Spring is here and everywhere you turn plants and trees are waking up, their energy palpable in the air. This season is the inspiration for clearing out impurities and moving from the slower, dark winter months that saw us draw inward from the cold. It is the renewal of our connection with the natural world.
Spring traditionally is seen as the time to support our digestion. Nutrient packed greens are bursting up everywhere, full of spring tonics to support the liver, promote renewed nutrition, increase oxygenation in the blood and improve overall vitality.
With last week's rain and the warmer weather this past weekend, I have been drawn outside to the rich and delicious smell of emerging plant growth. There are so many that I could talk about, but these two herbs are my favourite and accessible to everyone!
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
The mighty dandelion is the first sunny plant that emerges in spring and one of the last to hang on at the end of the summer season. Also known as Lion’s Tooth (because of its leaves), it is a member of the Asteraceae family, and every part of this plant can be used medicinally!
It is a drying and cooling plant that supports the kidneys, liver and digestive system. Dandelion contains many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, B-complex, C, D , calcium, magnesium and even more iron than spinach (three times more)! This herb promotes circulation, strengthens the arteries, restores good gut bacteria, reduces cholesterol levels and is very effective for cleansing. The root is used for detoxification and eliminating toxins from the blood, liver and spleen, helping those with arthritis, anaemia, and diabetes. The dried root or leaves can be prepared as a tea or tincture, and powdered it can even be used as a coffee substitute. The bright sunny flowers are great for lifting your mood after a long dull winter and can also be added to salads along with the leaves. My favourite way to enjoy them is to infuse them into raw honey!
There are few herbs as accessible or vital as dandelion for maintaining everyday wellness. Take advantage of all this plant has to offer! Look for them in areas that have not been sprayed with pesticides. Dandelions like lawns, fields, and edges, but don’t venture into forests. Surprisingly for such a common plant, it is easy to misidentify! There are many plants with similar leaves, but dandelion leaves are hairless, with only one flower per stem that grows directly from the root stalk. The roots, leaves and stems all produce a milky white sap. Fresh roots are best for anti-inflammatory and liver cooling properties, dry root tea is good for digestion and detox. This mighty herb is also safe for use over long periods of time.
Nettle, Urtica dioica
Nettle is a potent spring tonic that has been used for thousands of years to promote wellness.
Stinging hairs cover the live plant, protecting it from predators, and when touched they cause stinging welts. This is a result of their formic acid content. The sting from a nettle plant can be painful, but they don’t generally last long and rarely do they cause any serious harm. After you pick the leaves, the acid will quickly deteriorate and the stinging hairs lose their potency within a few short minutes.
From the Urticaceae family, the leaves are mainly used from this medicinal plant, but the roots and seeds can also be consumed. It has been used for thousands of years and is a great source of nutrients, containing many essential minerals including potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. It contains a high level of chlorophyll that acts as an antioxidant to enhance the effects of vitamins and minerals in the body. Nettles can be used for relief of seasonal allergies, inflammation (especially arthritis), and for supporting the urinary tract with its diuretic properties.
Look for nettles in rich soil and partially shaded areas, away from roadsides and polluted areas- they will absorb heavy metals and other pesticides or impurities so this is important. They tend to be found in the same places year after year, often in moist forests and along rivers. Don't forger your gloves! Pick just from the top 4-6 inches of the plant before it goes to flower. And remember to fully cook/boil/steam the plant before consuming it.
Try it in a nourishing tea, or cooked and eaten like spinach, or even in a delicious soup or pesto sauce!
These spring tonic herbs will do wonders for your health and vitality. You don’t need to look far and wide for a great herbal remedy, there are plenty right in or close to your own backyard! Get outside this spring and find the medicine that is growing all around us!