Spring is here! ….or at least, that’s what the calendar says. The temperature did hit 60° here yesterday, so I suppose that counts as a decent start to spring.
And if it’s spring, that means it’s time for Granny’s Spring Tonics.
What are Spring Tonics?
Even in our modern world of 24-hour grocery stores and unlimited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, winter still brings a level of … well, blech.
Being shuttered indoors all the time … the lack of fresh air and sunshine … and not much exercise all combine to make us more sluggish – not our usual, vibrant selves!
Many of the first plants that grow in early spring are perfectly suited to bring us out of this winter slump. They are tonic herbs, blood cleansers, nutritives, or more technically, alteratives. Herbs that fall into this category have specific actions within the body. They
- help the body assimilate nutrients from food
- improve elimination of waste
- restore proper function of the organs
- gradually restore the body’s health and vitality
Many of the herbs used in spring tonics are high in specific nutrients as well. Burdock and Yellow dock are both high in iron, and nettles are abundant in vitamins C and K, iron, and other minerals.
Traditional Spring Tonic
A traditional spring tonic utilizes herbs gathered from your own yard, just like your great-grandmother would have done.
- fresh young dandelion leaves (gathered before the flowers grow)
- dandelion root (dug in late fall or early spring)
- red clover flowers
- stinging nettles
Wash the root well, scrubbing to remove dirt. Slice about a tablespoon of it into thin pieces. Combine them with four cups pure water in a pot and bring to a boil. Continue to boil for 10-15 minutes. (This is called a decoction.)
While the roots are boiling, measure about a tablespoon of each of the other herbs into a glass pitcher. When your decoction has finished boiling, take it off the heat and pour the liquid over the measured herbs. Steep for about 10 minutes. (Now you’re making an infusion.)
When it’s finished steeping, strain your infusion through unbleached coffee filters. Sweeten with honey if desired. Makes four servings.
Enjoy your spring tonic hot or cold.
Barks, Leaves, and Roots
Here’s another option containing more roots and bark (which reminds me of Papa Bear’s wilderness stew made “with barks, leaves, and roots” he finds in the woods…)
Gather about a tablespoon each of the following:
- red clover flowers
- yellow dock root
- burdock root
- sarsaparilla root
- sassafras bark
Boil the roots and bark in a quart of pure water for 10 minutes. Pour the decoction over the red clover flowers in a glass pitcher and allow to steep for 10 minutes.
Strain your tonic through unbleached coffee filters and sweeten with honey if desired. As before, this makes four servings and can be enjoyed hot or cold.
Would you rather eat your spring tonic?
A boiled brew isn’t the only choice for awakening from your winter sleep and getting your blood stirring again. You can eat your spring tonic too!
Simply gather these fresh herbs:
- young dandelion leaves (harvested before the flowers grow)
- red clover flowers
- young stinging nettle leaves
- young poke leaves (collect only the first, tender leaves)
Blanch the nettles in boiling water for two minutes to remove their “sting.” The dandelion and poke leaves can also be blanched or simply eaten raw.
Combine the leaves with the flowers as a salad. Serve with a little olive oil and perhaps a touch of lemon juice.
Do you have to wildcraft the ingredients for your spring tonics?
No, of course not! For either of the tonic recipes here, you can purchase dried herbs from any reputable bulk herbs company. We’ve given some suggestions for sources of excellent herbs here.
For a spring tonic salad, since you need to use fresh herbs, you won’t be able to buy them from a mail order company. Either wildcraft them or check your grocery store. Our local store carries dandelion greens, but I don’t think they have any of the others. You could always combine dandelion greens with other fresh greens, such as Romaine lettuce, for a delicious salad.
Originally intended to brighten the diet after a winter of bread and dried or salted meats, spring tonics and salads were once a welcome change and harbinger of better weather. Even today, though, their health building and blood cleansing powers remain. Perhaps we shouldn’t relegate spring tonics to spring but should use them whenever our diets have been too junk-filled for too long. We could call them “back from vacation tonics”….
Have you ever tried a spring tonic? Would you?
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Bruton-Seal, Julie and Matthew Seal. Backyard Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies. Skyhorse Publishing, 2009.
Christopher, John R., Dr. School of Natural Healing. Christopher Publications, Inc., 2014.
This information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is intended only for educational purposes. It is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure disease. Always consult a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your healthcare routine.
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