Spring is welcomed with open arms by those of us who have been feeling cooped up from our long winter. The days are getting longer. We feel the need to clean and clear out the old, reduce clutter, and bring in new energy. To start new projects, to expand on ideas and new beginnings. To nourish the seeds we planted in winter and begin growing new ones.
Spring is all about movement, stretching, getting more active, spending more time outdoors, and working in the garden. As we start to see the early spring plants and "weeds" sprouting from the ground, we can begin our wild harvesting and spring preserves. I will highlight three common spring edibles for foraging, known for their root medicine: Burdock, Dandelion, and Yellow dock. Plus a few recipe ideas to get you started.
One of the things I enjoy about early spring is the abundance of fresh greens, but it is also a great time to harvest many nourishing roots before becoming mature. I try to use as much of the whole plant as possible when I forage wild nourishing weeds, using the greens in salads, stir fry, wraps, and soups. While cooking the roots in my meals and pickling, preserving, or fermenting them to use throughout the year.
Always make sure you have correctly identified the plant and are ethically foraging. Be sure the plants have not been sprayed with harmful chemicals or fertilizers and that you practice mindful wildcrafting not to harm the natural lands and ecosystems.
One thing to highlight about the doctrine of signatures of these three deep growing taproots is they help condition the soil and break up the deep earth to draw minerals up to the soil's surface. The doctrine suggests the nourishment from these plants provides us strength and grounding. They restore our health, replenish our minerals, and break up what is bogging down our energy. A perfect food source to help us transition from the winter slump to spring growth and movement.
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
Burdock has endless benefits and is most reputable for gently toning and strengthening the body, enhancing inner resilience from within. If you have seen the plant growing before, you may have noticed the presence and strength of its persona. Nothing seems to get in the way of this plant growing, at least not without great effort.
When used over time, burdock gently strengthens and improves the functions of digestion, eliminatory organs, detox organs, and the immune system. There does not seem to be an organ that does not benefit from burdock, even if indirect. The whole plant is very nourishing, great for inflammation, releases uric acid buildup, and is beneficial for gout, arthritis, and rheumatic conditions. It supports digestion, including stimulating enzymes and fluids to digest our food and assimilate nutrients.
It activates our natural detoxing or "housekeeping" of the body by enhancing the actions of our liver, kidneys, intestines, and lymph to eliminate toxins. It is rich in fiber, regulates bowel movements, and absorbs toxins from the intestines. These detoxing and blood cleansing benefits aid with clearing skin inflammation, hives, eczema, and acne. It also stimulates the pancreas and gallbladder and is beneficial for maintaining healthy blood sugar and diabetes.
It is high in inulin which acts as a prebiotic to create a healthy environment for our beneficial bacteria and other gut microbes. Gut Microbiome research suggests the ecosystem of bacteria and other micro-organisms in our gut affect all aspects of our health and well-being, including our mood and energy levels. The gut-flora may also play a critical role in genetic cells turning on or off, affecting our predisposition to many chronic diseases and autoimmune conditions.
Burdock and other plants high in inulin are an essential food source in our modern-day where we have had the highest rates of digestive imbalances and autoimmune disease.
Burdock, whole-plant harvest
The whole plant of burdock is edible. The leaves are a nourishing bitter which can be steamed or sautéed like kale, chard, and collards. I like to drizzle it with a bit of vinegar and oil, or I sauté it in butter and lemon juice, both of which help ease the bitterness. The stem or flowering stocks can also be used and are best when harvested before the plant goes into flower as it becomes denser the longer it matures. Just chop and either steam, sauté in some good quality oil, or gently boil in some saltwater. Cook slightly for 5-10 minutes if you desire a crunchy texture like celery, or cook longer, about 20-25 minutes for a softer, more tender texture. The root, leaves, and stalks can also be fermented or pickled to preserve and enhance the nourishing benefits.
Burdock root has a dark, earthy brown color with a light tan color under its outer layer. It has a bitter and earthy flavor with a subtle and underlying hint of sweetness. You can use burdock root in soups, stews, stir-fries, or any way you would use carrots; however, it is more fibrous and not as sweet tasting. If you are a meat-eater, grate the root into your ground meat while cooking to support digesting it. You won't even know it is there. My favorite ways of eating burdock root are in soups and stews, fermented veggies, and pickled. I love to snack on the pickled root as if I am eating carrot sticks. You can add 1-2 as a side garnish with your meals. Try adding the pickled or fermented root/greens to salads, stir-fries, sandwiches, casseroles, meat or egg salads, sushi, etc.
