Herbal Rites of Spring

Spring is almost here! I know that some of you reading this are buried under the snow right now. But the seasons don’t come all at once at a flip of a switch (although some years it does feel that way). Like everything else in nature, they cycle and spiral, with Winter and Spring playing a tug of war game until one day you wake up and realize that Spring is actually upon us! In the meantime, it is time to prepare our bodies, minds, and spirits for the lighter days, which we are moving towards (if you are in the northern hemisphere that is). It’s interesting how Nature works: The herbs that start to grow this time of year seem to be exactly the ones to help us to lighten up and detox from the heavier foods of winter, and to revitalize us after our hibernation. In this article, I’m going to discuss a few of my favorites. Many of these herbs grow as weeds and can be commonly found in yards or gardens in most parts of the US, and many other parts of the world as well.

BEFORE HARVESTING OR USING ANY WILD PLANTS, READ THIS FIRST: Proper identification is ESSENTIAL before ingesting any plant. Many of these plants have toxic lookalikes. If you are foraging for the first time, have a person who is experienced in plant identification guide you. ALWAYS confirm 100% proper identification before consuming or using on skin.

Chickweed: One of my favorite tasting nutritive herbs of early Spring. Chickweed can be found all over yards, gardens, sometimes even in your potted plants! Humble and scraggly looking, this weed is a nutritional powerhouse containing iron, calcium, magnesium, silicon, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, carotenes, and vitamins B and C. When eaten fresh, raw, and regularly (in a daily salad is perfect for this), chickweed nourishes and strengthens all body systems and rebuilds vitality. It’s especially good when anemic or recovering from an illness or surgery, but I believe that pretty much everyone these days can benefit from the nourishment chickweed has to offer. It’s also a good herb to know if you get stung, have a splinter, or need to clean a hot, infected wound in the field. For this you would make a poultice by chewing some up and applying it to the affected area. leave it on for as long as you can, cover with a thin layer of gauze if possible, and discard when it gets warm, adding a new poultice if necessary. Chickweed is also considered an excellent remedy for pinkeye-by adding a poultice to the closed eyelid for 20-30 minutes twice a day, most people see results within a day or 2. IMPORTANT: ALWAYS make sure you have properly identified ANY plant before ingesting or using on the skin. Chickweed does have a few toxic lookalikes, so be aware and make sure to consult an expert in plant identification, as well as using a good field guide.

Chickweed ,Stellaria media in the garden. The plants are annual and with weak slender stems, they reach a length up to 40 cm.

Dandelion: Most people are familiar with dandelions. Children play with them, and many adults try to get rid of them in pursuit of the perfect lawn. But on the subject of wellness, dandelion is a gold mine! My belief is that the reason they are so common is because they are so needed! Most people can benefit in one way or another from the humble dandelion. The roots, leaves, and flowers are all edible and medicinal. The root is considered one of the best liver and digestive tonics. It stimulates the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder. It nourishes the blood. It helps to get the digestive juices flowing when taken before meals, as well as it tonifies the stomach, pancreas, kidneys, lymphatic, immune, and reproductive systems. And that’s just the root! The leaves are a digestive bitter tonic, a diuretic, and are rich in nutrients like omega 3s, vitamins A, B, C, and D, iron, potassium, and calcium. If you can, try eating fresh raw or cooked dandelion greens every single day and see what it does for your vitality and wellness. They are the ultimate Spring tonic! And the flowers! They are an expression of sunshine, and mildly antidepressant. But they also make a great moisturizer when steeped in oil. Wait there’s more! If you break a dandelion anywhere (I usually do this on the flower stem) you will see a white milky sap. This sap is a powerful discutient. It has been used successfully to dissolve warts, tumors and other abnormal growths. Frequent applications are the key. The wonderful thing about dandelion is its accessibility. If you don’t feel like digging it up, you can usually find the greens at a farmer’s market or grocery store. Click here for a dandelion tincture. Or here for a Digestive Support Formula featuring dandelion.

Burdock: Although I usually harvest most of my burdock roots in the Fall, I still consider Burdock root a Spring tonic. It can be harvested in the early part of Spring before it flowers. It also works synergistically with dandelion root, as a general tonic and also on more complex issues. Like dandelion, it tonifies the liver, digestive, and immune systems, along with the kidneys and bladder, and has a special affiliation with issues of the skin. Burdock root is high in inulin, which can help to stabilize blood sugar levels, and also nourish intestinal flora. It’s rich in iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, and vitamin C. Historically it has been used as an ingredient in herbal cancer protocols. This may be because it contains arctigenin, which has been shown to inhibit tumor growth in laboratory studies. Or it may also be because of Burdock’s ability to bind with toxins, chemicals, and heavy metals, and quickly assisting them to leave the body via the large intestine. Burdock is a plant I use regularly, year round. It works slowly over time. Results can be seen after 1-3 years of consistent use. It can be eaten as a nourishing food and can be found in grocery stores or Asian markets under the name Gobo. It can be dried and drank daily as a nourishing infusion. Or it can be taken as a tincture, by itself or combined with dandelion root. To purchase burdock root tincture, click here.

