The transition from winter to spring can be exciting for the hobby farmer ready to start gardening and see the landscape emerge from its restful sleep. However, it can be a delicate time for our bodies emotionally as well as physically. Like the plants and wildlife surrounding our homes, we’re emerging from a state of rest—from a season of less movement and heavier foods—so physically, we need to reclaim our power and strength. Emotionally, it can be a time when we feel out of balance, particularly for those of us introverted types who have enjoyed our cozy nooks of winter.
In spring, I like to focus on incorporating herbs in my everyday life that cleanse and help me feel grounded. This is an especially good time to focus on herbs that benefit the liver and cleanse the blood, as well as those rich in vitamins and nutrients. Often, finding these herbs is as simple as tuning into the land, as the first plants to leaf out in spring can benefit us in these ways. Bitter herbs are good ones to seek, as well. Here are a few herbs to consider using as you transition into spring.
1. Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Nettles is a whole-body tonic high in nutrients. It’s cleansing and detoxifying, as well as a diuretic. It can help in the treatment of numerous allergies, including bug bites, itchy skin and hay fever. Pick the shoots in spring for use in teas, soups or as a steamed vegetable.
2. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion is one of the most detoxifying herbs available to us—and a plentiful one at that. The root, in particular, excels at stimulating the liver to aid in detoxifying the blood, though it also acts on the gallbladder and lymph. It’s high in nutrients and, as a bitter herb, aids in digestion, helping to assimilate nutrients. If you didn’t dig roots in the fall, focus this spring on gathering leaves. They have a high level of potassium and can be used as a diuretic and to help lower blood pressure. Combine the leaves regularly in a salad with other spring greens, such as chicory leaves, for a cleansing, nutrient-building meal.
3. Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Like dandelion, chicory root and leaf can be used to benefit the liver, digestive tract and urinary tract. In fact, research shows that chicory root goes so far as to protect against liver damage. If you’re prone to anxiety this time of year, it’s also calming to the nervous system. This spring, consider replacing your morning coffee with a roasted dandelion- and chicory-root brew to start reaping the benefits of these two herbs. And, of course, harvest and eat the greens whenever possible.
4. Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is one of the first plants I see springing to life around my house and garden in spring. It’s a mild-tasting green, high in minerals, and a favorite addition to spring salads. It aids in digestion in small quantities and has been traditionally used in weight loss. However, if you are prone to spring skin eruptions, that is where this herb excels. As an emollient, it’s commonly used in salves and poultices for conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, and it is highly effective in soothing the skin itchiness.
5. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
This bitter herb is a bit more mild than others in the artemisia family, so it’s a great choice for spring. Often mugwort is thought of as an herb for women or for inducing dreams, however, it is an excellent herb in aiding digestion, particularly at the start of spring, because it supports fat metabolism and aids in the absorption of nutrients. Use this one in small doses, as it can cause nausea, and don’t take it while pregnant, as it can cause uterine contractions.