One great thing to do in the spring is to seek out medicinal herbs in your garden which can be turned into a spring tonic, to make sure you are in tip top health. Weeds are often overlooked, but these can be medicinal plants too. Sometimes gardeners can feel that they are waging a never-ending war against weeds. But in an organic garden, weeds can be viewed not as a blight, but as a wonderful thing. There are many weeds which are actually very useful plants. Many can be edible, and many offer great benefits to our health.
There are many different recipes for a spring tonic – some of which involve simply eating fresh green spring leaves, some of which involve steeping or boiling them in water before drinking. But whatever the recipe, the general idea remains the same – to replenish the body with essential vitamins and minerals, and to reduce inflammation and remove toxins which have accumulated in the body over the cold winter months, when less fresh, healthy food was traditionally available.
All of the plants listed below can either be eaten as cooked, tender young greens in small quantities, or steeped in water to make a tea or tonic, or both. For these, and other reasons, they can all be very useful plants in your garden. And can help you make sure you are in excellent health before the summer arrives.
Arctium lappa (Burdock)
Burdock is one common weed frequently used in spring topic drinks. It is mucilaginous, diuretic, and tonic, said to aid in preventing the absorption of toxins from the digestive tract, allowing the body to heal. The young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, as can young stalks and side stems, when the rind is removed. The root is usually cooked, and have a mild flavour when young. It is the roots that are usually used to make spring tonics.
Chenopodium album (Fat Hen/ Lamb’s Quarters)
The leaves of this plant can be eaten in small quantities perfectly safely, and is a healthy and nutritious addition to your diet. It is a good source of vitamin A, which helps keep the immune system working property, and keeps the skin and membranes of the body healthy. It is also a good source of other vitamins and minerals, fibre and protein.
Galium aparine (Cleavers/ Stickywilly)
The tender young shoot tips of this plant can be used as a pot herb or added to a range of soups and stews, and some say that eating this herb has a slimming effect. This is a weed which is well known to herbalists. It has a long history of use in domestic natural medicine. It is a mild diuretic and detoxifying agent, which has been used in the treatment of inflammatory illnesses and even cancers. This is often steeped in water and used in a spring tonic drink along with other weeds and other beneficial plants.
Plantago major (Plantain)
Leaves can be cooked and eaten as a green vegetable and are also used internally in herbal medicine as a treatment for a wide range of conditions. This plant is said to be good for soothing the digestive tract and mucus membranes and is said to generally be a good spring tonic plant for general health when eaten in smaller quantities, or used in mixed tonics of spring weeds and herbs. Like other weeds on this list, plantain, especially in early spring, it a great source of a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
Portulaca oleracea (Purslane)
The young leaves of this succulent plant, often considered a weed in some areas, are great additions to a salad, or used as a thickener in soups and other dishes. Interestingly, this is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, usually obtained from seeds. This is important for preventing heart attacks and also for strengthening the immune system. This is another good source of vitamin A, and many other vitamins and minerals. A tea is sometimes also made from the leaves, and is said to be a good tonic, though this is not given to pregnant women or those with digestive problems.
Stellaria media (Chickweed)
Stellaria media is very useful as an edible spring green. It can be used in salads, or cooked as a spinach substitute or as a pot herb. Though it contains saponins but like other plants on this list, is generally very safe when eaten in moderation. It is a good source of vitamin C and other vitamins. Chickweed has a long history of herbal use, and can aid digestion when taken internally in small quantities, though it is not advised that pregnant women take it medicinally. It is however said to be effective as a circulatory tonic and to relieve constipation, kidney and chest complaints.
Taraxacum officinalis (Dandelion greens and roots)
Dandelion is a another very useful weed, with many edible and medicinal uses. Both the young leaves and the dandelion roots are frequently used in spring tonics. These are boiled in water, often alongside other plants on this list. Dandelion is thought to help in removing waste and toxins from the body. It does this through stimulating actions of the liver, gallbladder and kidneys. It also helps soothe the digestive tract and is said to help balance intestinal flora.
Urtica diotica (Stinging nettles)
Stinging nettles are another very useful spring green. The young leaves from the tips of the plants are a great spinach substitute. They are packed full of nutrients (especially iron and vitamins A and C). They are easily digested. Cooking the leaves completely removes their sting. Nettles can also be added to a tonic herbal tea. Though they have a mild flavour they are said to be useful as a cleansing tonic and blood purifier. Nettles may help with a wide range of ailments.
Using weeds for a spring tonic is a great idea. The weeds mentioned above are just some options. There are many wild plants that so many of us overlook. And many can actually be of great benefit to improve our general health. If you are in need of a spring pick-me-up, then a weed spring tonic could be just what you need.
Of course, you should always be sure to do your research. Before you decide to ingest any plants which you have not ingested before, make sure you are 100% sure of identification. Make sure you research the plants carefully before you decide whether they are right for you to use. If in any doubt, it is best to consult an expert on herbal medicine. They can guide you in your efforts to create domestic remedies using natural ingredients from your garden.
But it is also important not to dismiss the ‘weeds’ growing in your garden. They may offer far more than you think – both to you personally. And to the ecological systems and wildlife in your space.
Do you make spring tonics? Do you eat garden weeds? Share your recipes, tips, experiences and suggestions in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.