The breath of life rises green from the earth. I imagine ancestors rising at dawn to witness the sun marking their ancient calendars. Giving them hope for the seasonal dawning of new life. Giving them hope for food, medicine, the materials for shelter, and the melting of snow and ice. Watching the nascent buds and shoots swell. So much depended on plants.
And still so much depends on plants. But now I find that many people have little to no connection to plants, knowing little about where their food comes from, the history of the foods we eat and the foods we don’t, how weeds became weeds, or why we need them.
I met a child who refused to eat carrots after helping harvest at a farm field trip. “They came out of the dirt.” Well, sure I thought, they all come out of the dirt. “They come from the grocery store.” Oh. Right. Ground down into “baby carrots” with lots of water and sand. It turns out that there are chemicals in dirt that stimulate immunity and banish depression.
Chlorophyll is extraordinarily similar to hemoglobin in chemical structure. The primary difference is that at the center of chlorophyll you will find magnesium and at the center of hemoglobin you will find iron. Plant leaves are generally green with chlorophyll while human blood is red. Once upon a time, there was need to thin the blood in the spring.
Imagine what we might be eating if we foraging could no longer happen at the grocery store. I found some sunchokes in the garden yesterday… but mostly we would be welcoming the sight of green to help thin and rebalance the blood after a winter of dried meat and sprouting tubers. The green blood of plants helps rebuild the blood and the bitterness of the leaves would help spring a sluggish body into action.
(This is where an understanding of energetics and constitutional assessment can be helpful in deciding what wild greens to eat and how much. Stay tuned, I have a class on this in the works! But also consider the Heal Thyself series, one of the upcoming classes listed below.)
The quintessential image of the sluggish end-of-winter body is the bear. Bear rolls out of the hibernation den seeking greens and bitter spring roots. Bear’s gut has also been hibernating and needs a little digestif to get the fluids going. (In Bear, by Wolf Storl, traditions from Europe and Russia tell stories of the bears who shed their fur and left the forest to become humans.)
So for the naked bear in all of us, here are a few wild and weedy plants that are rising from the dirt to help you connect with the element of spring, the rising of the sap, and the annual transcendence from the death of winter. Along with the daffodils and tulips come hairy bitter cress, chickweed, stinging nettle, red dead nettle, and dandelion. All edible greens with an edge.
Hairy bitter cress is in the spicy Mustard Clan. Relative to kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. This tiny but mighty weed is first to brave the late winter frost. Warming and stimulating in salads and pestos. The heat mildly irritates the digestive tract promoting salivation, enzymes, and other digestive fluids.
Chickweeds is salty and delicious in salads. Except for the hairy mouse-ear chickweed. (Salads should not have hair, especially mouse-ear hair.) Chickweed is loved by chickens and children. It moistens while it drains excess fluids. A mild diuretic with a bit of oxalic acid.
Stinging nettle is salty and anti-inflammatory, just be sure to add a bit of honey or marshmallow root to take the edge off the astringency. Crush with early garlic greens for springtime pesto. High mineral tea. Cook with dark leafy greens.
Red dead nettle. Not red. Not dead. Not nettle. Cook leaves with greens, in small quantities. Too hairy for salads. Astringent and nutritive. Best as tea with a minty relative.
Dandelion was carefully sewn into hems and purses and brought to North America as food and medicine. Young leaves in salads. Cook older leaves. Bitter stimulates digestion. The root is high in inulin, a prebiotic needed for the microbiome. The flowers are high in potassium… the whole thing is high in minerals.
Want to learn more… here are a few ways:
Crafting Transformation: Connecting with the Elements
Heal Thyself: The Elements of Healing
Starts April 25, Lakewood, OH
Sign up by calling: (216) 577-5454
Wild and Weedy: Making the Gardener’s Remedies
Starts April 27, Cleveland, OH
Sign up here: https://forms.gle/46aSzpmQ6EvWPEBw5
A Mouth Watering Herbal Experience
June 1, Erie PA
Sign up here: https://forms.gle/Da4U9geoqkDQGHwUA