In a few short days it will be February – and it can be a dreary month, often rainy and cold, even in southern Arizona. All hearts need some easing in this upcoming shortest of months. Luckily, here in southern Arizona, February is the month we can easily grow one of the most hearteasing and cheerful flowers on the face of the earth. Heartease is the common name for Viola tricolor, best known as one of the mothers of the pansy. The simple beauty and delightfully friendly tricolored faces of heartease, pansies, and violets have long been admired by poets, artists, lovers, and cooks!

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Pansies and violets have a long history of human consumption. The flowers, fresh or candied, were a favorite edible decoration at medieval banquets. Tarts made from pansies or violets were a Victorian delicacy.

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Top a custard tart with berries and heartease.

Heartease flowers can be used to flavor and color salads, herbal butters, jams, jellies, syrups, desserts, herbal vinegars, and even wines. Studies indicate that flowers contain appreciable amounts of vitamins A and C, so along with adding color to the salad they are healthy for you.

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All of these are high in Vitamin C.

Ethnomedicinally, pansies and violets have been used to treat health problems ranging from epilepsy to depression. A tea made from the leaves was prescribed for quelling anger and inducing sleep. Roman revelers wore wreaths of violets in hopes of preventing hangovers.

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Smoked salmon salad with purple pansies – colorful and yummy.


Heartease, pansies and violets grow well in Tucson from seed sown in October. At this time of year it is best to buy “seedlings” or already growing plants. Replant seedlings into the ground or containers in partial to full sun, and keep these temperate climate plants watered.

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Tiny Viola odorata is incredibly fragrant and grows well in our area.

I like planting pansies and violets in containers with potting soil for three reasons. First, Viola do best in rich, moist soil with good drainage. Second, I put the containers up on a table with metal legs so the critters can’t climb up and eat my plants. Third, these charmers are up where I can easily see them and enjoy their beauty. Harvest them too, when I’m making a dinner salad.

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Yogurt with chia, berries, and hearease. A great way to start the day.

Ornamental plants from “big box” nurseries are very often treated with toxic insecticides and fungicides (biocides) that are systemic (throughout all plant tissues) and stay in the plants for around three months. Herbs and vegetable plants from a nursery are not treated with systemic biocides because they are edibles.


JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).
© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

On Cows and the Sweetness of Milk (Dulce de Leche)


Tia Linda:  It is Springtime and we are preparing for our spring roundup.  At a roundup we move all cattle into the corrals, eye each animal, and tend to any that need tending. We  talk about pasture and how to work with “the conditions”. Climate and weather are huge topics of conversation, because when you ranch, you first and foremost raise grass and pasture.  After that, you can raise animals.


Here a mother cow nurses two calves, one her own, one an orphan.

During roundup we have a few cows set in one area for milking.  All milking is done my hand.  It is both a reverent and practical act to milk an animal.  And one you need to be completely present to, as you are working with big animals with big hoofs who are shifting their weight here and there, while you balance on the balls of your feet, as you grip a cold metal pail between your knees. Working warm moist teats, the humid smell of fresh milk flows, the sounds of the warm liquid hits the metal of the pail and then softens as the pail fills.  Most milking happens right before dawn, so the stars are still above, the air is cool, bats are still out hunting insects. As they fly by, I can feel their batwing air currents on my face. The metal pail, initially cold from the morning air, warms as it fills.




We milk some “Vacas de Leche” because they have great udders. Others because they need a bit of “gentle-ing”. Milking a cow can be just as much about a process as a product. You are teaching her – inviting her –  to trust you, and every morning as you work with her, the hope is that she accepts your invitation.

To the ancient Celts the beginning of spring was called Imbolic, from the old words for “ewes milk” or “in the belly” as pregnant sheep began to lactate.  I love that this ritual is rooted in hoofed animals and milk. I feel a kind of  archetypal resonance with lactating animals.   Female animals.  In Anne Baring’s and Jules Cashford’s scholarly book,  The Myth of the Goddess, they write “there was (a) tradition,… in which the Primeval Waters and the High God (was) feminine, and the heavenly ocean was imagined as a ‘great flood’, which was manifest in the form of a great cow nourishing the world with her rain-milk, an image familiar from the Neolithic.” (P252) Isis and Hathor are just two Goddesses that the authors reference, that embody the cow as cosmic mother.


Photo Above: This painting on papyrus is from 1000BC shows Hathor; stars of the night on her. You can find this and other ancient Cow as Cosmic Mother representations, in the book cited above. This photo is on the internet.

The image of the cosmic mother as cow is not one most in people modern life have been exposed to.  Nourishment happens on multiple levels, and  we see that pasture based animals’ “life giving” energies manifest in the  nutritional content of milk.  Their milk differs greatly from cows whose lives are spent in the mainstream, industrial food system. In her book,  The Grassfed Gourmet, ,  Shannon Hayes’s  writes: “…  milk from grass-fed animals offers exceptional health benefits, due in large part to the proper ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids and the high levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). As a result of their pasture based diet, the milk from grass fed cows is naturally high in vitamins A and E and rich in beta-carotene, which contributes to its characteristic buttery color.” She goes on to cite “recent research (that has) uncovered significant findings pointing to the cancer-fighting properties of grass-fed dairy products. A recent Finnish study … concludes that a diet composed of CLA-rich foods, particularly cheese, may protect against breast cancer in post menopausal women.” (see p219)

Just like flowers for honey, grapes for wine, and cactus (liquors) for your margarita, milk directly reflects the land on which the animals are raised. The flavor and texture of milk depends upon the condition of the grasses, and forage, and are affected by  whether or not we  received summer and/or winter rains.

Feeding hard working folks nourishing foods is important during the long “up before sunset -working past dark days” of a cattle roundup. Sweets make it all the sweeter. And one sweet is made with a ranch ingredient: Milk.

RECIPE: Dulce de Leche   (Adapted a tad from Marilyn Noble’s, Southwest Comfort Food)


2 quarts whole cows milk (pasture raised if you can find it)

3 cups sugar (i had good success with organic cane sugar; honey didn’t work texture   wise, but it tastes OK)

1 vanilla bean

½ teaspoon baking soda

(Note: the goat milk option is called Cajeta. For a vegan option: try coconut milk.)


In a large saucepan, stir together the milk, sugar, and vanilla bean – and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the baking soda and stir. Reduce heat to low and continue to barely simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Remove the Vanilla bean and continue to simmer for another few hours until the liquid is a golden brown and thickened and reduced to about 2 cups.


I love eating this simple “sweet”  by the spoonful.  If you have never eaten Dulce de Leche, try it this way first, without any other flavors or on top of any other foods. The flavor and texture are so pure it is as if Life is revealing one of Her simpler riches to you, saying “Ahhhh, you thought it had to be complicated …and all along it was right here, in this very spoon.”

In Sonora, it is eaten on tortillas, cookies, bread, and  stirred into in Atole de Pechita (a Mesquite drink).  I like in on top of mesquite pancakes, mesquite cookies, ice cream, or fresh fruit.

Note: picking up on the theme of nourishment coming in many forms ….  the Aroma that wafts through the kitchen while the milk and sugar are reducing is amazing. It is worth making JUST for the pleasure of inhaling such sweetness.