Posts Tagged ‘growing herbs’

Spring Tonics

March 15, 2011

Stinging Nettles

Before supermarkets offered all fruits and all vegetables all the time, winter diets in the Northern Hemisphere were heavy on root vegetables, grains and beans, breads, cheese, and meats, often combined in soups. Spring saw the proliferation of wild greens and the planting of gardens, increased trade with other communities as the snows melted, and the understanding that the heavier fatty meals could lighten a little as the temperatures rose. Diet was a construct of the interplay of culture and environment, as well as one’s family’s class. You ate what your parents ate, and barring famine, that system worked fairly well for hundreds of years.

Alfalfa



For those of us who wish to re-connect with the natural rhythms of the seasons, eat more nutritious foods, and recognize that this transition from winter to spring is important, I offer you three fabulous spring tonics: nettles, alfalfa and chickweed.

Nettles are my personal favorite. People have been collecting and using stinging nettles for food, medicine, fiber and dyes since the Bronze Age (or earlier). You must wear gloves in the gathering, but once cooked, the stinging chemical is inactivated. Nettles are the quintessential spring tonic, and have traditionally been used to rebuild the systems of the chronically ill, as well as help gently release  toxins. Medicinally they are useful as an expectorant (help thin and expel mucous), for chronic coughs, to treat cold and flu, as a gentle and safe diuretic (increase the flow of urine and reduce edema or swelling due to fluid retention), and as a restorative for the kidneys and bladder.  Nutritionally nettles contain high amounts of chlorophyll, protein (up to 10%, more than any other vegetable), and minerals: calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, silica, iodine, sodium and sulfur. They are also a good source of Vitamin C, beta carotene and the B complex vitamins. Recipe hint: substitute for spinach, especially in a Quiche. Gather in the early spring until they flower. Once they start producing seeds, they are not so good for either food or medicine.

Alfalfa comes from the Middle East, and a tea made from the leaves and flowers has been traditionally used as a spring tonic and blood thinner, so it is especially good for arthritis and gout.  The green leaves contain 8 essential enzymes and aid digestion. Alfalfa contains over 10 vitamins, and is especially high in A, C, D, B2, B6, and K. Plus you get some iron and calcium.

Chickweed

Chickweed is a European annual that has naturalized through much of North America. It has even shown up in my greenhouse, and is now a regular part of my diet. Medicinally it is soothing and useful to help treat skin conditions, upset and ulcer-prone stomachs, as well as bladder and liver problems. Excellent as a nutritive tonic eaten fresh in salads (or cooked into omelets), chickweed is high in Vit. C, rutin, biotin, choline, inositol, PABA, Vit. B6, B12, Vit.D and beta carotene. It is another mineral powerhouse with magnesium, manganese, sodium, copper and silica.
 
All of these herbs are also considered “weeds” because they grow so easily and profusely. Nettles especially can become invasive. However, because of this ability to not need much of our assistance or attention (except in a desert or high desert climate: you will then need to water) they are excellent for the ” gardening challenged.”  Both Nettles and Alfalfa are perennials, and Chickweed, though an annual, easily (almost scarily  so) reseeds itself: therefore, once planted, they will be your constant and generous companions.