Until about one hundred years ago people that lived in New Hampshire ate a local diet. It meant that in winter they ate mainly root vegetables that they were able to store from the fall harvest, fermented foods, and preserved meat. This heavy diet was meant to provide the energy needed to keep the body warm throughout the winter. But when April arrived and with it, the chatter of birds and the calls of frogs filled the air, men and women were ready for fresh green food.
It makes sense to eat heavy meals, soups, and stews during the winter to build an extra layer of protection that enables us to preserve heat better. It also makes sense that in spring we want to shed those layers and cleanse the body in preparation for the hot season. (and yes bikinis too)
The organs of the body that will help clear the build-up of fat and toxins from the winter are the liver and kidneys.
The liver screens all the blood that comes through the small intestines for toxins from your last meal, alcohol intake, or the environment. It also produces bile, a yellow fluid that contains digestive acids, cholesterol, phospholipids (fat), and bilirubin (a by-product of broken down red blood cells). Bile has an important role to play in digestion, especially that of fats and fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, E, D, and K). It is so important to the digestive system that it sends it from the small intestines back to the liver to be recycled and reused.
One way of releasing fats from the bloodstream is to eat plenty of dark green leaves such as kale, spinach, and arugula. The fibers in these leaves absorb and “cage” the fat molecules in the same way a sponge absorbs water and then leads them to the large intestines and out of the body with the feces.
What would’ve been the edible plants that were available for people around here this time of the year? If you step out into your garden you will probably find out that dandelion leaves are starting to emerge. Dandelion is spring super-food. The yellow color of the flower point to the bile and liver in the doctrine of signature, an art of knowing from the outward color and form of a plant or its environment what its medicinal properties are.
Dandelion is considered a “liver mover” because it encourages bile production. The bitter tastes point to the liver too because “bitters” are known as herbs that promote a healthy liver. All parts of the plants are used: roots, leaves, and flowers. At the beginning of the spring, the fresh leaves that just emerged are the most potent. They are especially good if added fresh to your salad. Please note that you want to harvest your dandelion leaves from a clean field or lawn, one that is not too close to the road and definitely not one that is sprayed with pesticides and/or herbicides.
In a couple of weeks, the bright yellow dandelion flowers will bloom. Many people consider dandelion a weed, but now that you know what a gift it is you might consider harvesting and using the flowers instead of spraying it away. You can add dandelion blossoms to your pancake batter or to your omelet mix.
Mead or honey wine is a great way to create your own alcoholic beverage and preserve the joy of dandelion for gloomy winter time.
Pour 1 gallon of boiling water over:
2 quarts dandelion blossoms, with greens attached (the green part of blossom, not the leaves)
2 sliced organic lemons
2 sliced organic oranges
1 lb organic raisins minus one handful (reserved to add when cool)
add 1-quart local honey (about 3 lbs)
1 1/4 tsp baking yeast
the reserved handful of raisins
Cover and let ferment in a place with consistent temperature, stirring daily. Bottle after 15 days. (Check out bottling instructions if you're not familiar with this process, or better yet, have an experienced friend help you with this if you're not comfortable doing it on your own.) Let it ferment at least 6 months.
The kidneys are another organ of detox. We let go of water-soluble toxins, especially nitrogen-based compounds (protein/meat) through the kidneys through the urine. The kidneys are all about balance as they are in charge of keeping the fluid balance in the body.
In about a month nettle will emerge in the garden. Nettle’s botanical name is “urticaria” means urine in Greek. Nettle strengthens the kidney and the adrenal gland as well as nourishes the liver. It is a mild diuretic (it will make you pee), and a mild tonic for the kidneys that help gently clean and nourish it. Nettle supports the elimination of uric acid and acts as a mild antihistamine which makes it the ultimate blood purifier for spring cleansing.
Nettle is very safe to use but not so much to harvest. Nettle leaves and stems are covered with tiny white hairs that contain formic acid, hence the stinging you get upon making contact with the plant. Wear a long shirt and pants and cover your hands with gloves while harvesting it. Nettle loves rich soil in a partly sunny yet somewhat wet area, so you might find it close to animal farms where compost was deposited. Wherever you find it make sure that it has not been sprayed.
Once you cook or saute your nettle, it loses its sting and you can use it for casseroles, soup or quiche in the same way that you use spinach. My personal favorite is making fresh pesto from the leaves.
Pesto is best made with a mortar and pestle, thus the name, which means “to pound.’ You can make this in a food processor too.
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons roasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons grated cheese (any hard cheese will do)
6-8 tablespoons blanched, chopped nettles
Put everything in a food processor and “pulse” until you reach the consistency that you prefer. Serve as a spread on bread, as an additive to minestrone soup, as a pasta sauce or as a dollop on fish or poultry.
If you go out into your garden now and meet the humble plants that pop out first thing in the spring, they can teach you a lot about starting fresh. Dandelion pushing out of a corner of a building or between the cracks of a sidewalk can teach you about resilience, strength, and determination. Nettle that grows amongst waste can teach you how to turn desolation into fertility.
Herbs are great allies to us but herbalism is more a lifestyle and less about doling out medication. Eat fresh organically grown vegetables, drink plenty of water and move your body. One of the ways to move, meet nature and connect with your food and medicine is gardening. April is a great time to cleanse, not just your body but your garden too. I am a great believer in edible gardens as it saves the gas for the lawn mower, puts you to work outside and provides you with food and medicine.