Botanical Eggs and a Spring Equinox Ritual For New Growth
The Vernal Equinox around March 20th is a time of fertility and new growth. The days are now an equal balance of night and day as we move closer to the sun-filled Summer Solstice. Many traditions and celebrations surround this day, from the Christian Easter to the Pagan Ostara, from which it derives its name. It’s a time to celebrate fertility and plant the seeds for new growth - both literally and figuratively. For many, this is the start of the growing season and time to plant hardy plants outside or start seeds indoors. For others, it’s a wonderful time to check in with yourself and set some intentions. What are the seeds you’d like to plant for yourself in the coming year? You can do both at the ritual I’ve designed to celebrate this day, and I’ve even given directions for a beautiful treat to serve at it: naturally-dyed botanical eggs! At the bottom of this post, you’ll also find a handy list of creative recipes to use any leftover hardboiled eggs in, from Filipino Yema candy to Ethiopian Doro Wat stew.
These festive spring eggs are the perfect combination of the hope nestled in both eggs and young herbs. You can forage your own wild herbs to use (sagebrush looks particularly lovely, and lends a slight flavor to the eggs as well) or just use herbs bought from the store (flat-leafed parsley works especially well.) Whatever you use, just make sure it is edible as eggshells are permeable and you want to make sure you don’t introduce any toxins! All of the colors here are completely natural, derived of edible materials like red cabbage and yellow onion skins. I first learned this technique and the recipe for onion skin dye from my Polish grandmother, who had in turn learned it from her foremothers. A little note: eggs more than a week old will peel much more cleanly than fresh eggs.
To make naturally-dyed botanical eggs, you’ll need:
dyestuff of choice (see notes below)
old pantyhose or cheesecloth
foraged edible plants or herbs
1 Tbs. salt
oil, for polishing
- Yellow onion skins - these are probably the most reliable of all options and can produce anything from a warm gold to a rusty orange to even a deep burgundy depending on the concentration of the dye and how long you leave the eggs in it. If you don’t have a bunch saved up already, don’t worry: most produce managers are very happy to let you clean up their display by picking out any loose skins from around the onions. One time I even had a manager take me into a back room and keep me company while we picked through bags and bags of onions! You won’t need too many, though - just enough to fill a medium pot halfway full. Also, you may think that red onion skins would be a better option, but that is not the case - they produce a light pinkish-tan but are nowhere near as stunning as the yellow ones.
- Red cabbage: red cabbage is another reliable yet surprising option, which produces a variety of blues depending on concentration and the amount of vinegar you add. Vinegar helps the dyes to bond with the shells, but if you add too much your blues will shift to a more purple or sometimes gray. You can expect light blues, teals, and even dark blue using this material. Just pick out a smallish head of red cabbage and slice it into thin slices to prepare.
- Blueberries: like red cabbage, the dyestuff in blueberries is also pH sensitive so be mindful of how much vinegar you add. Blueberries can give lots of beautiful purple-blues, from light lavender to dark indigo.
- Turmeric: this common kitchen spice produces a bright yellow dye. You only need a couple of Tbs of it for a small pot. The botanical designs won’t show up as well when you use turmeric as yellow just doesn’t provide much contrast, but you can try initially boiling your eggs in turmeric and then adding them to another pot later on to get a variety of mixed colors, from yellow-orange to bright green
- Prepare your dyes: fill a pot about halfway full of your dye material (with the exception of turmeric; for that you’ll just need about 2 Tbs. per small pot of water), then cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and let simmer for about an hour, then turn the heat off and let cool to room temp.
- Meanwhile, prepare your eggs: in a large bowl, put a couple of Tbs of white vinegar, 1 tsp salt, and then fill halfway with warm water. Gently add your raw eggs and allow to soak for about 20 minutes. Then carefully rinse and set aside to dry (or dry with a napkin or towel.)
