Early spring herbs, weeds, greens and flowers are some of the most prolific in the garden or in the wild. To make the best use of these delicious plants, I offer two words of advice “BE READY.” Once you see the green leaves sprouting in early April, it seems like it’s only a matter of days until the violets are in full bloom, the nettle is fully leafing, and the chickweed is lush and ready to harvest. All three are going wild in my gardens after a few good steady rains, and now we are inundated with a bumper crop of chickweed and a goodly amount of violets. The nettle leafed a few weeks ago (here at the end of April) and has now grown past it’s early spring stage, so is no longer good to harvest as a tender cooked green, but will still be fine to harvest and dry for later use as tea or to crumble into pesto or soups.
Chickweed: beneficial for circulatory, respiratory, urinary, and digestive systems; high in Calcium, Cobalt, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium, Protein, Vitamin A and Zinc
Nettle: supports and heals the urinary and respiratory systems; high in Calcium, Chromium, Cobalt, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Riboflavin, Thiamine, Vitamins A, C and Zinc
Violet: Vitamins A and C, restorative, healing to entire digestive tract, cleansing
Here are some great ideas about how to best consume and take advantage of these delicious, plentiful and nourishing spring greens and flowers.
First of all, eat lots of salads and include violet leaves and chickweed whenever possible. Throw in some dandelion greens, too.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) grows everywhere, all over the world. It’s such a common plant, easily overlooked. Euell Gibbons says of Chickweed, “It is also eminently edible by human beings, and it could restore health to millions of malnourished people throughout the world if they would only use it.”
Susan Weed has dreamed of eating her way across a field of chickweed. Her comments:
“Chickweed is readily available and
delicious optimum nutrition.”
Chickweed contains constituents known as saponins, which act as cleansing agents within the body, on a cellular level. Susan’s commentary:
“Saponins are soap-like; they emulsify and increase the permeability of all membranes. Chickweed saponins increase the absorption of nutrients, especially minerals, from the digestive system. These saponins also gently dissolve thickened lung and throat membranes, emulsify and thus neutralize toxins, and weaken bacterial cell walls …”
So now you know! Chickweed is nourishing, healing, supports joint health and acts as an herbal diet pill. The humble Chickweed has long been used as a cooked vegetable. It cooks almost immediately, so add it last to dishes with other greens. Euell Gibbons uses 2 parts chickweed to 1 part stronger greens. Put the stronger greens, say nettles and kale or chard, in the pan and cover with boiling water. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the chickweed and cook 2 more minutes. Chop the greens in the pan with kitchen shears, season with salt, butter or coconut oil, or olive oil, chopped raw onion and garlic, and be sure to consume the juice as it contains many of the important nutrients!
Here are some other recipe ideas:
1/2 c lemon juice
pinch sea salt
large handful of Chickweed, finely chopped
1 Tbs dried seaweed or dried Nettle
3 shakes of cayenne
mash avocados, lemon juice, salt and seaweed, toss in the chickweed and cayenne. Soooooo tasty and super nutritious.
Stellaria Thai Green Soup
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch chickweed
handful of violet leaves
16 oz coconut juice
1-2 tbs thai curry paste
juice of 1 lemon
1-2 tbs miso
Blend and serve with chopped cucumbers or violet flowers
This is incredibly delicious and healing!
VIOLETS (Viola spp.)
We’ve already mentioned that violet leaves and flowers provide amazing nutrition – Vitamins A and C in particular – and can be added generously to raw salads. Violets come on quickly in Spring, so plan ahead for recipes such as violet syrup and jam. They only bloom once, and you need to be there when they do!
Euell Gibbons’ Violet Jam recipe is one of my favorites, as the violets are uncooked, preserving the nutrients and beautiful color
1 packed cup of violet blossoms
3/4 cup water
juice of 1 lemon
blend these ingredients to a smooth, violet colored paste
slowly add 2 1/2 cups of sugar and blend until dissolved
On the stove,
1 package of powdered pectin dissolved in
3/4 cup water
bring to boil, and boil hard for 1 minute
Pour this hot mixture into the blender with the violet paste and sugar, blend for 1 minute and pour into sterilized jars and seal.
