Welcoming spring with nourishing wild herbs

The humble dandelion is a favorite of mine when it comes to tonic herbs; the entire plant is rejuvenating and restorative. Some here in the United States treat this herb friend as a trespasser, wrongly labeling it a “weed.” Thank goodness this brutish speciesism is not embraced everywhere! The jagged greens are nutritionally saturated, loaded with minerals and vitamins such as potassium, calcium, and vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, and E. Dandelion contains more beta carotene than carrots, more iron than spinach, and a healthy dose of phosphorous, magnesium, copper, and zinc. Bitter foods such as dandelion tone and stimulate the entire digestive tract, helping the body assimilate more nutrients from food, and alleviating problems like gas and constipation. Try including a chopped handful of leaves to a salad, add a few young, tender roots or leaves to soups, sautés, steamed greens, and casseroles — but use moderately due to dandelion’s bitterness. The flowers are not only edible, but can be used to make beer, cordials, jellies and can even be pickled.

Recipe: Dandelion Gravy

The invigorating scent of the Lamiaceae family (garden mint, peppermint, and spearmint, just to name a few) makes it one of the easiest wild herbs to recognize on a garden stroll or a walk in the woods. This fragrant herb is relatively easy to grow when started in a container or a pot. Mint will die back each year, but it is extremely invasive and will reemerge and greedily spread roots in the spring. Harvest this energizing herb from late spring into autumn, but be sure to leave at least half of the plant for regrowth and future harvesting. Mint leaves contain vitamin C and E, bioflavonoids, azulene, and menthol, and can increase stomach acidity required for digestion. It can also help reduce gas, lessen cramps, and soothe nausea and diarrhea. Garden mint blends wonderfully with other herbs — try adding mint to meals like salads, chutney, syrups, or spring peas — and also tastes amazing in a refreshing sun tea with fruit.

I consider nettle an herbal powerhouse — it strengthens and supports the whole body. The nourishing leaves are a fantastic source of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, cobalt, copper, potassium, phosphorus, protein, chlorophyll, B vitamins, and much more. Mineral-rich nettle leaves can restore energy, detoxify the body, and support the liver, kidneys, adrenals, thyroid glands, and reproductive system. Due to a dense concentration of minerals and amino acids, nettles help build healthy bones, hair, skin, and teeth. Additionally, when used regularly for several months, nettle has been known to boost immune function, decrease PMS symptoms, and decrease seasonal allergies. People have been using nettle for food, medicine, fiber, and even dye since the Bronze Age! Harvest as the flowers start to open; the leaves, seeds, roots, and young tops can all be used. This herb is often called stinging nettle, and it definitely lives up to the name: Nettle looks similar to mint, but beware of the small stinging hairs covering the serrated leaves and deeply grooved stems. Cooking, pulverizing, or drying nettles can remove the sting from the fresh leaves.

Rose and Rose Hips
I use rose quite often in the spring to support the immune system and beat the winter blues. Fragrant and colorful rose petals can create delicious jellies, vinegars, syrups, and honeys. They are quite pleasant when added to teas and salads, and extremely valuable when making flower essences and love potions. The flower petals contain the important antioxidant polyphenol, and the leaves are astringent and toning. Rose petal tea can be helpful for stress, calming the nervous system, and for cleansing the bladder and kidneys. Rose hips are the fruit from the rose plant. They form in winter’s chill after bees pollinate the flower, so it is important to leave the dead flower heads on your rose bush if you want rose hips to develop and ripen. Rose hips contain tons of vitamin C (more than citrus fruit), vitamins B1, B3, D, E, beta carotene, calcium, citric acid, pectin, zinc, magnesium, and antioxidants. These mildly tart fruits have been historically valued as food, tea, and medicine to treat scurvy, chest congestion, inflammation, infection, and to combat stress. Thanks to their natural pectin, you can make a delicious rose hip jam by simply covering dried, seedless rose hips with fresh apple juice and letting it sit overnight.

Red Clover
You can find red clover in fields, gardens, lawns, and even abandoned lots. Look for pink blossoms and three leaves with a light, V-shaped marking. Clover blooms from spring until fall, but the best time to collect the flowers is in late spring. Fresh or dried red clover flowers (select only the best flower heads and compost any brown or discolored ones) and leaves (use the first two leaves below the flower) make delicious herbal tea and are a wonderful addition to salads. Red clover is full of nutrients, packed with vitamins C and B, beta carotene, nitrogen, bioflavonoids, calcium, choline, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, selenium, and manganese. Great for detoxification and rebuilding, red clover stimulates and cleanses both the liver and gallbladder while strengthening and nourishing the body.

How to make an Herbal Infusion:

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 rounded teaspoon of dried herbs, or 3 of fresh in a heat safe glass or ceramic mug or container — never plastic or aluminum. Cover and steep for at least 20 minutes, or as long as overnight. Strain and sweeten with honey, molasses or maple syrup, if desired. Sip, Breathe, and Enjoy.