Here it is the first week in March and already we’re having weather in the 70s. It’s sunny outside and lovely.
Here at Hillside Gardens, we’re trying to catch up on the seasonal transitions. It’s a month early as I mentioned in my last post. We did have a cold snap last week for which my neighbor and I covered the annual beds, blueberry bushes, and container rows with plastic. But I doubt if it will freeze again this year. So, yesterday he came over and removed the plastic off the annual beds, and then we together removed it all from the containers and blueberry bushes. All is looking good.
When we were finished, I took a basket out and harvested a sink full of delicious salad greens including several kinds of lettuce, spinach, bok choy blossoming heads, small broccoli sprouts, and a bit of this and that. Delicious with dinner, nothing like fresh out of the garden spring greens.
Our front grassy area (I hesitate to call it a lawn since most of it is ‘medicinal’ plants, aka weeds we use and eat) is a blanket of dandelion blossoms. The bees are busy at work getting their spring food. The fruit trees – almond, plum, peach – are in lusty bloom for which the bees are happy and busy. Even the daffodils and other bulb flowers are happily showing their best glad rag beauty. This is March! This isn’t supposed to be happening until April around here.
I’ve been researching spring tonic herbs. We have stinging nettle in containers and I made my first tea from it last week – I was amazed at how delicious it is. Then I ate the greens left in the tea pot – the stingers were barely noticeable and not stinging at all. Yum. All those ‘weeds’ you see coming up in your yard and garden are probably so wonderful and beneficial for you. So, instead of ‘weeding’, harvest and use.
Here is a partial list of the wild crafted herbs (aka weeds) and garden herbs that are used traditionally as spring tonics – either make tea, eat raw, tincture or steam and eat.
Red clover (which usually comes out a bit later, but you may have some)
Creasy greens Lepidium sativum, also called upland cress
Leaves of oxe eye daisy (leucanthemum vulgars)
Dandelion- leaf flower and root
Echinacea root aka cone flower
Gold thread – coptis Canadensis
Dwarf ginseng – panax trilolius aka ground nut
Jack by the hedge aka garlic mustard
Young linden leaves
Poke – only very young leaves – boil and change water 3 times before eating
Purple dead nettle – flowering heads
Sarsaparilla – aka smilax root bark
Stinging nettle – tea or tincture, or steam
Three cornered leek aka wild onion
Tree sap (or maple syrup – 1 Tbs. in 1 pint of spring water)
Wintergreen – Gaultheria procumbens
See sites below for specific uses, preparations, and identifications.
There may be others but this was a fairly thorough search for this area. Some of the listed plants are found in the U.K. per the site listed below. But most are local to Georgia.
Many of the other ‘weeds’ like henbit with their cheerful little purple flowers are also edible and go beautifully in fresh salad. They just aren’t necessarily medicinal.
When we have been living off of store bought head lettuce all winter (which barely has any nutrition compared with wild crafted herbs) I love taking advantage of the bounty that spring brings. Some of the herbs mentioned above, example chickweed, are also wonderfully edible and can be made into pesto, salads, added to stews and soups, and made into omlets too.
Winter brings stagnation in the body, liver, intestines, lungs, circulatory system, and immune system from all the heavier food and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. Winter food keeps us warm but at the end, we need a bit of house cleaning internally. A spring tonic or two can do this. Many are diuretics (increases kidney activity and makes us pee more to flush out), some are warming others cooling depending on your constitution. Many are anti-inflammatory, as well as energizing.
There are two strategies for use of a spring tonic. First is elimination and enhanced digestion – stimulating the natural detoxification processes in the body, particularly the intestines, liver, gall bladder, and generally to handle stagnations. Secondly is to bolster the immune systems, increase power, energy and stimulate the hormonal systems including the endocrine system like thyroid and others. Some of these herbs do both.
But from my research, I think it’s safe to dig up some dandelions (never from where you have sprayed, or along a road or within at least 50 feet from them) – clean off the roots and cut them up to make some tea, then eat the greens and flowers. Stinging nettle likewise is terrific for cleaning out the body and giving you energy and much needed fresh minerals and nutrients lacking in the winter foods. Drink some maple syrup water or add it to tea you’ve made with some of these herbs. If you dig up roots or use barks, these need to be simmered for awhile to get out the benefits, then take the pot off the stove and add the more delicate green leaves and flowers in hot but not simmering water, covering to keep in the volatile components.
I share the viewpoint of the “Wise Women” group (herbalists) who meet twice a year in North Carolina, in that for everything the body needs, you’ll find the remedy in nature within a very short space around where you live. The abundance of the natural plants which grow around us on our little bit of land as well as in our cultivated spaces is simply awe inspiring.
Since I have taken the time to really study what is here, and before I pull something I don’t recognize, I take the effort to identify it, I have found we live in a treasure trove of plant magnanimity here in the foot hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. More than half of what I have listed above grows here without any help from me, except I don’t pull them out indiscriminately. I think of the ‘weeding’ process as harvesting, and like a wise herbalist forager, I never take it all, leaving flowering and seeding plants to replace what I have taken for use.
Nature blesses us with unexpected bounty. I have a wild cherry tree growing without help but several years ago I tried to transplant one and it didn’t take. But a bird must have heard my request because our tree is about 30 feet tall now. I have sarsaparilla (aka green briar, and smilax) growing in several areas and even though my husband wants to pull the long thorny vines, I smile and say, no honey they are medicinal and I make baskets with their vines. He’d still like to pull them out but he knows I have some method to my madness.
I hope you can find a space that hasn’t been contaminated by pesticides and herbicides where you can wild craft the wild herbs and tonic herbs you need because after winter’s stultification and inactivity, getting things moving gives energy and vitality when we come up out of hibernation (and TV couch potato living).
Do some research on your own. Your area may not have the same offerings in spring but surely wherever you do live, you will find what you need. Here are a few of the sites I found of interest: https://whisperingearth.co.uk/2014/05/01/spring-wild-green-cuisine/
Cheers. Here’s to your health and a very Happy Spring. 3-12-19