5 Herbs To Nourish You Into Spring February 26, 2016 11:06
As I look though the seed inventory and make plans for our gardens, I find myself longing to have my hands in the soil and impatiently await the telltale scent of spring to be in the air. With the first day of spring (March 20th) right around the corner, I figure this is a perfect time to chat about some of my favorite herbs for preparing and nourishing the body for spring.
1. Dandelion -The humble Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a favorite of mine when it comes to tonic herbs; the entire plant is known to be rejuvenating and restorative. Some here in the United States treat this herb friend as a trespasser, wrongly labeling it as a “weed” and ignoring its nutritional value and great benefits to both humans and the soil it chooses to take root in. Thank goodness this brutish speciesism (bear with me, if you will) and eradication of this valuable specimen is not embraced everywhere; there are many still to this day that cultivate and harvest Dandelion as a precious bitter delicacy and it is prized as a spring tonic in many cultures throughout Europe.
Dandelion is a valuable and generally free herb used for its remarkable nutritional and medicinal properties. I am truly grateful that it can still show off its beautiful golden yellow flowers in parking lots, meadows, pesticide free lawns and gardens here in Northeast Ohio. 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. When the process of digestion is nurtured and supported, the body is able to assimilate more nutrients from food, and problems like gas and constipation can be decreased. 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. You can, however, cut the bitterness by cooking dandelion with sweet foods like onions or squash. The flowers are not only edible, but can be used to make beer, cordials, jellies and can even be pickled. When made into an herbal infusion, Dandelion is generally considered a safe and effective rejuvenating tonic to improve overall health and strengthen the liver, improve kidney function, reduce inflammation and stimulate bile flow in the gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, stomach and intestines. Collect the hairless, toothed dandelion leaves in the early spring when they are the tastiest, before the flowers appear and the leaves become too bitter. Harvest the roots in the fall after the flowers have lost their color and flown away. You may have to fight the bees and bunnies for the precious flower buds, but they are worth collecting right before or during the blooming process. Just a little bit of dandelion a day can assist you in making a healthy transition into spring.
2. Mint –The invigorating scent of the members of the Lamiaceae family (Garden Mint (Mentha sativa), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), and Spearmint (Mentha spicata), just to name a few) are 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, 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 ½ of the plant for regrowth and future harvesting. The wonderfully fragrant leaves of mint contain Vitamin C, Vitamin E, bioflavonoids, azulene and menthol. Adding mint to meals (salads, chutney, syrups or spring peas) or to your tea (leaves and flowers) can increase stomach acidity required for digestion and the flavonoids stimulate the gallbladder to contract and secrete bile. It can also help with reducing gas, lessening cramps, and soothing nausea and diarrhea. Garden mint blends wonderfully with other herbs, and also tastes amazing in a refreshing sun tea with fruit. Peppermint is the most powerful mint for digestive disorders, and is also widely used for fevers, chills, reducing inflammation, and calming spasms and headaches. It is great to drink during a cleanse as it freshens breath and can also be helpful in relieving sinus pressure as the seasons transition. Spearmint is a little softer and gentler in its taste and actions, making it a more suitable herb for children, seniors and folks with a sensitive system.
3. Nettle - I consider Nettle (Urtica dioica) 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-complex 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 the dense concentration of minerals and amino acids, nettles help to 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 prevent and/or decrease seasonal allergies. With a history dating back to the Bronze Age people have been using nettle for food, medicine, fiber and dye. Best to 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 leaves look similar to a big mint, but beware of the identifying, small stinging hairs covering the opposed serrated leaves and deeply grooved stems. Cooking, pulverizing, or drying nettles can remove the “sting” from the fresh leaves; be sure to plan ahead and cover all exposed skin (gloves, long sleeves, jeans, etc.) when collecting and or processing this valuable herb.
4. Rose and Rose Hips - I tend to use Rose (Rose canina, Rosa rugosa and other related species) quite often in the spring to support the immune system and beat the winter blues. The fragrant and colorful rose petals can be used to 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 of the rose 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 and the chill of winter helps to develop this precious gems. These beautiful fruits form 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 flavonoids (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. In Rosemary Gladstar's book, Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, she recommends making a delicious rose hip jam by simply covering dried, seedless rose hips with fresh apple juice and let them soak overnight. This yummy jam should be ready to eat the next day.
*Please note that it is important to purchase ORGANIC roses and rose hips or grow your own to ensure that they have not been sprayed with any pesticides or chemicals.
5. Red Clover - You can find Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) in fields, gardens, lawns and abandoned lots. It is a three leaved plant, the leaves have a light v-shaped marking and the flower blossoms are pink. The blossoms generally bloom 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, compost any brown or discolored ones) and leaves (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(1,2,3,5,6,9,and 12), 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. A Tea or Decoction of this herb has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and calming qualities. When used properly, red clover can be valuable as a respiratory tonic, it is great for clearing the skin, purifying the blood and detoxifing the system.
*Hemophiliacs, anyone with high blood pressure or anyone taking blood thinners should avoid using Red Clover since it has a tendency to thin the blood.
Hopefully some of the herbs I touched on will assist you in making a small connection with your body and nature. Not only do I feel more alive and energetic by using these herbs, they also help me establish a connection with the land and Mother Earth’s ever changing seasons. Happy Spring!
Can’t find these herbs in your region? Don’t like the taste of Nettle or Dandelion? Looking for the perfect brew to keep your immune system supported as spring rounds the corner? Give Be Well Tisane a try. Formulated with nourishment and wellness in mind, this delightful tisane happens includes all 5 of the herbs for spring I just wrote about. You can find it here http://sageandspicewb.com/collections/teas-tisanes/products/be-well
Pour 1 cup (8 oz) of boiling water over 1 rounded teaspoon of dried herb (or herbal blend) into a heat safe, glass or ceramic mug or container. NEVER USE PLASTIC or ALUMINUM. Cover and steep for at least 20 minutes (or overnight). Be careful not to burn yourself, as the mug or container will be hot. Strain and sweeten with honey, molasses or maple syrup, if desired. Sip, Breathe and Enjoy.
*To substitute fresh herbs, use 3 times the amount of dried.
Gladstar, R. (2009). Rosemary Gladstar's herbal recipes for vibrant health. Pownal, VT: Storey.
Haas, E. M. (1981). Staying healthy with the seasons =. Millbrae, CA: Celestial Arts.
Hoffman, D. (1988). The holistic herbal. Element Books.
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The information and statements are not meant to diagnose or treat any medical conditions or to prescribe medicine.