Spring Tonics

Nettle collecting

Spring is a time of waking up, of bursting forth into the world. A surge of energy and action replaces winter’s stillness. It’s also a time of clearing out any clutter accumulated over the cold, dark slower months of the year. We harness the season’s energy as we embark on spring cleaning projects that come more instinctively than obligatory tasks.

It’s time to renew. This applies to our outer worlds as well as to our inner worlds. Spring has traditionally been a time to support the liver in gentle detox during this transition to spring. The natural world, with its infinite wisdom, provides us every opportunity to do just this. Bitter and nutrient-packed greens come to life, and for those of us paying attention to nature’s hints, provide us with delicious and nutritious Spring tonics just waiting to be harvested.

Adding to your everyday routine is one of the best ways to wake up the body after a winter of heavy eating and more sedentary lifestyles. They ignite and optimize liver health and digestion, thus aiding in a gentle detox. They also stimulate our body to produce its own natural digestive juices responsible for the breakdown and absorption of food. A crucial component of eating healthy is having a healthy digestive system capable of nutrient absorption.*

plate of spring edibles

We were made to experience the bitter flavor. We have a vast number of receptors in our body that detect the bitter taste, and it’s not just in our mouths! Our entire digestive tract, including the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder, are found to have bitter , along with other places you would never think of–like the lungs and sinuses. This means that our bodies evolved to taste those flavors, allowing our digestive system to the work it was designed to do. The long and the short of it is that are essential to support gut health, and everyone should be making them a priority.

Start each day by taking a dose of to jumpstart the digestive process. The key to unlocking the wisdom of bitters is tasting the bitter flavor. Unfortunately, when you add water, it dilutes the bitter flavor. For this reason, our are best taken directly on the tongue.* As we like to say at Urban Moonshine, “The bitter, the better!”

Here are a couple of recipes that include some of our favorite spring tonic plants. Together they make the perfect light meal!

Spring Greens Salad

Dandelion greens are packed with vitamins and minerals and provide a bitter kick that helps support liver function.* After a winter of heavy foods and sedentary living, Violet greens and chickweed are super-packed with nutrients, making them just the spring pick-me-up your body needs. Young greens of dandelion and violet especially are ideal for both texture and taste reasons.

For harvesting:

You’ll need to find a good place to harvest your wild greens–fields or lawns that are not sprayed and that don’t get a lot of dog traffic (i.e. avoid the side of a trail in a busy park where dogs frequently relieve themselves), and that are at least 20 feet away from the road. Note that most natural food stores carry fresh dandelion greens if you don’t have access to wild greens. You can eat them straight up or replace the violet and chickweed with any other salad greens.

  • 1 cup of young dandelion greens
  • ⅓ cup of young violet leaves
  • ⅓ cup chickweed (optional–if you can find it)
  • ¼ cup grated carrot
  • a handful of violet flowers as garnish
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, raw
  • 1 tbsp tamari
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste (note, you may not need to add salt due to the tamari)

(Note, this recipe makes dressing for more than one salad. Keep in the fridge for up to a week for more salads!)

Mix the greens and grated carrot in a salad bowl. Whisk together all ingredients for the dressing. Add 3 Tbsp of dressing to the greens, tossing well. Sprinkle violet flowers over the greens and then serve.

handful of spring edibles--violet, nettle, fiddleheads

Spring Cleaning Soup

With the probiotics of miso, the prebiotics and bitter flavor of burdock root, the nutrient density of nettles, and the warming support of ginger, this simple soup is nirvana for anybody ready for a gentle reset. For the nettle tops and burdock, follow the same guidelines for wild-crafting from the recipe above, or purchase from your local farmer’s market or natural foods store. While many herbalists suggest harvesting burdock in the fall, spring-dug burdock is generally more bitter, making it an excellent liver tonic.*

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup (packed) chopped nettle tops, stems removed (you may want to wear gloves while handling the nettles to avoid getting stung!)
  • ¼ cup grated burdock
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil

Bring water to a boil on stovetop. Add nettles, reduce heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Add burdock and garlic and simmer, covered, for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add grated ginger and sesame oil.

In a small bowl, combine miso paste with ¼ cup of hot liquid from the soup, using a spoon or fork to fully incorporate the miso into the water.

Return the miso mixture to the soup pot. Stir well and serve.

Updated February 2021; originally published in 2015 by Rachael Keener


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