Hey you, digging in your garden! What are those weeds you’re throwing out? That can be your supper tonight. These are part of what I affectionately call the Spring quartet: Nettles, Chickweed, Violets and Dandelion. You’re getting a 2 for 1 deal: all have medicinal properties and all are nutrient dense foods.
Violets will be blooming (Viola species) by the end of March but they’re already making themselves known. Their deep colors of either purple/blue or lavender and bring pizzazz to semi-shaded areas where they grace us with their presence. Violet’s blossoms represent a celebration of life, a banishment of despair and a comforting of the heart. Their cooling and moistening yet mildly astringing properties bring a welcome relief to the dryness of Winter. Adding Violet to drying herbs can bring much needed moisture. Violet flowers and leaves are mucilaginous when eaten raw and can be added to salads to bring color and extra vitamins A and C. Fresh blossoms impart beauty and are tasty in vinegars, oils and honey or sugared and place in confectionary delights. Dry the leaves and flowers for a tea of “gentleness in a cup.”
Chickweed (Stellaria media) carpets the ground under and around shrubs, trees or any slightly shaded spot. It can be harvested several times before the heat causes them to disappear until cooler weather returns. Chickweed is high in vitamin C, has a juicy green grass taste and can garnish soups and salads, make a delicious pesto (click here for recipe), create nutritious vinegars, drink as a tea or turn into an oil. Topically, Chickweed soothes cuts, wounds and itching. It is one of the ingredients in our popular Itchy-Owie-Everything salve.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), considered a pest by some, has so many uses! Environmentally, it attracts beneficial insects and is a good early blooming source for bees. The blossoms, high in lutein which supports eye health, are fried (click here for fritter recipe), used as a garnish in salads, made into wine or jam, baked into cookies or bread, or steeped into an oil. The slightly bitter leaves are eaten raw or braised and are a potent diuretic (don’t drink the tea right before bedtime). The roots are bitter and slightly sweet and supports good liver and gall bladder function. Roosting the roots creates a deep flavor and makes an excellent tea. Use alcohol to extract the medicinal properties and vinegar to extract the minerals. Dandelion leaves and blooms can be harvested over the summer but heat can make the leaves more bitter and tough. Harvest the roots in the Fall when their inulin content is the highest.
Nettles (Urtica dioica) greets you with a pleasant sting if you get too friendly, so use gloves or enjoy the stimulation! It’s a great Kidney Qi builder along with bone broth. The older I get the more I looovvve me some Nettles. They are nutrient dense and often referred to as “land seaweed”: a good source of minerals and vitamins plus some protein and antihistamine. How’s that for a powerhouse? The dried seeds can be used as tiny nutrient packets to boost teas. Harvest the seeds after they turn green and start to droop. The root can be dried and extracted in alcohol to treat prostate disorders. Nettle is a good builder for depleted states whether from surgery, injury or stress. It’s also great juiced, made into a vinegar (extracts the minerals), pesto, soup (Cream of Nettle soup is so yummy! Recipes for this and cupcakes can be found here), baked into goods and dried for teas.
As with all edible plants these days, harvest only where you know the area has NOT been treated with chemicals and is NOT near a busy road. All the above grow easily in central Virginia and require little effort to maintain. Next time you’re pulling out that Chickweed or Dandelion, put some of those “weeds” aside for a salad, make some oil or dry some for a tasty tea as a reward for all your hard work. The beginnings of a home apothecary are literally at your fingertips. Bring on the Spring greens!