Spring is the perfect time to detoxify and replenish our bodies. For many cultures, spring is seen as a signal to cleanse and nourish the body after a winter diet of preserved foods, grains, nuts, seeds, dairy and meat. These days, with refrigeration and the importing of food, we have access to fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the winter months. However, as the new growth springs forth in our gardens, it is an ideal time to use herbs that revitalise and detoxify our bodies after months of comfort food.
Alfred Vogel believed that over winter the low sunshine levels makes it harder for our bodies to utilise vitamins properly. Also heavy winter clothing hinders the normal breathing and perspiration of the skin and in this way contributes to impaired body functions.
In Chinese medicine, heavy winter foods are believed to heat the liver. In the spring, fresh bitter and sour foods cool the liver down and rekindle digestive fire so our body feels more active and alive.
Tonic herbs also provide strengthening nutrients that help replenish our bodies. Two of the most well recognized spring tonic herbs are:
Nettle (Uritca dioica):
This common weed is the ultimate spring tonic. The leaves are a rich source of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, cobalt, copper, potassium, chlorophyll, fibre, and vitamins A, C, K and B Complex.
Nettles are a tonic for the stomach, kidney, adrenal and thyroid glands so they can help increase and stabilise energy levels. They are also a tonic for the lungs and apparently if nettles are used regularly, they can help prevent hay fever and other allergies.
The dense concentration of minerals and amino acids found in nettles also make it an excellent tonic for helping to build healthy hair and skin.
The young nettle leaves are very tasty with a similar flavour to spinach. Harvest the tender tops of the nettle from the first time they appear in spring through to mid-summer when the flowers begin to set. Use gloves as fresh nettle stings and needs to be soaked in water or cooked to neutralise the stinging chemicals. Nettle looks a bit like mint (although not related to mint). It has small stinging hairs covering the leaves and stem, opposed serrated leaves and a deeply grooved stem.
How to cook: easy! Substitute in any recipe that calls for spinach or other fresh greens or steam them for 10 minutes or until tender.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion tones the liver, is considered to be a blood purifier and is also an effective diuretic. Worth eating for their nutritional value alone, the greens are very high in Vitamins A, C, and B Complex, potassium, calcium, iron, and phosphorous. Dandelion greens are a bitter food so they improve digestion. Even eating just a few with your meal will encourage your stomach to produce hydrochloric acid, your gallbladder to produce bile, your liver to produce enzymes and your intestines to improve peristalsis. As a result we are able to assimilate more nutrients from our food.
Tasty both fresh and cooked, try adding a chopped handful to your salad or put some in with your other steamed greens. Cooking them with sweet foods like onions and garlic will help cut the bitterness. In early spring they can be hard to identify without their tell tale yellow flower. The best key is that their toothed leaves have no hair at all, unlike their look alikes.
Make sure that if you are collecting dandelion from lawns or roadside that you make sure pesticides have not been used for at least 5 yrs. The leaves can be purchased from some Health Food Stores or you can grow your own. For a nice spring tonic try juicing a handful of Dandelion leaves with a bit of parsley and 1 apple.