Spring is the season of renewal. It is a time for cleansing, releasing, letting go of all that which you kept and counted and swaddled throughout the long winter months. Every spring, the thaw has each of us dropping the heavy robes of winter, and inviting in something entirely new. In the forest, flowers bloom with ephemeral abandon, catching the first rays of light that hit the floor before fading completely under the coming canopy. There is a small window, in the early spring, before the chores and the buzz and the clamor of growth set in. There is a clearing where we all have a moment to decide– do I trust in the coming of spring? What do I have to leave behind? When and how, and for what joys, will l I bloom anew? Spring is a moment, an opportunity for deep, unimpeded rejuvenation and a real recreation of soul.
Spring is also the traditional season for cleansing and detoxification. Backyards and hills grow flush with some of the best spring tonics and wild greens– medicines for clearing the body and mind. Abundant, easy to identify, and delicious, these early spring plants are some of our most potent medicines for renewal. I personally think one of the best spring cleansing rituals is simply to eat wild greens– and lots of em! They are easy to incorporate into salads or stir frys– just toss a small handful in with your other ingredients. Some of my favorite additions to a mid-day salad are: purple dead nettle, chickweed, mustard greens, wild chives and violet flowers (the leaves of violets are highly nutritious, too!). Creasy and Daylilly greens are also delicious cooked, but fair warning, a small percentage of people are allergic to daylilly. Try a tiny nibble at first. (read more about eating daylillies on blog Castanea). Wild greens are also absurdly delicious in pestos and pâtés. (keep reading for a spring greens pâté recipe that will knock your socks off).
Why Cleanse? Over time our bodies accumulate toxins from our environment, both within and without. The Ayurvedic term for these accumulated toxins, ama, hints at the deeper story of toxicity. Ama can be experienced as dullness, difficult digestion, frequent infections or just plain heaviness. When we experience ama we are not just encountering the physical impediments of sluggish organs or overworked lymph, but the stagnation of negative thoughts, stressful environments, and limiting beliefs as well.
The Importance of Disturbed Areas Some of our most powerful, and available, medicines grow in the most disturbed natural areas. Roadside ditches, abandoned garden beds, in-between cracks in the pavement. This is no accident. Look to these plants as your first healers. The medicine they offer can help settle the disruption in our own bodies, as well as our communities. Often written off as weeds, these plants are actually some of our strongest and more tenacious plant messengers! **Note: Since many of these plants thrive in contaminated soil, take care when harvesting. Make sure the land is free of buried pollutants and at least 100 feet from the road.
The Beauty of Bitters: Largely eliminated from our modern diet, bitters are a cornerstone of traditional eating. They stoke the digestive fire, bolster the liver and help increase the elimination of toxins. They are even known to help alleviate depression. Eat a handful of early dandelion leaves every day to get a good dose of bitter into your life.
Some wild greens growing in a yard near you: Dandelion, Chickweed, Cleavers, Poke, Lambs Quarters, Purple Dead Nettle, Day Lilly Greens, Creasy Greens, Wild Chives, Field Garlic, Dock leaves, Sorrel, Garlic mustard, Violets, Bittercress, Lady’s thumb, Purslane, Stinging Nettles
1. Chickweed: (Stellaria media) Commonly found along roadsides, in garden beds and creeping into disturbed areas, Chickweed is an alterative, vulnerary, diuretic and antirheumatic. It is known as a traditional “blood cleanser” and eaten by the handful in salads and pestos in early spring. Full of vitamins and minerals, the fresh greens have a neutral, sweet taste and a lovely crunchy texture. Chickweed is also a first rate skin healing herb and often used in salves or as a chew and spit poultice to encourage skin growth and tame rashes, inflammation, itching and hives. Cooling and rejuvenative, Chickweed is called upon for heartburn, ulcers and as a food for those in recovery or convalescence.