- When the eggs are dried, you can start adding your botanical designs. Begin by cutting 3” lengths out of your nylon pantyhose or 6” square pieces of cheesecloth. Pantyhose will leave a more subtle pattern so that the herb designs stand out more and cheesecloth will leave more of a fabric texture. Just take a leaf of an herb and hold it against the raw egg, then wrap both tightly in your fabric of choice and secure with a bit of string. It’s a tricky maneuver at first but then becomes easy once you get the hang of it. You want the herb to be securely positioned against the surface of the egg.
- Once the eggs have been wrapped and the dyes are cooled to room temperature, strain the dyes through a mesh strainer to remove the dye material, reserving the liquid. Add a little white vinegar to each pot - about 1/4 c. for a small pot or 1/3 c. for a larger one. Add your eggs to the dyes and then bring to a boil over medium-high. Once the liquid is boiling, remove the pots from heat and allow them to cool down at room temperature. This results in hardboiled eggs with softish yolks without a dark ring or chalky texture; if you’d like your eggs to be a little more well-cooked you can let them boil longer before removing from heat. As the eggs in the dye cool, make sure you turn them every now and then to ensure an even coating of dye. At any point, you can place an egg from one dye pot into another to layer the colors.
- Once all of the dyes have cooled to room temperature, assess the color. If you like the pastel tones at this step, remove the eggs from the dye and cut off the fabric to reveal your batik-like plant print! If you prefer darker colors, leave the eggs in and place the whole pot in the fridge overnight, turning now and then if the eggs are sticking out of the dye at all. I like to do a combination of both so I have different saturations and tones in my eggs. Once all of the eggs are dyed to your liking, remove them from the dyes and cut off the fabric. Handle gently to avoid finger smudges or accidentally removing any of the dye (it is not as durable as synthetic dyes are). Allow to dry completely, then gently apply some kind of vegetable oil to the surface to bring out the design and make them shine. Your botanical eggs are now ready to serve!
If you’d like to serve your eggs as I did with some brightly-colored and flavored salts, they are quite easy to whip up and a fun exercise in creativity! Just think about the flavors in your kitchen and how you could incorporate them into medium-coarse sea salt. If using a liquid ingredient, don’t use more than about 1/2 tsp. per 2 Tbs of salt. Red wine can be reduced to a thick syrup and added, sriracha pepper sauce can be squirted in with a bit of lime, and fresh herbs like parsley can be ground in a mortar and pestle and mixed into salts. Mix well and serve immediately or lay out to dry before crumbling and storing in airtight tins. The flavor combinations I used are: sriracha and smoked paprika; curry and mustard seed; red wine with thyme; fresh parsley; and dried stinging nettle.
Vernal Equinox Egg Ritual:
Some easy-to-grow seeds and a place to plant them (either indoors in a pot or outdoors depending on your climate) Peas and sweet peas work especially well
hard-boiled eggs (decorated however you'd like)
small plates, one for each guest
floral water, optional
pens that will write on eggshells (sharpies work well.)
- Decide whether or not you’ll have a feast component to your ritual. If so, either prepare a meal for your guests (that can be left unattended for the length of the ritual) or ask your guests to bring a dish to share.
- Create a tidy and comfortable space to hold your gathering. If you’ll be holding your ritual on the floor, lay out a blanket for everyone to sit on. Place the bowl of eggs and the flavored salts in the middle of the table, along with the seeds and pots, if you’re using them. You may consider setting out some fresh flowers or other symbol of springtime. Bless the space in whatever way feels best to you.
- As your guests arrive, welcome them through some kind of intentional action. A little spritz of floral water is a lovely way to mark this threshold crossing (just make sure none of your guests have scent allergies or sensitivities.)
- Have your guests place their dishes (if you’ll be having a potluck) on a table in a separate area, then join you in a circle on the ground or around the table.
- Begin your ceremony by acknowledging everyone’s presence and thanking them for being there. If you’d like to say a prayer or open the ceremony in some other particular way, do so now (welcoming the four directions is a well-known way to do this as well.)
