The early, quick growing, spring weeds are powerhouses of nutrition and awesome tonic herbs from your own backyard. Tonic herbs can be as close as your garden paths, or the edges of your forested areas. As spring approaches, grab your gathering basket, scissors, and gloves and let’s get harvesting.
As soon as the snow melts, the spring tonic herbs arrive, like clockwork. Stinging nettles, dandelions, cleavers, burdock, day lilies, and even strawberry and raspberry leaves are bursting out of their dormancy, ready to nourish us as nutritive, tonic powerhouses that support our overall health. Tonic herbs are rich in phytonutrients that support detoxification, reduce inflammation, stimulate sluggish digestion, and stimulate circulation after winter. These sprouts are amazing ingredients and offer the widest range of nutrition of any superfood product you’d find at the health food store. Best of all, if they are growing in your neighborhood, you can be assured that they are stressed with the same stressors, fungi, microbes that you are stressed with and can support you in overcoming these.
Many years ago I would have grabbed a hoe and pulled these “weeds” out by the root, before they took stronger hold in my garden. But knowing what I know now, about these nutritious and helpful herbs, I grab my gathering basket and gloves instead of the hoe. With the last few year’s uncertainty with the lock downs and food shortages in my own grocery store, I’m even more determined to ensure my family’s food security by gathering what I have, and using it wisely.
I’m a firm believer that the plants you need to support your health and life will show up in your environment before you need them. If you have a health challenge, look first at the resources — the weeds, the trees, the plants growing in your own landscape or close by — before you check your herb suppliers or the natural pharmacy. You might just have exactly what you need, for supporting your immunity and respiratory system, growing in your own neighborhood.
Take stinging nettle for instance. Stinging nettle is one of the most nutritious foods available in spring. Yes, I know they have a sting but the sting disappears when the plant is dried, boiled, or steamed.
Stinging nettles have complete protein — all the essential amino acids. They rival eggs, ounce for ounce as a valuable protein source. Remember that stinging nettle is one of our major tonic herbs and a powerhouse of nutrition, if you are ever lost in the woods. Eat nettles cooked, unless you are a goat. Wear gloves when you harvest them. If you do get stung, grab a plantain leaf or dandelion leaf. Chew it up and spit it on the sting. Close to instant relief.
Stinging nettles are high in a host of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, B, E and K, and the minerals calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, cobalt, copper, and silicon. They make an excellent nourishing, energizing tea, a good potherb that tastes like spinach, and an excellent spring tonic. They are my favorite tonic herb.
Nettles are a nutritional complex with a long history of use as a spring tonic, helping the body to eliminate waste, and getting things moving after a long winter. Nettles support many of your body systems. They have a diuretic action which helps with the removal of metabolic waste through the kidneys, as well as alterative and anti-inflammatory qualities which make nettles popular for a wide range of painful conditions like arthritis and joint stiffness.
They have a beneficial effect on the lymphatic system and kidneys, and will help bring nourishment to many important parts of the body. If you experience seasonal allergies or food allergies, stinging nettles are a great spring tonic to help your body back to balance.
This week I made 4 quarts of stinging nettle tincture for Mr. Joybilee, to help him with his allergies year round. He finds it works better than over the counter allergy pills to calm the itchy, immune response, histamine reactions he gets to pollen, grasses, and even his wheat allergy. (You can grab the recipe here)
Nettle can also be used dried in tea and in a nourishing herbal infusion. You can use more mature nettle leaves for this and dry them as they become available, so that you can enjoy this nutritious plant year round. I like it combined 1:1 with tulsi or holy basil for stress relief, to nourish the adrenal glands, and use it on a daily basis.
Even the nettle roots are an effective remedy for men’s reproductive health. Nettle roots are generally harvested in the fall or very early spring, as soon as the snow melts.
Cook spring nettle shoots like spinach or asparagus, as a vegetable. Cooking removes the sting. Use them in any way you would use frozen or cooked spinach. You can freeze it after blanching for winter, too. Put it in a smoothie, add it to lasagna or spanakopita I find they taste even better than spinach when cooked. And they don’t coat your teeth the way spinach does.