2. Poke: (Phytolacca americana) Native to the Americas, poke may be one of the most traditional and controversial spring cleansing herb. Early poke greens have been eaten by indigenous Appalachians for thousands of years. The greens are full of vitamins and fat-soluble betacarotene but, as poke contains some poisonous compounds when mature, only eat the young spring shoots (6-8” tall) and boil them at least twice for a traditional “Poke salat” (see recipe below). A powerful lymphagogue, Poke berries and root have been used to treat conditions of the lymph, cancer, rheumatism and arthritis. Valued in folk medicine as a weight loss tonic, poke actually helps reduce congestion in bodily fat, clearing and redistributing soggy tissue. Toxic in large doses, poke roots and berries should be used in very small amounts under the supervision of an herbalist. Topically, poke root washes can help relieve various skin diseases such as eczema, ulcers, scabies, ringworm and other fungus infections.
Poke Salat: Wash and chop your leaves coarsely. Bring two pots of water to a boil. Add your leaves to one pot and boil for one-two minutes. Drain the boiling water and add your leaves to the second pot to boil for 10-15 minutes (or until nice and tender). Amend with fat and spices of choice.
3. Cleavers: (Galium aparine) Unmistakable in early spring, this succulent green makes an excellent juice, tea or succus (juice preserve with alcohol. 3:1). To eat it raw, roll it into a ball to disengage its cleavers and swallow. Alterative, diuretic, anti-inflammatory and a lymphagogue, cleavers is a tonic blood cleaner for conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Beloved for it anti-itch properties, it is often combined with chickweed, violet and plantain in salve. Used to sooth both UTIs, interstitial cystitis, cleavers is also known as a cancer remedy and preventative, both internally and topically for tumors.
4. Dandelion: (Taraxacum officinale) A proliferate medicine with a strong affinity for the skin & liver. Hepatic, cholagogue, alterative, diuretic and slightly laxative. Young dandelion leaves are one of the best spring bitter tonics. High in vitamins and minerals, the leaves are known to contain more vitamin A than any other garden plant. The leaves can help to banish ama, flushing the kidneys and stoking the digestive fires. The root is traditionally used as a liver and skin remedy and as a blood tonic for fasting. Helpful with eczema, psoriasis, acne and hives, Dandelion is both cooling and strengthening for the liver. The root is also high in inulin (a natural prebiotic for our intestinal flora), which can help heal digestive issues, balance blood sugar, and moderate estrogen levels. The white latex in the stem has been known to dissolve warts.
“Back in my boyhood days, we used to eat dandelion greens just like they were going out of style. Whew boy! They were just so good to eat and were good for us…” –Tommie Bass
//Recipe: Spring Greens Pâté//
This recipe is vegan, gluten-free and incredibly rich. Customize with a selection of your favorite spring greens and nuts. Serve with warm bruschetta, thick slices of cheese or with an array of crunchy vegetables. Perfect for any spring fling garden parties or Sunday Brunch.
Preparation & Exploration
First, roll around on your lawn. Then, collect handfuls of your favorite spring greens. Chickweed, garlic mustard, creasy greens… Nettles are delicious too, but it can be quite fibrous so keep this in mind when you’re deciding on proportions. I love to include a hearty does of garden chives as well.
You can use any type of nuts you please, but I just adore black walnuts. Hearty, abundant, and easy to collect, Black walnuts add an incredible richness and flavor to any dish. It’s taste is quite distinct, earthy and almost meat-esque. Harvest them in fall. Break off the black hull and let them dry for a week or so before storing. To open them I sit splay-legged in my yard and crack them between two stones and then pick out the nut meat with a bent fork, seam ripper, or awl.
1. Pour your olive oil and garlic into a food processor or blender. Pulse until garlic is finely minced.
2. Add your spring greens and walnuts into the mixture bit by bit to avoid overtaxing your blender. (reserve some walnuts for garnish). Blend until nice and chunky or smooth as butter, whatever suits your fancy.
3. Once you reach desired consistently add in the nutritional yeast and salt and pepper. Blend to combine.
4. Garnish with nuts, chopped chives, or edible spring flowers (violets would be divine)
Optional: Caramelize and onion. This adds a whole new dimension to your pâté. Sweet, hearty, flavorful, yes. Chop your onion coarsely and put in a pan with some oil over low heat. Let them cook until they are just beginning to brown, and then stir (if you over-stir they won’t caramelize). Let them cook for at least 1/2 an hour. An hour or more would be ideal. Get fancy by adding a dash of brandy and covering for 10 minutes.