With new life emerging all around us, from woodlands to lawns to fields, there’s no doubt that spring has arrived! While we have been focusing more attention than ever before on growing our own produce, this is also a key time of year to make the most of the foods and medicines which grow wildly in abundance and often go unappreciated. Some of the first to grow are the springtime tonic herbs, which help to cleanse and rejuvenate our various bodily systems after winter. This week we will be looking at some of these wild plants which we forage for on the farm and use in foods and medicines.
Cleavers (Galium aparine) is easily one of our favourite springtime tonic herbs, which is most used in folk, modern herbalist and official medicine as a springtime tonic. The stems, leaves, and seeds of Cleavers are all edible and can be harvested throughout spring and summer. As a diuretic, Cleavers generally flushes, decongests, cleanses, and releases toxins from the body. It is most known for its effectiveness in flushing the kidneys, treating water retention, purifying and detoxifying the blood, and cleaning and toning the lymph. Cleavers has an amazing flavour with hints of coconut and cucumber when steeped as a cold tea or juiced. We have been making the most of its bounty by making juices and tinctures for some much-needed bodily spring cleaning after the winter months!
Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a plant of abundance, both in its availability and in its medicinal, nutritional, and functional uses. It makes a great addition to our diets, as it is a source of many vitamins (A, C, B, K), minerals (such as calcium, iron, and magnesium), as well as all the essential amino acids! It has also been commonly noted for its use as an amazing springtime tonic for our bodies. Nettle has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, pain-relieving, anti-ulcer, diuretic, and astringent properties, and has been used medicinally as a blood purifier and cleansing tonic which strengthens and supports the kidneys and adrenals. Nettle tops are the most tender and nutritionally dense, and you won’t need to worry about being stung after the leaves have had some heat applied to them - just make sure you pick them with gloves!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is another nutritional and medicinal powerhouse! This common plant is rich in vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as antioxidants and the root has diuretic, laxative, and sedative properties. The leaves can be blanched and used as a leafy green in salads, or steamed and eaten like spinach. Dandelion has been used in traditional Chinese (TCM), Native American, and European (among many other) medicinal traditions. Its richness in vitamins and minerals, alongside its effective diuretic properties mean the entire dandelion plant is useful in the treatment of a wide variety of illnesses and ailments. For example, it is used as a purifying tonic to treat kidney ailments, a digestive, and a treatment for arthritis, constipation, gall-bladder problems, and skin conditions.
Plantain (Plantago lanceolate) is a very common herb found throughout the UK in disturbed and grassland areas. It is a highly nutritious plant for both humans and grazing livestock/wildlife, although the leaves can be tough - we prefer to use them for teas and tinctures! Narrowleaf plantain is used in folk and holistic medicine as an antihistamine to treat insect bites/stings and nettle stings, and also acts on the lungs as an expectorant and tonic. Between the colds and coughs prevalent in winter months and the allergies of summer months, spring is a key time for us to focus on supporting and revitalising our lungs and chest! Plantain contains silicic acid which supports the immune system and tannins which reduce inflammation with their astringent properties, as well as treating infection.
We have been loving making teas, tinctures, and edible treats with the wild plants we’ve been foraging for in the past couple of months. Cleansing cold infusions and juices have been our favourites on the farm during this warm weather - a green juice made from cleavers, nettle, dandelion, plantain, cucumber and lemon is the best way to start the day! Incorporating edible blooms onto our plates is also a lovely welcome to the sunny season. Some other edible and medicinal plants that we have been admiring and playing with on the farm this year include wild garlic, lady smock, pennywort, red deadnettle, cowslip, common primrose, and garlic mustard!
We would love to hear what you guys have been putting in your foraging baskets and the concoctions you’ve come up with.