It’s still cold outside. The second part of winter is here. It’s still great to be indoors. Especially, after all, those storms and ice still hanging about on roads and ponds. Staying warm in bed is always my favourite option. Drinking tea with milk and honey and eating warm stodgy foods. Watching films with friends and loved ones, eating a few too many takeaways. Yep, we are definitely still in our hibernation mode. Its time for Spring Tonics like dandelion and burdock root tea.
In the years gone past we would not have been able to just lie in bed, indulging so much. Eating oranges flown from Israel, Apples from France and grapes from Spain wouldn’t have been on the cards. Our ancestors would be down to their last meat supplies, salted to stay fresh. Maybe the odd wrinkly apple or root vegetable still kicking about. Perhaps oats and grains too, but these would also need saving for the harvest.
The house would have been sealed up all winter to keep folks warm. The animals they would have brought inside to keep warm with the family too. Imagine the farting, shitting and smelling generally bad. The soot from the fire turning the walls black and everything inside. This would have meant an accumulation of filth, fleas, mice and all sorts living in tandem with them. Everything, our bodies and our houses would have been pretty minging!! Their systems getting worn down, more than likely malnourished and tired. This same process happens to us. Maybe in not such pronounced way but we may still feel it.
We may have over indulged. Maybe not have eaten as well as we should. Winter is still with us until Beltane. Now is the time to get building those stores and replenishing our own vitality to take on the summer. With La Feill Bride now past it is the time to return some of that vitality and strength for the upcoming summer workload. This is my sign that things are changing. Around this time, the ewes give birth so we have our first milk and Crowdie cheese. It ’s now time to go stravaiging and foraging once more. Looking for those plants that help support your bodies functioning. Bring it back into action. Also, those plants that help get rid of external dirt, mould and minging-ness in the house are starting to appear. Luckily we don’t have to go to far from our houses for this. The plants we are looking for are usually right under our noses and our natural neighbours.
This is where the idea of spring tonics come in. The idea of getting off your butt and cleaning house came about. Spring cleaning anyone? Internal “cleaning” are the properties of the herbals called a “tonic”. Similar to Buckfast, as Tonic wine, (but that another story altogether). They promote the well-being of the body. Some affiliated with specific systems. They may also provide a diuretic and liver stimulating action, on top of all the minerals and vitamins you might need. They promote action in our sewage management system, I guess, would be one way to put it. The herbs used for external dirt are also around. Twigs from Juniper, Pine, Cedar and Thyme. Mugwort and Wormwood leaves. These not only have a physical action on germs, moulds and pests they also help us rid our house of esoteric ills. But first our bodies.
Please notice I haven’t used the word Detox. I personally can’t stand this word. People aren’t toxic, we don’t hold toxins in ourselves. Our Livers and systems, on the whole, do a really good job of getting rid of the nasties (just think hangover). If we did hold toxins in we’d more likely be dead already. People need to stop thinking there’s something wrong with them, inside that they need to “clean out”. Something they can just flush out, this is not the case. You’re not toxic. You’re amazing! Yet, we can help our bodies do a more effective job by “toning” the systems. Making sure our bodies get the stuff they need and support our natural processes. Especially after they have been working hard with a less active body and maybe not getting enough fresh foods etc. This is not detoxing, though, this is toning, as in the term “tonic”.
The Tonic Herbs
Anyway, without further rants, herbs that are great and safe spring tonics are those “weeds” you might have seen out and about in your travels. These are the ones that grow on the edges of human habitation. Hardy and sometimes squat, low down, or the first to be seen. Sometimes poking out the snows and frost. This hardy nature and where they grow says a lot about them. It also says a lot about what they can do for you. They will help you become hardy and they grow near us because they want to be used :)
The following list details the different hardy plants, some might call weeds, that you can use for different systems. Roughly speaking, this is just a rough idea. The way these plants work is complicated and work in more than one system or action at a time:
- Blood – Nettles, (Ginger), Rosemary, Burdock
- Lymphatics – Cleavers
- Kidneys – Nettles, Dandelion leaf,
- Liver – Dandelion root, Burdock Root (these guys are bitter)
- Lungs – Ground ivy, Plantain, Thyme
- Skin – Nettles, Red clover, Burdock
I have included Ginger here. It’s not a Scottish native but it’s around everywhere these days. It has a nice taste and helps get things moving. So excuse me this wee indulgence. The best way I have found of taking these tonic herbs, especially Nettle and Red Clover, is to do what Susun Weed calls a “healing Herbal Infusion”. You can find more information about this here.
