Spring is one of the most exciting times of year for gardeners and herbalists. We watch leaves break dormancy on trees and shrubs, bulbs start to show new shoots and perennials return.
In countries with very cold winters and limited food availability, Spring Tonics were especially important.
Today, of course, we have a wide range of produce and other foods available to us year-round. That doesn’t mean, however, that our bodies don’t still react in a positive manner to the Spring herbs for good health and nutrition.
Here is a list of some Spring herbs for you to ingest either as food or as herbal teas.
Dandelions: They are considered a mild bitter herb used to stimulate the appetite and promote digestion, as a blood cleanser and diuretic. The root of the plant is incredible when used as a liver and gallbladder detoxifier. Additionally, it is rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. Used in tinctures and teas, this herb will detox, nourish, and revive the body after a long winter…it is the perfect Spring tonic.
Cleavers: A true Spring tonic as it’s detoxifying and cleansing properties can help rejuvenate our lymph system and liver after a long winter.Cleavers have been used for its liver cleansing properties as well as it’s general detoxifying properties. It can help reduce swollen glands.
Chickweed: An infusion can be made from the leaves and stems and drunk for its Vitamin content which includes not only Vitamin C, but also Vitamins A and B. The infusion may also be used on a poultice for sore joints, insect bites and other skin inflammations. The infusion on a poultice can also be used to counteract a rash from Stinging Nettles!
Calendula: This is one of the best herbs to use when attempting to treat ailments of the skin — such as cuts, burns, inflammation, bruises, minor open wounds, scrapes. Phytochemicals that are present in this flower work hard against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Because of these potent properties, calendula can be used to treat and soothe sun-burned skin, ear infections, pink eye, diaper rash, bug bites, eczema, and acne.
Nettle Leaf: Nettle leaf contains an abundance of natural antihistamines and touts many anti-inflammatory properties as well. Therefore, it is super effective in treating all of the symptoms associated with seasonal allergies — i.e. a runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, and sneezing. Nettle leaf is also high in essential vitamins and minerals. The best ways to ingest the goodness of this herb are through an herbal tea infusion or tincture.A tea made from Nettles or a portion steamed like spinach is high in iron, lutein and other anti-oxidants. It helps build healthy blood and brings vigor to the whole body.
St. John’s Wort: The “feel good” herb, known for it’s ability to effectively treat the symptoms of mild depression, can also be used to treat neurological pain, tension, anxiety, and irritability when taken internally. Moreover, when St. John’s wort is used externally it is wonderful in homemade salves for the treatment of bruises, wounds, and especially good for treating sunburn.
Oregon Grape Root: It’s broad-spectrum properties — anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antibiotic, and anti-viral — make it a must-have. Use it in salves or as a poultice to more aggressively treat athlete’s foot, psoriasis, eczema, and acne.
Chervil: Is similar to parsley but with a slight anise-like flavor. Popular in France, it’s delicate and best used fresh, added at the last moment. Garnish salads with it, use in dressings or add to omelets.
Chives: Offer a mild, herbal onion flavor that’s delicious with potatoes, asparagus, leeks, seafood; added to butter and in cream sauces. The thinner and brighter green the chive, the more delicate the flavor.
Dill: Offers a flavor between anise, parsley and celery and pairs well with cheese, seafood, chicken soup, chilled salads and vegetable casseroles. It’s a frequent player in Greek, Italian, Turkish, Russian and Scandinavian cuisine. Look for young, brightly colored, feathery leaves.
Lemongrass: Has a citrus flavor that provides a brightness in Asian and Caribbean cuisine. Cut into 1-inch pieces and smash before incorporating into soups and simmered dishes. For salads, slice into thin rounds.
Lime leaf: Is to Thai cooking what a bay leaf is to Western cooking. This fragrant herb also can be added to curry and pastes — using scissors snip the leaves into small pieces before incorporating into your dish. Lime leaves can be kept in the freezer for up to a year and don’t require thawing before use.
Mint: Used widely in the cuisines of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where its cooling influence complements aromatic spices on grilled meats, grain salads and steaming bowls of pho and other soups. Mint is lovely with lamb, lends sophistication to fruit salad and is refreshing in a mojito or other cocktail.
Marjoram: A sweeter, milder cousin of oregano that’s well-suited to starchy vegetables and often blended with sage for poultry seasoning or with thyme to season sausage. It’s wonderful with fried potatoes, clam chowder, black beans, broccoli, tomatoes, chicken and duck.
Oregano: Greek for “mountain joy,” has a warm, aromatic scent and robust taste. Widely used in Mediterranean and Mexican cuisines, it’s great for seasoning soups, stews and pasta sauces. Try sprinkling it over pizza or add to shellfish.
Parsley: Flat-leaf (Italian) or curly, is among the most universally used culinary herbs. Italian parsley is the basis of iconic green sauces such as Argentina’s chimichurri, delicious atop grilled meats. Parsley works well in stuffings, in whole grain salads, with eggplant and in many other dishes.
Rosemary: A member of the mint family, native to the Mediterranean. Its aromatic, piney flavor is a great fit for lamb, meat stews and marinades, but it also can add life to lighter fish and poultry dishes, as well as vegetables.
Tarragon: With its aromatic, anise-like flavor, marries well with chicken, egg and mushroom dishes and is a mainstay in classic French cuisine. Its sprigs are often used to flavor white wine vinegar.
Thyme: Lends a powerful fragrance and subtle lemon, minty taste to dishes. Common in French cuisine, it’s included in bouquet garni and used to season soups and sauces. Thyme pairs well with poultry, fish and lamb, and is great in egg dishes.
Cooking with Herbs
- Chop herbs with scissors, a flat knife or mezzaluna. Chop bunches of more robust herbs like parsley in the food processor.
- Fine herbs such as tarragon or chives can be left large, shredded or snipped. Basil should be torn.
- Coarse herbs such as rosemary and parsley benefit from fine chopping.
- Flavor vinaigrette or mayonnaise by finely chopping or pounding the herbs in a mortar and pestle, then add the rest of the ingredients.
- Herbs such as basil, coriander and sage discolour if chopped too early.