Spring is finally here, with warm, sunny days and plants greening up all around us. I love seeing our perennial herbs coming back to life in the gardens. Our chives seem to have grown a couple inches on one sunny day recently, shooting up towards the sky full of life and vitality.
With the arrival of spring comes the reemergence of many delightful and useful wild plants. Here are a few of my favorites that you can soon find growing about. Of course, be sure that you can accurately identify anything you are going to ingest, with the help of a guidebook, online resource or wildcrafting friend. When harvesting, be sure to pick from an area that has not been sprayed with herbicides or road chemicals.
Dandelion: Everyone knows this common “weed” that springs up in yards across the region. While it may seem like a nuisance to some, it is actually a very nutritious plant. The leaves and roots contain high amounts of vitamins A, C, D and B complex, as well as a long list of minerals including iron, zinc, manganese, potassium and magnesium.
The tender dandelion greens can be eaten in a soup or sautéed in some oil. These bitter greens are great for digestion, and quite tasty. Try a salad of the leaves with dates, blue cheese and a tangy vinaigrette.
The roots can be dug up, washed and dried, then boiled in water to create a delicious tea. Look for larger plants and dig up the roots after the soil has been loosened by a spring rain. Rinse the soil from the roots, chop in ¼ inch pieces and dry them in a dehydrator or oven until they are hard and crisp. Grind the root into even smaller pieces with a mortar and pestle or food processor, then boil the root in water for 15 minutes at a ratio of about 1 teaspoon of root per cup of water. This tea has been used for centuries for liver and kidney health, and studies are underway that show that dandelion tea might even be effective against several drug-resistant cancers.
Stinging nettle: If you don’t know you’re reaching for stinging nettle, this plant might elicit some choice words and instant anger. The tiny hairs on the plant truly do sting, and for this reason, it’s best to wear gloves and long sleeves when you harvest.
Nettle is also amazingly high in vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It is anti-inflammatory, and is a diuretic like dandelion, which means that it helps to flush out harmful chemicals and toxins from the body. This plant is also known to reduce the symptoms of arthritis and promote cardiovascular health. Many who drink it find that their skin gets clearer and their hair is shiny and lush.
Cut the top 4-6 leaves for the tender greens if you want to eat the nettles. You can sauté the greens until crispy, or blend them in the place of basil to make a pesto. To make a tea, it is best done as an infusion, with the dried nettles steeping for at least a few hours or even overnight.
Plantain: Though this list of spring herbs could be much longer, plantain is a medicinal herb that I am so happy to know about. If you get a bee sting or bug bite, you can often look down to find the medicine growing right beneath your feet! Plantain is abundant in our yard and grows throughout the summer in our area. Its broad leaves are easy to recognize once you know it.
This plant has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it perfect for itchy poison ivy spots or bug bites. Simply pick a leaf, chew it up, stick it to your skin, and you will have near immediate relief. Steep the greens in water to make a strong infusion and drink as a tea to soothe your digestive system or treat bladder and kidney infections.
All three of these plants have been used as medicines since ancient times. It’s interesting to write this article and realize that I am barely scratching the surface with regards to the huge list of health benefits that each plant offers. It seems funny that we rely so much on pharmaceutical drugs that often only have one healing function, when we could be using plants that act on the body in a holistic way, affecting many body systems positively and with fewer negative side effects. Of course, there is no money to be made if we can harvest our own medicines. Which is exactly why I promote taking back the power to heal yourself by using these simple, common healing herbs. Enjoy!