Pickled Burdock Root (aka "Gobo" in Japanese cuisine)
Pickled burdock is a popular side in Japanese Cuisine. Many believe eating a few sticks/coins every day can support and strengthen the body over time and balance digestion. If the root is larger and more mature, the outer layer becomes tough, so you may want to peel it first. I try to avoid peeling the outer skin as there are many benefits there. Then slice the burdock root into round coins or long, thin sticks. Add into a steam basket a place in a pot with just enough water to cover them. Cook for 5-10 minutes for a crunchier texture or up to 20 minutes for softer.
While your burdock cooks, prepare your spices and add them into your jar(s). I like to use the following recipe per quart:
3-4 coins or strips of fresh ginger
2-3 coins or strips of fresh turmeric
3-4 cloves of garlic
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 small sprig of fresh rosemary
1 - bay leaf
Optional: You can add a fresh chili pepper for a spicier flavor or try adding other delicious pickling spices such as mustard seed, dill, fennel, coriander, cumin, rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay, anise, cinnamon, clove, etc. The flavor combinations are endless!!
Once the roots are steamed/cooked, pack them into the jars, leaving an inch or more space from the top. Allow them to cool to room temperature to prevent damaging the culture from the vinegar and fermented soy. Once cooled, mix up the brine solution, fill your jar to the fill line, and make sure all the burdock is fully covered.
Prepare the brine by taking equal parts:
-Vinegar (I prefer to use raw Apple Cider Vinegar with the mother culture)
-Tamari or other fermented soy product (use a GMO-free brand)
-Water from cooking/steaming the burdock
Seal the jars. Allow them to sit up to a day to allow the flavor to cure before storing your pickled burdock in the fridge. Most refrigerated pickled preparations are stable for six months to a year.
If you prefer pickling using the water bath or pressure cooker method, you can use a more traditional brine solution of the vinegar with the burdock water and 1 tsp of salt per pint-sized jar. Just pour the brine over the burdock while it is still hot and place the jar in your water bath for 20-25 minutes. If you want to pickle the greens, you can use either method. I prefer the texture of the refrigerated method myself to avoid cooking the greens during the canning process.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
This common and under-appreciated weed is a highly nourishing plant rich in various vitamins and minerals. There are many species of dandelion, and there are even weeds that closely resemble the true dandelion. Be sure the weeds you are harvesting are the taraxacum species. Since dandelions are sprayed, make sure your dandelions are grown without chemicals and the area you are gathering from does not have a history of being sprayed or fertilized.
Dandelion means "lion's tooth." When used regularly, it can build resilience and provide you the "strength of a lion." Dandelion helps cleanse the blood, making it beneficial for various skin conditions, including rashes, hives, eczema, chickenpox, measles, etc. It aids digestion and constipation as well as the kidneys and liver. Like burdock, dandelion tones and supports all of our organs, especially with general daily detoxing or what I like to call the day-to-day "housekeeping" of the body.
It stimulates bile production from the liver and gall bladder along with other digestive enzymes and acids. Dandelion also contains inulin, so it also acts as a prebiotic to create a healthy gut flora environment. It is an excellent tonic for the heart as it reduces high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, and elevated cholesterol. It stabilizes blood sugar, regulates appetite, and helps with general digestion and elimination. The high potassium levels make it a natural diuretic to support the urinary tract and eliminate excess water retention without the risk of depleting your body's natural potassium levels. The whole plant is also high in calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, C, E, and more.
The entire plant can be used as food, although it is moderately bitter. I tend to use the roots in tea, syrups, vinegar, and alcohol extractions (tinctures). I like to harvest it along with yellow dock, nettle, and other herbs to make an iron and mineral-rich syrup or try drying and roasting the root to use in tea blends. I enjoy pairing the roasted root with chicory root to make a yummy coffee-like tea substitute (recipe below).
Use the fresh greens for salads, soups, stir-fries, juice or green smoothies, etc. You can dry the leaves and either pulse grind until coarsely chopped or thoroughly grind down to a powder. The dried leaf can be cooked into your food or mix the powder into a smoothie, oatmeal, protein balls, kefir, yogurt, or sauces and dips when fresh is not available.
A little can go a long way. Use it in smaller proportions and add flavorful herbs and/or a natural sweetener. The flowers are also edible and medicinal. I tend to use the flowers more in summer, though, and allow the early spring flowers to complete their seed cycle and spread more dandelions for the rest of the year.
