Our violets are collected in Bosnia, where there are still large areas of almost untouched, even deserted nature. In certain areas, a corresponding certification allows for the wild collection of these delicate blossoms.
“Here in Bosnia, medicinal plants have always been collected,” explains Mirjana Lopatic. Despite the war and all the changes, this tradition has survived to this day. Outstandingly aromatic and rare plants grow in the untouched nature of the country. 28-year-old Mirjana collects violets, most often together with Valentina. She is tree years younger than Mirjana and lives in the same village. Today, they want to show us the spots where they collect violets. Spring is cold this year. “In April it rained almost every day,” says Valentina, “It’s not ideal for collecting violets.” Because the delicate blossoms only unfold their scent when it is dry. However, they grow very well, “there are lots of violets this year”.
Here, at about 1200 metres above sea level, the curvy road is framed by meadows, pastures and sparse woodland. Spruces, firs, larches and beeches – it’s almost like on a mountain pasture in the Alps. Violets love environments like these. They grow in the meadows and clearings, not in the denser forest. Just like primroses, fragrant violets with their intensely violet blossoms are among the first spring bloomers.
Violet sea in the meadow
Two head of cattle are standing beside the road, enjoying young, lime green blades of grass. They are not interested in the violets. Mirjana and Valentina are happy about this. They’re laughing. In fact, they laugh a lot. They enjoy going out to collect violets. Sometimes together, sometimes alone, sometimes for two hours, sometimes all day long. “Whenever we have time”.
By now, Mirjana and Valentina know all the places where the delicate blossoms grow and where they may be collected. At quite a distance we can already see a shining violet surface that looks like a small ocean in the middle of the meadow. Valentina and Mirjana pick the fine blossoms by gently taking them between their forefingers and middle fingers, and put them into a bag. Since violet blossoms are so fragile and light, collecting them is quite tedious. “Within eight hours, I manage to pick around five kilograms,” says Valentina, “but for that I’ll have to work really hard.” At home, the two women spread out their harvest on cloths to dry in the attic. Then the blossoms have to be turned several times a day. “When the weather is good, they will have dried out after three to four days. When it’s damp, it can take up to six days.” Out of five kilograms of blossoms, only about seven hundred grams remain after drying. But the collectors are optimistic: When the weather is in their favour, they might be able to deliver up to eight kilograms of violets this spring.
The grandmothers’ knowledge of plants
The payment for the blossoms is a more than welcome blessing: Mirjana lives together with her two brothers and her father. Since her mother has passed away, Mirjana takes care of the household. The family has a small agricultural business. The young woman is currently saving the violet money for her driver’s license. Valentina also lives with her parents, and every day she takes the bus to the local university. She studies psychology and sees collecting as a kind of therapy to soothe the nerves. Mirjana always seems to laugh and be in a good mood.
She has been collecting blossoms, herbs and mushrooms for five years. In this region, the women of the local families have always collected herbs. “My grandmother made ointments and herbal teas from tree resins, amber, ribwort, marigold and yarrow,” Valentina recalls. The vast knowledge about the plants is passed on from generation to generation.
When the collectors have gathered enough of these precious goods, the production company sends one of its five pick-up trucks. The driver then inspects the goods. “The violets must be really dry, have a very intense colour and as few remaining stems as possible,” explains Mirjana. The price the women receive for the goods depends on the quality. But one thing is for sure: every pick-up truck brings Mirjana a little closer to her driving licence.