets are known for their health benefits.
Another flower that heralds the arrival of spring is lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis). As the name suggests, the plant is believed to support the lungs and it can allegedly treat conditions like pneumonia and asthma. Lungwort’s blooms range in colour from rose to blue. When they first open up, the flowers are red in color, but they turn blue as they are pollinated by bees. This change in colour is probably the reason why the plant is commonly known as noč pa dan in Slovene, meaning night and day.
The links between nature and wellbeing are strong and clear. Spring, bursting with new life, offers plenty of opportunities to get curios and mindful. Never hesitate to kneel down or look up in the sky as nature is full of treasures. Get outside, stop and smell the flowers and soak in their sweet scents and colorful blooms.
Note: It is very important to source your herbs from unpolluted spaces. As with any herb or supplement, consult an informed herbalist and primary healthcare practitioner before use. Forage sustainably and carefully to ensure there is enough left for animals to consume now and to ensure plants can regenerate and reproduce.
Words and photography by Manca Zorko