Dandelion Green Smoothie
Blend the following:
1 cup of chopped dandelion greens
1 cup chopped kale, spinach, or other wild edible
3 tbsp almond butter
8-10 ounces of coconut water or a nut milk
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp spirulina
1 tbsp powdered astragalus or other tonic herbs (optional)
Dandelion Tea or Coffee Substitute
Dandelion and chicory tea
2 parts of dried and roasted dandelion root, ground into a powder
2 parts of dried and roasted chicory root, ground into a powder
1/2 part of cinnamon powder
Add 1 tbsp of the powder into a percolator, press, or coffee maker per 8 ounces of water. Steep for 5 minutes or percolate as you would make coffee. Most of the powder will dissolve into the water but strain to remove the sediment that will not.
I frequently add cacao powder, chaga mushroom powder, roasted and ground vanilla bean, or vanilla extract for fun and enjoyable flavors. Additional chai spices such as ginger, clove, cardamom, anise, fennel, and peppercorns are also delicious. Try adding turmeric paste to make golden dandelion milk. Sweeten your tea with a bit of honey, if needed. If I want to add a little cream, I tend to use a milk substitute like coconut or macadamia to prevent any dairy from inhibiting the absorption of the herbs' iron-rich benefits.
Yellow Dock (Rumex Crispus)
This bitter leaf and root is another one that is difficult to the palate by many. I enjoy this herb in nourishing syrups with honey and molasses, which conceal its intense flavor. It is very nourishing and high in many essential vitamins and minerals. Recent studies have shown that yellow dock may enhance our body's absorption and assimilation of iron and even enhance the bioavailability and absorption of iron from other plants like dandelion and nettle when they are used together. This makes yellow dock a great blood builder and supportive for anemics, vegetarians, and vegans.
It helps to regulate the bowels. Small doses help to slow things down, while mild laxative actions become stronger as the dose increases. Yellow dock is a gentle liver and gall bladder tonic. Its detoxing and blood cleansing actions help with various chronic skin diseases, including psoriasis, eczema & acne.
The foraged root is mainly used in syrups, vinegar, and tincture extracts to help make this bitter plant more palatable and convenient to receive its benefits. The greens or large leaves of this plant are bitter and not as palatable as other spring greens so I will admit I don't use them as often but do enjoy adding a little to my nourishing vinegar infusions or try soaking the leaves in a vinegar and brine solution for a few days and using them as a wrap. Drizzle with lemon or balsamic vinegar to take the edge off the bitterness.
Yellow dock root
Iron & Mineral Rich Syrup
1 part nettle leaf
½ part dandelion leaf
½ part yellow dock root
½ part dandelion root
½ part burdock root
½ part rose hips
½ part orange (sliced)
¼ part lemon (sliced)
Molasses & honey to taste
Alcohol (optional to preserve)
Clean all foraged plants and chop the greens and slice the roots into thin coins. Cover all roots in a pot with water until they are fully saturated and free-flowing with at least an extra inch of water. Cover and simmer on low for 20-30 minutes. Add any of your leafy greens, berries, and citrus. The vitamin C from the rosehips and citrus aid with iron absorption and helps improve the syrup's flavor. Add more water until all herbs are free-flowing and saturated again. Cover and heat to just under a simmer to avoid cooking the vitamin C from the heat-sensitive plants. Keep covered and allow the herbs to infuse for up to 12 hours. Strain and measure the volume of your infusion. Add alcohol, honey, and molasses to taste to preserve the syrup. If you prefer to avoid alcohol, omit it but make sure you have ¼-1/3 part honey to preserve and store your syrup in the fridge, using it within two months. Children can take 1-2 tsp, and adults can take up to 1 tbsp, 1-3 times a day. Do not give honey to an infant under the age of 1 or anyone with a known bee allergy.
Do you have these weeds growing in your backyard? What medicine do you like to make from them? Let us know in the comments.
Explore part 2 of Spring Foraging for more about using your wild edible greens for backyard medicine and spring nourishment.
About the Author:
Candice Brunlinger is an Herbalist, Intuitive Healer, Health & Wellness Educator, and Mindfulness Coach with an integrative approach to healing using plants, nutrition, self-care, and energy practices, including Tai Chi, Qigong, and EFT.
She supports others with simple solutions to empower health through whole food nutrition, emotional freedom, and mindfulness. Explore her online courses, class offerings, and one-on-one health coaching at www.herballivingandhealing.com
Herbal Healing With Candice