- Place all of the seeds into a bowl and tell your guests that you’re going to bless them with gratitude. Pass the bowl around the circle and have each guest list off a couple of things they are grateful for as they hold it. Set the bowl back in the middle of the table.
- Pass around the eggs and instruct everyone to take one. Pass the salts as well for guests to scoop onto their plates. Explain that the eggs are a symbol of hope and nourishment for the new season and the salt represents purification. Have each guest peel their egg, keeping the eggshells as intact as possible (again, much easier to do if your eggs are at least a week old when you dye them.) As they peel, have them think about a simple one-word intention, such as “health,” “love,” or “hope,” that they’d like to have in their life. Then, instruct your guests to eat their egg by dipping it into the flavored salt and hold their word in their mind as they eat.
- When all of the guests have finished eating, instruct them to write a more detailed intention on the peeled eggshells using sharpies or other permanent pens.
- Pass a couple of seeds to each guest.
- If you’ll be planting your seeds in pots, have each guest fill a pot halfway full of potting soil, then bury their eggshells in the pots. Plant your seeds at an appropriate depth for the plant (peas are about 1” down) and water your pots. If you have a plot of land outside you’re planting as a group, take your guests outside and first bury the eggshells, then plant a seed. You can also send your guests home with their eggshells and seeds to plant in their own gardens.
- Say a final blessing over the planted seeds, such as “May our hopes and wishes grow as spring blesses us with warmth and sun.” Continue to tend to your planted seeds so they can grow into happy plants.
- Conclude the ceremony by thanking everyone again for attending and reading a short quote or poem that seems appropriate for spring’s hope and fertility. Then, enjoy your meal together if you’re having one or send your guests on their way.
Other Uses for Hard Boiled Eggs:
This list was compiled with help from my friends in Treasure Valley Real Foodies, a local Facebook group when I asked them for suggestions beyond the classic egg salad or deviled eggs. I’m looking forward to trying some of these myself!
Pancit Palabok - A noodle dish from the Philippines topped with shrimp sauce and other delights like hard boiled eggs, cooked shrimp, boiled pork, scallions, fried garlic, and other such treats.
Easter Pie - A classic Italian dish made out of layered noodles filled with ricotta cheese, mozzarella, salami, pepperoni, and hard boiled eggs
Egg Pepper Masala Fry - An Indian delicacy of fried curried eggs spiced with a flavorful spice mix
Beet-Pickled Eggs - A Pennsylvania Dutch snack of bright purple eggs pickled in spiced beet juice. Slightly sweet, slightly tangy, absolutely beautiful.
Bacon-wrapped Eggs - A creative new take on the classic combination, these hardboiled eggs are filled with an herbed cream cheese then wrapped in bacon and cooked until the bacon is crispy. Yum!
Braciole - A savory roulade of pan-grilled or fried rolls of stuffed meat filled with eggs, cheese, herbs, and other delightful surprises.
Scotch Eggs - A succulent treat from - where else - Scotland consisting of hardboiled eggs wrapped in flavorful sausage and cooked into a protein-packed snack
Smoked Fish Pie - A creamy potato pie filled with flaky fish and hardboiled eggs
Doro Wat - a spiced Ethiopian stew filled with chicken and eggs and served with Injera, a sourdough teff flatbread
Creamed Eggs on Toast - Classic old-timey comfort food, hard boiled eggs are smothered in white sauce and served over crisp buttered toast
Egg Biryani - an Indian dish of curried eggs, cardamom-spiced rice, and a creamy saffron sauce
Empanadas - Mexican street food of a savory pastry filled with a spiced beef and egg filling
Yema - a Filipino candy named after the Spanish word for egg yolks. It is rich and custardy and made out of hard boiled egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, and sugar. Optional ingredients include butter and walnuts as well.
Do you have any favorite recipes utilizing hardboiled eggs? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!
Have a wonderful Spring Equinox!!
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