With apologies to those still buried in snow, I want to celebrate our bounty of spring greens, both wild and cultivated. California’s flora, which turns tan for much of the year, is a beautiful shade of green right now. Here it’s the time for spring tonics and harnessing the wealth of nutrients that come with that first flush of green.
Some of the herbal volunteers are like old friends that show up the minute it starts to get wet. Chickweed is one of my favorites. Its botanical name is Stellaria media, which means “little stars,” because of its white star-shaped flowers. It always turns up in the pots on my porch (this one has a tall sodden cactus in it, and isn’t really blooming yet.) This is an herb with numerous benefits which just doesn’t dry well at all. It’s used both internally and topically, and is super nutritive and tasty, so I try to jump on eating it while it’s around, before it gets too warm or dry. Here is herbalist Susun Weed’s take on chickweed. I haven’t noticed it eliminating the fat cells yet, but maybe I’m just not drinking/eating enough of it.
I like to make a basic salad, then go out into the garden and see what I can pick to augment it. Today I found chickweed, fresh dill and oregano, gotu kola, and dandelion. I like adding nuts and beany sprouts to balance the flavor of the greens. This salad has red cabbage, red peppers and baked tofu in it as well.
Gotu kola is an amazing herb for the brain, and is another one that just doesn’t dry so well. At the herb school, we used to make Rosemary Gladstar’s Brain Tonic Tincture, with gotu kola, rosemary (for remembrance) and peppermint, as a synergistic/stimulant herb to kick off the formula. I think later she added gingko. We would take copius amounts to help retain all the first-hand knowledge that was being passed on to us. Sadly, my tiny gotu kola patch is struggling in this winter time, even though we don’t have a frost.
Here is a nice conversation about brain tonics. I think it’s time to whip up a tincture, I can feel some brain decay coming on! (Or at least some serious attention-wandering.) Gotu Kola is called Mandukaparni in Ayurveda, and, according to The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs, a study in Korea shows that “constituents in gotu kola show potential for treating Alzheimer’s disease.” I remember when I first heard of this herb, I heard a story of cadavers being studied in India of people who ate it as a lifelong staple, dying in advanced years with brains that were typical of 30-year-olds. While I can’t substantiate that story, it always stuck with me.
I also have a ton of mint, which I never think of putting in salad, but when it’s served to me, it’s always a nice surprise. All of these greens are just as good in sandwiches as they are in salads.
Dandelion is one of my favorite, all-time herbs. I got really excited, because I finally found the red-ribbed dandelion that I’ve been buying to eat (from Green Gulch) as a seedling at Rainbow, so I planted a few plants in the herb spiral. (This was sold as “Italian chicory,” but it’s close enough for me.) I’m going to take a separate post to sing the praises of dandelion…