Make Herbal Tonics from Spring Plants

Rejuvenate your body and soul by incorporating safe, nourishing tonic plants into your spring diet.

| March / April 2018

  • With spring comes young greens that help revitalize us after a long and restful winter.
    Photo by Getty Images/AlexRaths
  • Mildly bitter burdock root supports eliminatory organs and helps flush excess water from the body.
    Photo by Getty Images/13-Smile
  • Lymphatic and diuretic chickweed has a botanical name that means "little stars."
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Madeleine Steinbach
  • The prickly hairs covering cleavers cause it to stick to passing objects.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/LFRabanedo
  • Harvest young new dandelion greens throughout the growing season for the most tender, mild flavor.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Elenathewise
  • One cooked cup of lambsquarters contains 1,112 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin K.
    Photo by Getty Images/seven75
  • When cooked before consumption, stinging nettle is a diuretic, and a nutritive tonic that supports the body.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Melica
  • The most common edible species of violet are sweet violet, blue violet, and Johnny-jump-up.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Elenathewise
  • Try zingy, wild pesto on pasta, sandwiches, soups, or scrambled eggs.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/fortyforks
  • The fresh kick of homemade vinaigrette pairs perfectly with spring greens.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Jultud
  • Looking for a light, fresh dinner? These seasoned white beans and mild nettle are just the thing!
    Photo by Getty Images/Marco Rosario Venturini Autieri

Spring cleaning is a well-known task for the home, but seasonal cleansing can also be applied to our bodies. While winter provides wonderful opportunities for deep nourishment and rest, spring produces seasonal plants to help revitalize us. Traditionally, people have gathered these first green plants to reintroduce a wealth of vitamins and minerals to their diets, and to enlist the plants’ support for gentle detoxification and the overall strengthening of their bodies.

Many spring tonic herbs are bitter. Bitter flavors activate taste buds that promote good digestion by stimulating the production of digestive acids, enzymes, and bile. Some spring tonics are also diuretics, which aid the body in removing excess water and flushing out waste products. Yet other spring tonics, such as cleavers, chickweed, and violet, kick the lymphatic system into gear so it can filter and remove waste materials and pathogens that may have accumulated during the sometimes-sedentary habits of winter.

The following seasonal tonics are hardy, well-adapted plants that can be foraged or grown nationwide, or bought in bulk from reputable online herb stores.

Burdock Root (Arctium lappa): Typically harvested in the autumn of its first year or the spring of its second, herbalists use this mildly bitter root as an alterative to support eliminatory organs in clearing wastes from blood, and as a diuretic to help flush excess water from the body. Peel, chop, and enjoy burdock root in stir-fries and soups, or as a decoction (1 to 2 teaspoons of chopped root, simmered in 1 cup of water for 15 minutes, and then strained). Burdock has become more popular in recent years, and you may be able to find the root in local health food stores or Asian grocery stores.



Chickweed (Stellaria media): One of the first greens of spring and last greens of fall, chickweed loves cold weather. This plant’s botanical name means “little stars,” a nod to its star-shaped white flowers. As a lymphatic and diuretic, chickweed decongests the lymphatic system and clears excess water from the body. Juicy chickweed flowers, leaves, and stems are delicious raw in salads or steeped as a tea (add 1 to 2 teaspoons of chickweed to 6 ounces of boiling water). Chickweed has a fresh, green taste without any bitterness.

Cleavers (Galium aparine): Cleavers (also known as “bedstraw”) is easy to identify as it has small, prickly hairs covering its stalk and leaves, which causes the plant to stick to itself or passing objects. Harvest the aboveground parts of cleavers in early spring; these can be juiced, infused in cold water, or eaten in salads or on sandwiches. Cleavers has been used to stimulate and decongest the lymphatic system, and as a diuretic to help remove excess water.



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