So I thought I’d take a moment to appreciate what this moment on our calendar is full with, a step beyond “spring is here!” symbols of fertility and rebirth. For people living away from the equator, like us in Seattle, spring is a time for cleansing and movement. Cultures in northern climates have traditionally survived winter on storable vegetables (starches), cured meats, and fermented vegetables and fish. These foods move slowly through our bodies, in contrast with the bright fresh foods of summer. To help our bodies transition, many cultures have cleansing and energizing spring foods.
It’s no surprise then, that the earliest emerging herbs stimulate our liver and kidneys, which filter our body fluids and help to digest fatty foods. Three of my favorite spring stars are chickweed (Stellaria media), miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), and dandelions (Taxicum officianale). All three are known as garden weeds, which is fitting for a season that celebrates the spontaneous nature of growth and reproduction.
Miner’s Lettuce is packed with vigor-promoting nutrients and purifies the blood and lymph fluids in the body. It’s mild enough to be eaten in salads, and replenishes vitamins that run low in winter. It earned its name as a protective food for miners in the California gold rush who didn’t have access to many fresh vegetables, and remains abundant in moist areas of urban and suburban landscapes.
Of the three herbs here, Dandelions are the most intense. Both the greens and the roots contain bitter compounds that stimulate the release of digestive enzymes, as well as stimulating the liver. Most noticeably, this means that dandelion helps smooth out digestive issues in any part of the digestive system. Beyond that, dandelion is known to strengthen bones, clear acne from the inside out, and stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin, helping moderate blood sugar. The nutrient dense leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, and the roots are best roasted (they take on a nutty/earthy flavor rather than the extreme bitter flavor you might be thinking of) and brewed as tea. Here are recipes for dandelion root tea, smoothies, and more.
Enjoy the abundance of spring! Happy foraging!