Traditionally families took gathering baskets out into the meadows and forests as soon as the snow melted to gather spring tonic herbs, connect with nature after a long winter, and regain their energy and health. The beneficial health effects of being in nature are well documented by Japanese studies. Children learned from their elders safe and ethical harvesting practices, while learning which herbs were safe to eat and which were not. Many children learned the names of wild plants this way. Maybe you had this experience as a child?
“In a recent YouGov poll, just 6% of 16- to 24-year-olds were able to correctly name a picture of a wild violet. The same poll showed nearly 70% of respondents would like to be able to identify more wild flowers.” (The Guardian)
When we gather spring tonic herbs we are joining in a long tradition and engaging in a meaningful ritual of renewal and health. You’re body can benefit from spring tonic herbs without resorting to an expensive formula, using imported herbs.
Stinging nettles are just one of many spring tonic herbs that you might have growing in your own neighborhood. Identifying wild edibles and wild medicines is an important part of food security.
Other spring tonic herbs
Combining spring tonic herbs can help create your own style of blood tonics. Use what’s local to you to boost your body and get things moving in the spring. Combining things like dandelion, stinging nettle, yarrow, and red raspberry can help you achieve radiant health. Just with the weeds at your back door.
Traditional harvest of spring herbs was believed to help detoxify the liver and help with overall body detoxification after the stillness and stagnation of winter.
Spring greens are beneficial to your whole body. There is not need to have a specific type of herbal formulas, traditional herbal medicine focuses on more than just specific body systems and single compounds. These spring herbs are beneficial to the whole body, and great as a simple food. When you let food be your medicine, there is no need to consume medicine like food.
Create Your Tonic Herb Allies
If you let some herbs go to seed naturally, like parsley, they can become part of your spring tonic herb arsenal. I have a corner of my garden with flourishing self-seeded parsley that stays green under the snow, and is available as soon as the snow melts for a spring tonic.
Spring herb options can include the mushroom family. Many spring mushrooms, like morel and chaga, are great to hunt and enjoy as part of your herbal spring foraging. While morels are different than shelf fungi like reishi, the local mushrooms you forage can be just as beneficial and have many of the same properties as the imported ones used in traditional Chinese medicine. Or, just grow your own oyster, shiitake, turkey tail, lion’s mane, or reishi using a kit or log culture.
More Tonic Herbs
- Dandelion is a bitter spring herb, that can help improve digestion due to the bitter flavor quality. If you don’t want to wait for spring for a nice dose of bitters, try this grapefruit bitters recipe. Its delicious. Blend your wild harvested dandelions with some fresh chickweed, or volunteer herbs from your garden for a great spring salad.
- Cleavers is a great tonic herb that gives the most benefit when extracted in vinegar. Due to it’s velcro like tendency, it’s too difficult to consume fresh, but using it in tea or a nutritive vinegar extraction can work.
- Burdock root can be harvested in the spring before the flower shoots start to form. The root is supportive of the liver and can help detox chemicals, heavy metals, and improve digestive health. If you’ve got dry, itchy skin after the long winter, burdock root is a must to improve liver function and support the body in clearing out the winter sludge. Burdock root also builds the blood and the spleen to support healthy circulation and immunity. Those who struggle with alcoholism can benefit from the liver support offered by burdock root. Use it in a tea or cook it like parsnips. In Japan burdock root is served as a vegetable called “gobo” and used in soups, salads, and pickled. It is often combined with carrot.
While you can buy superfruits, sea vegetables like kelp, and exotic herbs like ginseng, astragalus root, premium reishi, schizandra, rhodiola, goji, and other TCM herbal extracts, the tonic alchemy of local herbs are more powerful with a large quantity of antioxidants and phyto-nutrients. Your local herbs come without chemical preservatives and can form a dietary foundation for health and wellness. These supertonic herbs might even be growing in your own backyard and offer daily assurance that you are getting the finest available ingredients for free. You just need to pick them.
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New to Spring Tonic Herbs?
Spring tonic herbs don’t just offer our bodies more nutrition; they also give us more energy, soothe skin irritations from the inside, detoxify, and support our immune system. And they are free for the picking. Get the Spring Tonic Herbs Quick Start Guide as an instant download and learn to use these helpful plants that are growing all around you, even in the city.