Imagine you live at some point in the past in which you didn’t have electricity, refrigeration, or grocery stores as we know them today. When fresh foods were the things you picked out of your own growing plot or found in the wild around you. Right about now (depending on where you live) you’d probably be celebrating the coming of spring. There’s the warming weather, the longer days, the twittering birds and bright flowers around, and color and life is coming back into the world. But if I lived in that time, I think my most favorite part of spring would be…..food!
Spring is a time for setting out new plants and putting seeds in the ground. It is just the beginning of the growing season for most. But I say, why wait? The early days of spring bring with them a whole smorgasborg of delights to pull you out of the winter blahs. Spring tonics abound!
- An agent, such as a medication, that is supposed to restore or improve health or well-being.
- Something with an invigorating effect.
- An invigorating, refreshing, or restorative agent or influence.
- Pertaining to, maintaining, increasing, or restoring the tone or health of the body or an organ, as a medicine.
In that time we imagined earlier, where there was no refrigeration or grocery stores with shipments of food from all over the planet, during the winter, people mostly sustained on preserved meats, dry beans, and root crops. Read: salt, starch, carbohydrates, sugar. Yes, today those four things are the stuff of food cravings, but going for months and months (depending on how long the winter lasted) on only salted meat and turnips? That first sprig of green in the spring wouldn’t stand a chance with me around!
Traditionally, spring tonics were a tea or infusion made with the early spring greens. What those greens are depend on locale, but generally things like dandelion, dock, nettle, violet, chickweed, henbit, wood sorrel…basically anything edible and green that comes up early spring.
Ironically, these are also usually the things that lawn-growers despise, so this is a perfect time to do like my mom did this year: harvest the neighbor’s weeds “as a favor to them” before they start mowing and spraying and doing all that lawn-care stuff, and save your own weeds for later in the season!
There’s also some chickweed and wild garlic/onion in there.
The idea behind a spring tonic is that it helps to kickstart digestion and clean out all the “heavy” food that’s been eaten all winter. Spring tonics are also full of nutrients and minerals that have been lacking most of the winter which help energize and build up the system for the coming chores of spring and summer.
I believe that these first plant foods, the ones that begin their growth in frozen ground, that push their way up through snow and ice, whose tender leaves still survive the late winter frosts and hard freezes have a little something extra in them that I want in me. That vitality, that energy, that sheer will to survive, that strength and vigor. Who doesn’t need a little of all that in their day?
I also believe (I’m no nutritionist, so this is all just my personal thoughts here) that those survivor plants must be simply loaded with nutrients. Just as a conventionally-farmed, GMO crop in a climate controlled, well fertilized, regularly watered, pampered environment doesn’t have the same nutrient (or flavor) density as anything that grows in the wild, or the way conventionally-raised beef can’t compete in any way to grass-fed; I believe these early plants that have to endure, not just the perils and fickleness of nature, but ice and snow and freezing temperatures on top of it must have even more in them to offer us in terms of nutrition.
How to Tonic
The term “tonic” is very broad, and the way to do it is just as broad. Pick what is available, choose what you like. This is my first tonic of the season:
The kale in the picture is from my garden, which overwintered beautifully! The rest was also gathered from my overgrown raised beds which haven’t been prepped yet, and the areas around them. The onion/garlics are leftover from our wild violet salad day.
I chopped up the bulbs of the onion/garlic and sautéed them lightly in some oil in a pan on medium heat.
I chopped up everything else, including stems, flowers, and the greens from the onion/garlic and added them to the pot.
I let everything wilt just a bit before adding some leftover bone broth (about 2 cups) and an additional 2 cups of water. Water alone does just fine. I just happened to have some leftover broth that needed to be used, so thought, what the heck!
I threw in a little bit of salt and pepper (to taste) and a dash of apple cider vinegar as I’ve heard it helps to draw out minerals….but mostly because I like that little twang of a taste with my greens!
I then reduced the heat to super-low, covered the pot, and let it sit for what probably ended up being 4 hours (you could also do this in a crock pot). The greens were tender enough to eat within 30 minutes, but I really wanted to get all I could out of them into the broth/water/tea for my tonic.
Traditionally, the plant stuffs were strained and discarded, and the remaining “tea” was drunk as the “tonic,” however, not being one to waste, we all drank the tea/broth and I reserved the greens for a side with dinner.
In our world today, we have electricity and refrigeration, and grocery stores that sell oranges and strawberries in Alaska in the dead of winter. But just as Spring itself brings about a brightness and energy to the world, the “spring tonic” helps me bring some of that feeling into my body and makes me all the more ready for the seasons ahead.