Spring Greens by Sharol Tilgner
It is spring. The birds are singing. I can feel their excitement as they find my gifts of string for their new spring homes. The sun is warm, the bees are buzzing, the plants are bursting out at the earth’s seams and my thoughts find me dreaming of spring greens. This is the best time of the year for an herbalist. All the spring greens are available for eating and my mouth waters in anticipation of tasty herbal feasts.
You too can enjoy the bounty of spring. Let me introduce you to two of my special friends, stinging nettle and dandelion. These weeds are everywhere. They are edible and medicinal treasures provided freely from our wonderful and nurturing planet. I like to stir fry stinging nettles or cook it in soups and casseroles. I think it tastes like spinach with an attitude. Dandelion greens can be used similarly. I also add the new spring leaves to salads. But, hold on, don’t add fresh nettles to salad—only the dandelion greens. You will get a startling surprise! A few words of caution for those of you unacquainted with stinging nettle; treat this plant with utmost care for she is aptly named. Only collect nettles in the spring prior to flowering. Gloves are a must when harvesting and processing nettles. I have more than once been on a hike and been surprised by a patch of nettles. In my overwhelming glee at finding the first spring nettles I have temporarily lost my mind and decided to collect them without gloves. Each time I have nursed my wounds, questioning such a crazy decision. No matter how carefully I harvest, this tasty plant reminds me that she is protecting herself and she is to be respected. Luckily once the plant is cooked the sting disappears and you can savor this delicacy without concern.
Nature’s Medicines Nettles: As a naturopathic physician, I pay attention to good medicines, and these two plants qualify. Stinging nettle is beneficial as a spring tonic and rejuvenator. As a medicine it tends to be very stimulating and drying. It has a supportive effect on our immune system, spleen, circulatory system, urinary tract, nervous system, respiratory tract, digestive system and the endocrine system, including the adrenals, thyroid, and the pancreas. It nourishes the entire body. It nourishes us spiritually as well, by increasing receptivity to the natural energetic flow of our spirit. Nettle is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and silicic acid. The high mineral content may be the reason for nettle tea’s ability to reduce the severity and occurrence of leg cramps as well as menstrual cramps, and its ability to support strong bones. I make a strong decoction from the tea to extract its minerals. Usually leafy items are infused, but to extract minerals you need to decoct or simmer the tea for a minimum of 30 minutes. Nettle is also beneficial in excessive menstrual bleeding. It assists in cold and damp health conditions, as well as conditions involving heat such as intermittent fevers and burns. It is used for chronic respiratory, digestive and urinary tract illnesses that involve excessive mucus. Nettle favors elimination of uric acid and is therefore useful in gouty arthritis. It is used in hay fever, asthma, and edema. Nettle is best used long term in treating chronic illnesses. I use nettles for my own health as well as patients. It is one of my favorite herbs. I can attest to its efficacy in most of the areas mentioned. Due to its pleasant taste, I usually give it to patients in the form of a tea.
Dosage as a medicine: Tea — one or two heaping tablespoons per cup of water simmered for 30 minutes, or 30-60 drops of liquid extract. This dose can be consumed 1-4 times per day.
Dandelion: Similar to nettles, dandelion shares the dual role of being nutritious and a healing medicine. The whole plant can be eaten as food or used as medicine. I like the young spring greens best as a food. At this time of year they are mildly bitter and gently stimulate your digestion. If you eat summer or fall greens they are quite bitter and overpower most people, including me. The more bitter the greens the stronger a medicine they are. Just like the leaf, the root is both a food and a medicine. The root has both a bitter and a sweet taste. The root can be harvested from late fall till early spring. It is most bitter in the early spring. In the autumn it is very high in inulin which is a constituent that supports the “good” gut bacteria and keeps “bad” gut bacteria at bay. If using dandelion for its inulin content it is best to eat it as a food or make a hot tea out of it. Autumn roots are roasted and used as a coffee substitute. I like to mix the roasted autumn roots with a little roasted chicory, a little Bupleurum and a tad bit of licorice. You can try various mixtures for fun. The dandelion flowers are high in flavonoids. The flowers can be used to make dandelion wine, battered and deep-fried or used in stir-fries and soups. The green calyx beneath the flower is quite bitter and needs to be removed if you don’t want the bitter component in your wine or food. I learned the hard way about the calyx in my wine. The first dandelion wine I made was so bitter, no one wanted to drink it. With adaptive thinking, I redefined the concoction from “wine” to a “digestive stimulant” to be used in small amounts. It worked well.
When using dandelion as a medicine it tends to be cooling and drying. Dandelion is used for arthritis, gout, allergies, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, varicose veins, edema and abnormal blood sugar levels. Dandelion (especially the leaves) can increase the flow of urine, stimulate the bowels, thin the blood, decrease inflammation, support and stimulate the liver, stimulate the gall bladder and dry up boggy tissues. Its action on digestion makes it useful for gastric headaches. It is indicated for many female problems and skin diseases due to its action on the liver. The whole plant, especially the root, is beneficial to the liver but I find you need to use the herb over time for best results. Its action on the liver makes dandelion a wonderful ally for people who have chemical sensitivities, have consumed liver toxic chemicals (such as pesticides, herbicides, drugs), or have been exposed to toxic substances in the environment.
Dandelion can also help people on an emotional level. It is specific for feelings of anger, agitation, nervousness and dull-mindedness. Dandelion is supportive of the solar plexus and all manners of disease that arise in the third chakra.
In an age when pollution and health hazards abound, dandelion presents herself as a gift to protect our bodies and lift our spirits. This is a plant that we can all benefit from being friends with. She teaches us that our quick and harsh judgements can be harmful and incorrect. She also teaches us tolerance and acceptance of Spirit’s will. She allows us to see the beauty in the most mundane of our world’s treasures and the gifts in those we consider to be giftless.
Dosage as a medicine: Tea — one heaping teaspoon of root per cup of water simmered for 15-20 minutes, or one heaping tablespoon of the leaf per cup of water infused for 20-30 minutes, or 30-60 drops of liquid extract. These dosages can be used 1- 4 times per day in a little water.
Sharol Tilgner is a licensed naturopathic physician in Creswell, Oregon and president of Wise Woman Herbals, Inc. Dr. Tilgner was the Director of the Portland Naturopathic Clinic pharmacy for more than two years. Dr. Tilgner is a nationally known speaker who lectures at medical colleges and conferences across the United States. She acts as an herbal consultant to both physicians and the herbal industry. She also promotes and sponsors The Pacific NW Herbal Symposium each spring. Her most recent contribution to the herbal world is her new book called "Herbal Medicine From The Heart of the Earth." She is the also the editor of "Herbal Transitions," and associate editor of "Medical Herbalism."