Take a Walk on the Wild Weed Side

Spring greens help detoxify and invigorate the body—gather some on a refreshing nature walk and try these fun, fresh recipes.

| March/April 2007

  • Chickweed, which tastes like spinach, can be added to salads.
  • Dandelion greens are an excellent liver tonic.

  • Stinging nettle, eaten cooked, is rich in nutrients
  • Beautiful violet flowers make a colorful addition to salads.
  • Wild garlic tastes spicy and pungent.
  • Wild onion can be snipped into any dish.

Spring planting time is upon us, as warmer weather beckons us outdoors to clean away the winter leaves and work the soil. While the spirit is willing, one questions the body’s willingness to shed the lazy habits of indoor winter activities. But lucky for us, we gardeners and herbalists have a botanical arsenal to help us fight this sluggish feeling. We can energize our bodies by getting out into the garden to cut some of the weeds that threaten to overtake our perennials and, at the same time, collect the ingredients for a cleansing spring tonic.

A tonic is anything that invigorates and strengthens the entire body. It can be an activity, such as digging in the earth or taking a yoga class. It can be reading an inspiring magazine article or listening to a motivational speaker. It is “an agent designed to restore enfeebled function, and to promote vigor and a sense of well-being,” according to Phyllis A. Balch in Prescription for Herbal Healing (Avery, 2002).

Because we are herb gardeners, we know how invigorating the plants in the garden can be, both when we are in the garden collecting them and when we use them to cleanse and energize our bodies. Several plants regarded as weeds in our gardens and yards help to detoxify and rejuvenate our bodies for spring.

Spring Weed Primer: The Wonder of Weeds

Chickweed (Stellaria media) has slender stems growing from its center and white, star-shaped, edible flowers (stella means “star” in Italian). With a thick mass of fine white roots, chickweed grows almost flat along the surface of the soil, forming a leafy green blanket. When it encounters other plants, it will grow over them and can suffocate them by blocking light and air circulation.

Snipping bite-size lengths (about 2 to 3 inches) of the tender-leaved stem tips with scissors is the most efficient way to harvest chickweed for salads or a greens pot—a pot full of steamed mixed greens, such as tonic herbs, sorrel, spinach, kale, collards and chard, picked from the wild or the garden. Chickweed’s leaves have a fresh, green, sweet scent, somewhat like peas, and they have a mild herb flavor reminiscent of spinach. The older stems, which are closest to the center of the plant and thicker than the newer growth toward the tips, are rather chewy due to their tough, threadlike inner core.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) plunges a thick taproot deep into the earth as soon as it germinates. Its leaves are long and pointed with notched lobes. Dandelion greens contain vitamins A and C, and its leaves are high in lecithin, which helps replace cell membranes and assists the liver in processing toxins. Dandelion also is very high in beta-carotene, and contains calcium and potassium, some phosphorus and iron.

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