6+ Springtime Herbs to Boost Your Energy and Restore Resilience

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In simpler times, when supermarkets did not have a dazzling array of fruits and vegetables year round, winter dining was much different. People subsisted on whatever they had stored and preserved during the summer and autumn harvest- dried meats, breads, grains or beans, and root vegetables.

Spring herbs, sometimes called ‘tonics,’ were the first green plants to emerge after the winter. These tender greens are full of nutrients and were a welcome addition to a bland winter menu. Grandma might not have known that tonic herbs restore iron, vitamin C, vitamin K, and B-vitamins, but she knew how important it was to get tender green leaves back on the menu.

To an herbalist, the word tonic describes the actions of an herb. A tonic herb is one that strengthens the system. It supports the deeper biochemical functions that invigorate and restore the body. After spending the colder, darker days indoors, adding tonic herbs back into your menu gives a burst of energy and renewed strength. Plus, fresh greens have a delightful crunchy texture that is missing from the starchy foods common in winter. Even without the valuable nutrition, tonic herbs offer a liveliness of eating that is fresh and exciting.

Tonic herbs are incredibly flexible. They are food-like plants, which means they can be consumed at will without concern for overdoing it. The tender leaves make a delicious salad, tea, or cooked vegetable side dish. You can also find extracts of these herbs made by companies like HerbPharm and Gaia Herbs. Dried versions can be purchased at Mountain Rose Herbs, but the fresh leaves are preferred for boosting energy and immune resilience.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that shifting a habit is easiest when your normal routine is disrupted. Springtime is certainly a time when our habits are disrupted. We’re inspired by the warmer temperatures to get outside, we have more daylight, and are eating different foods. It’s also a perfect time to think about getting more plant-based foods into your diet. As we see the new plant life in growing our environment, our mind naturally sees springtime as a new beginning. Take advantage of this perspective to grow a new habit this year.

Here’s six springtime herbs (plus a bonus) that are a delicious way to jumpstart your springtime wellness.

Chickweed - (Stellaria media) is a low-growing plant with diamond-shaped leaves and tiny white star-shaped flowers. It’s an annual plant, but it reseeds readily for fresh growth year over year. This plant is rich in minerals, vitamin C, and iron and is generally moistening in nature. Chickweed’s most famous function is to balance the water in the body. It restores moisture to dry tissues and relieves swelling and bloating. Chickweed can also be made into salves for topical soothing of burns, rashes, and skin irritations. It can be eaten as salad greens, cooked and eaten alone or with other green leaves, or dried and made into tea. Chickweed is an easy-to-grow plant that will grow year round in most climates. Chickweed seeds are available from Strictly Medicinal Seeds.

Nettle - (Urtica dioica) is a plant in the mint family. It’s sometimes called Stinging Nettles for the tiny formic-acid filled hairs on the aerial parts that leave a burning sensation when touched. This plant grows wild in areas along waterways, but it can also be cultivated. Be sure you wear gloves if you’re going to harvest it! The stinging is neutralized by cooking, so if you make a tea or cook the leaves you’re safe from those tiny stingers. Nettles are a great source of calcium, vitamin A, and magnesium. If you can’t get fresh nettles, a nettle extract is available as well. For those living in drier climates, be cautious as nettles are astringent and can make your skin and mucous membranes uncomfortably dry. Special note for nettle hunters later in the season - eating the leaves of nettle plants that have already gone to seed can result in kidney irritation. Drinking tea made from the same plants doesn’t cause the same problem.

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Dandelion - (Taraxacum officinale) is a much maligned plant. Countless hours and chemicals are employed in eradicating it, yet the dandelion manages to burst forth its sunshine-yellow despite the landscapers’ efforts. It’s this tenacious spirit that we receive when we add dandelion to our spring diet. All parts of the plant are edible, albeit slightly bitter. In the springtime, the young leaves make an outstanding salad or cooked greens. The flower petals have a honey-sweet flavor and make a beautiful garnish for any meal. Dandelion is supportive of liver and gallbladder function, and after a winter of dark skies and cold temperatures, the bright yellow flowers boost mood. Best sources of dandelion leaves are in lawns and fields where pesticides and herbicides have not been used. A related plant is sometimes sold in grocery stores at ‘Italian Dandelion.’ This is actually a dandelion cousin called chicory. It has similar nutrients and effects, but isn’t a true dandelion.

Violet - (Viola spp.) includes many species of cultivated flowers - Johnny-Jump-Up, Viola, Pansy, and violets that are available in garden centers everywhere. It also includes wild violets that are found in the understory of wooded areas and sometimes  an invasive lawn weed. Violets are one of the first flowering plants in the springtime and are cold-hardy. Violet is a nutritional powerhouse! With twice the vitamin A of spinach and twice the vitamin C of an orange (gram for gram), it’s a great way to replenish the stores of these key nutrients. Use the leaves in salad when they’re young and tender. Add the flowers to ice cubes for a beautiful beverage. Make hot tea from the leaves (fresh or dried) and warm up when the temperatures dip at night. Organic plants from your local nursery are the best place to grab these plants. Once you plant them, you’ll get new ones popping up in the same location year after year.

Asparagus - (Asparagus officinalis) is the same early spring vegetable we love. It’s a delicious vegetable cooked and served with many springtime meals. It’s also a great springtime tonic. Rich with vitamin K, folate, copper, selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin E, it’s also full of dietary fiber to wake up your digestion after eating the more starchy foods common in winter. Grab local asparagus at your farmer’s market as soon as it opens, or from your natural grocer if your markets open later in the season.

Parsley (Petrosalinum crispum) is a plant in the carrot family. We tend to overlook this common herb in favor of more exotic remedies, but we should take a second look for springtime rejuvenation. This nutritional powerhouse should certainly be a part of your diet. An outstanding source of vitamin K and an excellent source of vitamin C, this slightly bitter herb is great to stimulate your digestive enzyme production with your meal. Bitter flavors naturally increase your digestive capability, which means you get more out of the food you eat. With dozens of antioxidants and flavonoids, parsley has been shown to help protect our system from environmental contaminants and oxidative stress.

Perhaps the most important springtime tonic is an invigorating walk in the fresh air,  Whether you gather your own spring greens or buy at the natural grocer, make the act of getting them more restorative by taking a walk in nature. The weather is warming, so get out and enjoy the sunshine, notice the beauty of the emerging life around you, and breathe in the fresh air. The extra light and fresh air banishes seasonal depression, inspires a positive outlook, and creates a moment of mindfulness that will brighten your day.

Herbs are a great way to shift your body back into wellness, and springtime is a fabulous time to start. If you’d like to find out what herbs would be best for you, check out how you can work with me.