This will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks. Freeze some for later use.
Fill a jar with violet blossoms, green parts removed
Cover with boiling water, and let sit overnight
Strain, then to each cup of violet infusion add
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cups of sugar
Bring to a boil and pour into sterilized bottles
add two tablespoons of the above syrup to a glass of carbonated water
STINGING NETTLE (Urtica doica)
Nettle needs to be steamed, sautéed or dehydrated prior to ingestion to remove the stinging quality. For the best eating experience, harvest very early, just as the leaves sprout. If you harvest them at this early stage, you may get a second harvest of new leaves that will be good for eating. Once this plant sprouts and the days become warmer, the plant really takes off. In my garden, the nettles are now past the point of tender goodness, so I will harvest the entire plant, cutting it way back, and will lay it out to dry in large baskets. It’s fabulous to use in tea, green blends, soups, and even in pesto once dried. I wear rubber gloves – the kind you wear when washing dishes – and long sleeves to harvest Nettle.
FRESH NETTLE PESTO
1/2 pound nettles
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast
Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer for the nettles. Add the nettles directly from their bag and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes. (This denatures their sting.) Dump into a colander to drain. When the nettles are cool enough to handle, wrap them in a clean dishtowel and wring out as much moisture as possible, like you would for spinach. You’ll have about a cup of cooked, squished nettles.
In a food processor, whirl the garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper to taste until finely chopped. Add the nettles, breaking them up as you drop them in, and the lemon juice and whirl until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until smooth. Add the cheese or nutritional yeast, pulse briefly, and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice.
DRIED NETTLE PESTO
1 large bunch basil
1/2 cup of dried nettle
4 garlic cloves
juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 c olive oil
nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese
3/4 c raw walnuts
Process all in a food processor. Delicious!
Sauteed Nettles with Green Garlic & Olive Oil
1 ¼ pound freshly harvested Nettles, rinsed
3T Green Garlic (Chopped)
1/2 cup Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper (To Taste)
First preheat a large sauté pan on medium high heat, (one large enough to accommodate the nettles, you can even use a large pot as well). Second pour ¼ cup of the olive oil into the preheated pan. Then put all of the green garlic into the pan sauté briefly for about 30 seconds, just enough time for the green garlic to release its essential oils, being sure not to brown or burn the green garlic. Place the nettles into the pan and give it a good stir, let sit for just a second and then continue the stirring process. Once the nettles are completely wilted place them on a plate, drizzle with the rest of the olive oil and place a couple of lemon wedges for garnish.
Potato Nettle Soup
2 cups Nettle Leaves (young shoots)
6 small Potatoes
8 cups Water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp. Parsley
3 cloves Garlic OR 3 stalks green garlic
Puree onion, garlic, and nettles with 1 cup of water. Cut potatoes into small pieces. Simmer pureed mixture with potatoes and remaining water for 45 minutes or until tender. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes making the soup thick and creamy
And then I found this recipe in Stalking the Healthful Herbs by Euell Gibbons:
Euell Gibbons’ Nettle Beer Recipe
4 quarts freshly harvested Nettle tops
2 gallons of water
2 lemons thinly sliced, including rind
2 oz crushed dried ginger root
simmer all of the above gently for 40 minutes,
strain and stir in 2 cups brown sugar
When cooled to lukewarm, dissolve a cake of yeast in a cup of the liquid and stir it into the brew, bottle immediately and cap tightly. It will be ready in a few days.
Refrigerate and ONLY OPEN WHEN COMPLETELY CHILLED. Per Euell Gibbons,
“…this is a lively drink and will foam wildly if opened while warm.”
Cheers! Enjoy the bounty of these wonderful herbs and flowers!
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