The rhythms of the natural world serve as our constant companions throughout this journey we call life. When living a simple lifestyle, immersed within the meter of the seasons, we often find this essential connection to our natural world more poignant when experiencing spring’s renewal process.
An essential element of this seasonal renewal is the spring tonic.
I have asked my neighbor and friend Sue Burns to share with us her knowledge of the herbal and natural healing world. I find Sue’s perspective on herbal, holistic, and natural health to be firmly based within a context of thoughtful consideration and practical advice.
As an introduction, Sue’s bio follows, and I hope that you will enjoy her insight into the seasonal rituals of the spring tonic as much as I have.
Sue is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant and Certified Holistic Health Educator. She holds degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Clayton College of Natural Health, and Hawthorn University. Through the Mt. Nittany Institute of Natural Health, she participated in an herbal studies program under the direction of Jennifer Tucker. For seven years, she was the Nutrition Educator for Curves Fitness Center in Mifflin and Juniata Counties, facilitating weight management classes and healthy living workshops. Before retiring, Sue offered holistic nutrition consultations and classes via her business, Nourishing Journeys. In addition to her family and friends, the joys in her life include cooking, reading, and travel. She lives in Reedsville with her husband Rich. They have two grown daughters and three grandchildren.
Spring Tonic Season Dandelion, Nettle, and Burdock, OH MY!
The spring-cleaning bug bit me recently. In response, I began purging post-dated items from our food pantry, a chore with no reward except the smug assurance that our spices are now arranged in alphabetical order and that five-year-old sleeve of crackers from a Christmas gift basket no longer litters a shelf.
In my haste of wanting to finish this mundane task, I knocked a small rectangular box to my feet. Ah, yes, I smiled, looking at its contents. This was surely a message from Mother Nature and her emerging spring season, for within the container was dandelion root tea! The perfect spring elixir to chase away my sluggish cabin fever. It was time to put the kettle on.
As I was sipping and savoring the earthy blend, I recalled fond memories of early spring days many years ago. My grandfather lovingly tended a large, organic vegetable garden long before it was trendy to do so. The first greens to emerge from the corners of the lawn and between the rows of onions and peas were tender dandelion leaves. Some gardeners call them weeds, but my grandfather called them “delectable.” He taught me how to harvest the delicate leaves carefully. I would then tote them into their kitchen and, with the help of my grandmother, proudly serve them as the “spring tonic” that she touted was “good for what ailed you.”
Turns out, my grandmother was right.
Many years following my dandelion-plucking days, I found myself once again foraging for “spring tonic” herbs while part of a class of novice wild crafters expertly guided by herbalist Jennifer Tucker. This time, we were on an expedition for not only dandelion but also nettle and burdock. Jennifer explained that the pesky weeds of nettle, burdock, and dandelion are actually powerful, detoxifying herbs. Concentrated in both their leaves and roots are high levels of healing nutrients. Oh my!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
In addition to giving our energy level a boost and restoring our immune system for overall health, dandelion can reduce blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Dandelion wards off inflammation while its root gives our liver a much-needed spring cleaning.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
I learned the hard way to identify nettle. Although its leaves resemble plants in the mint family, its telltale sting is not forgotten; thus, wear gloves when harvesting. While its leaves are harsh, the healing benefits from this herb are nothing but soothing. It is nettle I reach for when feeling run down or a bit frazzled. Due to seasonal allergies, the month of August is bearable for me only because nettle is my daily companion. I also depend on its anti-inflammatory properties to help with the aches of arthritis. Traditionally, nettle’s key uses are that of a detoxifying and cleansing herb, and it combines nicely with burdock and dandelion as well.
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
According to medical herbalist Andrew Chevallier, “burdock is one of the foremost detoxifying herbs in both Western and Chinese herbal medicine.” Similar to dandelion, burdock also has anti-inflammatory properties. It also cleanses the liver, gall bladder, blood, and kidneys. Burdock is a great lymphatic and adrenal gland stimulator. With a tuned-up lymph system, we build a stronger immunity. Burdock is a great defense against chronic urinary tract infections and kidney stones and has antibiotic and antifungal properties. Rarely is burdock used on its own. Often it is combined with other herbs, such as dandelion, to balance its strong cleansing actions.
Obtaining the herbs
If you are feeling confident and are seeking an adventure in the flora and fauna of your area, you can forage for spring tonic herbs. Both the leaves and roots can be used, making these plants very versatile. For details of harvesting and preparing, check out the resources of Rosemary Gladstar and Susun Weed for step-by-step advice.
However, if you want the benefits of these herbs without the digging, you can easily access these herbs at your local health food store or online. For the most part, they will come in the form of teas or dried herbs. Tinctures are great and readily available, too. I find them to be a quick and easy formulary for getting your tonic “on the run.” In addition to decoctions, tinctures, and teas, and except for fresh nettle leaves, the herbs mentioned in this article can be eaten fresh as a side dish or in smoothies and soups. Fresh nettle leaves must be cooked first to remove the “sting.” It is also important to harvest your herbs from areas free from chemicals and pesticides.
Here are some retail sources that I like for spring tonic herbs:
- Traditional Medicinal Tea
- Herbalist and Alchemist (for tinctures)
- Mountain Rose Herbs
- Frontier Co-op
- Nature’s Harmony Health Food Store located on Belle Avenue in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. Rose is willing to order for you if she does not have what you want.
Once you have your herbs, it is time to steep a comforting and healing brew. Here’s how:
Spring Tonic Tea
1 Tablespoon each of:
Red Clover Blossoms (optional)
Begin making a decoction by placing the burdock and dandelion roots in a saucepan; add one quart of water; bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the herbs from the liquid.
Place the fresh dandelion leaves, nettle leaves, and red clover blossoms into a quart jar.
Pour the strained hot root decoction over the fresh herbs and steep for 30 to 60 minutes. The longer it steeps, the stronger the tea. Enjoy hot, at room temperature, or iced. This is also delicious blended with fruit juices.
Follow grandma’s wisdom, spring means more than a time to clean out our pantries. It is also time to put the kettle on and “come clean” from the inside out.
Another bit of wisdom: It is wise to consult your health care provider before using herbal supplements. Be especially cautious if you are taking prescription medication as there may be side effects.