You can also make the roots into a tea or coffee substitute. Dandelion root coffee is amazing, especially with a few rose petals and honey. Much like coffee, and as bitter, if that’s a taste you like. I haven’t tried making Dandelion and Burdock root coffee. It might be worth a try because Dandelion and burdock drinks were once found everywhere. I remember I used to drink it all the time as a young man as pop or soda. It’s one of my favourite things :). I have included directions below. If you don’t want to include Burdock root just omit it.
Dandelion and Burdock root coffee
• 1 part Dandelion Root
• 1 part Burdock root.
If you have found these fresh now, you’ll be working with 2nd-year burdock root just before its starts to grow. It should be ok and not too woody. Simply dig em up and wash em well. Once clean, you can either slice them, grate them or chop them into small pieces and leave them to dry. The smaller the parts the faster they’ll dry. Once dry crank up your oven to about 200 centigrade and roast them till they are the desired brown colour. You can also dry fry them in a frying pan with no oil to achieve the same thing. Once this is done leave them to cool and grind as required for coffee.
Alternatively, you can mix and match the herbs into a tea. I have to warn you. Because some of their actions they may taste a little, to a lot bitter. The bitter taste helps get our digestive system shifting.
A tea recipe of mine I enjoy that isn’t too on the bitter side more on the savoury Unami salt side with a wet mouthfeel is:
Spring Tonic Tea
• 1 part Fresh Cleavers
• 1/2 part dandelion flowers (if there about)
• 1 part Dried Nettles
• 1/4 part Thyme (substitute with Rosemary if you want)
• 1 part Red Cover
• Pinch of sea salt.
I know it might look weird to add sea salt to a tea, but trust me it makes all the difference! Let brew for 10 – 15 mins the stronger it tastes the better it is for you :)
Another recipe I like that isn’t a tea but is really wholesome and tasty is
Wild Garlic and Nettle Soup
• 1 tbsp rapeseed oil, plus extra for drizzling
• 25g butter
• 1 onion finely diced
• 1 leek finely diced
• 2 celery sticks, thinly sliced
• 1 carrot finely diced
• 1 small potato, peeled and diced
• 1.2 L. vegetable stock
• 300g young nettle leaves
• 200g wild garlic leaves (keep any flowers if you have them)
• 3 tbsp milk
- Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion, leek, celery, carrot, potato and a good pinch of salt, and stir until everything is well coated. Cover and sweat gently for 15-20 mins, stirring every so often to make sure that the vegetables don’t catch on the bottom of the pan.
- Pour in the stock and simmer for 10 mins. Add the nettles in several batches, stirring, then add the wild garlic leaves and simmer for 2 mins.
- Remove from the heat and blend using a stick blender or tip into a blender. Return to the heat and stir through the milk, then taste for seasoning. Ladle into bowls and drizzle over a little extra oil, then top with a few wild garlic flowers, if you have them.
So that’s it for our bodies.
The next blog post that you can find here looks at herbs we can use to clean our houses. Spring cleaning with a difference I guess :)
Hi, can u please give us a few email /websites and crafters contacts that have wheat craft for sale in the UK- we are in Australia- items like the Country mans favour and wheat plaits and corn dollies etc…many many thanks Rosie Love your Website
Thanks for your kind words. You might want to try contacting the guild of straw craftsmen (http://www.strawcraftsmen.co.uk/resource.php) in the Uk or you could try Something Corny (http://www.somethingcorny.co.uk) if you are looking for something based in Scotland.