Stinging Nettle: My love affair with nettle started in my early 20s, when I dreamt about the spirit of the plant teaching me about herbalism. Ever since then, I make sure to have a nourishing infusion of nettle most days. I drank it throughout 3 pregnancies and homebirths, barely bled during childbirth, and always had an abundant supply of milk during my 12 years of (sometimes tandem!) breastfeeding. Nettle is loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, carotenes (vitamin A), B complex, Vitamins C, D, and K to name only a fraction of the nutrients in this powerhouse of an herb. It nourishes the digestive system, liver, kidneys, and respiratory, endocrine, and reproductive systems. It cleans the blood, modulates inflammation in the body, promotes lactation, helps to clear the skin, and promotes healthy, lustrous hair. It does so much more than this, more than I could write a whole page on. I believe that a daily nourishing nettle infusion would benefit pretty much anyone. To brew a nourishing infusion, steep a couple large handfuls of dried nettle (an ounce is not too much!) in a quart jar of freshly boiled water for a minimum of 4 hours-overnight is best. Strain and drink for a daily multivitamin superfood tonic! When harvesting nettle, be careful of the sting (although it does have its benefits as well-look up ‘urtification’ for more information). Some days I don’t mind getting stung, other days I wear gloves, which I recommend. Nettle leaves should be harvested before flowering (between March to June in most parts of the US). If you cook it in water as a pot herb, it will lose its sting and is a nourishing and tasty green (especially in a potato based soup). To get the most nutritional benefits from nettle, it is best to eat and drink it regularly in nourishing infusions, as a pot herb, or infused in apple cider vinegar (look for a nettle vinegar in the shop later on in the Spring!). For its inflammation modulating effects, especially when dealing with respiratory allergies, many people find relief with a nettle tincture in these situations.

Plantain: Ah plantain, the band-aid plant! This abundant herb is a must-know for foragers. First, if you get hurt in the field or stung by something, more often than not you can find plantain growing nearby. Pick some, chew it up (or crumple it really well until the juices are released) and apply to your wound. It can draw out infection or splinters, relieve the pain, curb bleeding, and help the skin to heal. As a matter of fact, plantain is so useful in this way that I recommend looking for it as soon as you arrive at your wildcrafting destination, before foraging for anything else. Kind of like knowing where your first aid kit is for when you need it (which is also important to have along on any wildcrafting excursion). Plantain also makes a wonderful all-purpose salve to have on hand for rashes of all kinds, including eczema, psoriasis, diaper rash, burns, cuts, bug bites, etc. Keep some in that first aid kit you brought along. Plantain is also a tonic to the urinary, respiratory, and digestive systems. Its cooling and demulcent properties helps to soothe urinary infections, and helps the lungs to bring up stuck phlegm in the case of coughs, asthma, and other bronchial concerns. It also helps the stomach to recover from internal injuries and irritations, such as ulcers, GERD, and other gastric disturbances. For these internal issues, a tea or tincture of plantain is recommended. Plantain is a leading ingredient in our Gut Support Tea Formula. For more information on Plantain, see this article.

I hope that these 5 herbs help you to get out there and start experimenting with Spring wildcrafting. Remember to confirm 100% positive identification before ingesting any plant. The above herbs are plentiful and grow as weeds in most parts of the world and are some of my favorites to use in my herbal preparations. Have fun harvesting and experimenting with these abundant, nutritious, generous, healing plants. Happy Spring foraging!

**And for those of you in Humboldt County who would like to get started with your Spring gardens, come on out to the Seed & Plant Exchange at the Arcata Community Center on Saturday March 11th, 2023 from 11-4. Feel free to bring seeds & plants to share or stock up on some to bring home with you. Yemaya’s Apothecary will have a booth with lots of tea blends, fire cider, tinctures, elixirs, infused oils, salves, & herbal gifts-including many of the Spring tonics mentioned in this article. Hope to see you there!

Resources/Recommended Reading:

Weed, Susun: Healing Wise ((1989)

Edwards, Gail: Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs (2020 edition)

De La Floret/Han: Wild Remedies ((2020)

Gladstar, Rosemary: Medicinal Herbs (2012)

Sams, Tina: Healing Herbs (2015)

De La Floret, Rosalee: Alchemy of Herbs (2017)

Popham, Sage: Materia Medica Monthly subscription, excellent thorough monographs on Burdock, Dandelion, Nettle, and Plantain.