May Health Genie: Spring Edibles

Note: These articles are not meant as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult with your medical practitioner before using any type of remedy, herbal or otherwise.

Spring Edible Food

Anyone who has experienced a Vermont winter knows the excitement of spotting the first spring plants breaking through the thawing Vermont landscape.  And in an earthy, land-based, food conscious state like Vermont, many plant lovers are foraging their spring edibles and are eager to find the first of the fiddleheads at the market.  Here are some of the medicinal benefits to some of the most cherished spring sprouts:

Asparagus

Asparagus:

Most gardeners cherish Asparagus as it is one of the first shoots to break the defrosting ground.  On top of being a delicious vegetable, it also has many medicinal benefits.  Asparagus is a good source of dietary fiber, folic acid, vitamin C, E, B6 and K. It can increase the urine production (also known as a diuretic) and can be used to treat a variety of urinary tract infections.  It is also used in treatment of joint pain, constipation, nerve pain, hormonal imbalances, and preventing kidney stones. [i]

Sorrel

Sorrel:

Sorrel is a delicious, spinach like plant that can be seeded in the fall for an early spring harvest.  Sometimes it will even produce leaves when the snow is still on the ground.  It has a lemon/spinach like flavor that makes a great soup or addition to salads.  Its anti-inflammatory properties will help reduce swelling and pain, especially for the inflamed nasal passageways and respiratory tract.[ii] Its ability to combat bacterial infections make sorrel a great remedy for spring colds and allergies.  Sorrel also contains compounds called tannins which help dry out the mucous membranes, resulting in less mucous production.

Wild Ramps

Ramps:

Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are some of the first edibles of the spring.  They can be found in damp forest floors or alongside rivers, at the farmers markets, or at the Co-op.  Be careful though, as these plants are overharvested in some areas, so inquire about the harvesting practices if you are purchasing them.  They have similar nutrition and taste to onions and garlic.  They are rich in vitamin A and E, and minerals manganese, iron, and chromium.   Traditionally, ramps were used to help recover from the cold or flu.  Ramps (and onions) contain the compound kaempferol, which has been shown to help protect the blood vessel lining from damage.[iii]  This compound also helps to increase the production of nitric oxide which helps the blood vessels relax and dilate, which will help lower blood pressure.  Ramps are pungent, just like garlic and onions, so avoid them if you already have an acidic stomach, acid reflux, or heartburn. They make great stir-fries, soups, and additions to pickled vegetables.

Dandelion Roots and Greens

Dandelion:

Dandelions are often viewed as “weeds” as they infiltrate yards, ditches, prairies, and abandoned parking lots. Due to contamination and pollution, it is never a good idea to eat them from anywhere unknown, but grown in a garden (whether intentional or not) these super weeds are super packed with healing benefits.  The leaves (the earliest, smallest leaves are the most tasty and least bitter) can be added to salads, stir-fries, or soups.  The roots can be steeped or decocted into tea.  The flowers can be used in brewing wine or cooked into a “fritter” like substance.  Dandelions are high in vitamins A, D, B complex, C, and minerals iron, silicon, magnesium, sodium, potassium, zinc, manganese, calcium, copper and phosphorus.[iv]  They are often the main source of “bitter” in bitter tonics and tinctures.  They contain compounds that give nutrients to the liver, as well aid in the liver’s detoxification process.  Being bitter, dandelion helps stimulate digestion and reduce distention, indigestion, and acid reflux.  Some studies show that dandelion stimulates the growth of 14 strains of bifidobactera, a probiotic that contributes the healthy functioning of the digestive tract.[v]

Burdock

Burdock:

Burdock is rightfully making their way into grocery stores.  We carry the fresh and dried root here at City Market.  It is another great plant that fits both the edible and medicinal category.  The roots can be steamed, boiled, or roasted.  The stalk can be peeled and eaten raw.  The root contains 11% protein, 19% lipids, and 34% inulin.   Burdock is a well know blood purifier.  Blood purifiers, in general, help to treat skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis.  Burdock also fits the “bitter” category and can be used in a similar manner as dandelion (mentioned above).

Wild Nettles

Nettles:

Although this plant can have a small to big sting, it is packed with nutrients.  Once dried, blanched, or steamed, the small stinging hairs fall off and render the plant harmless (although some claim that the sting can actually be beneficial- like relieving arthritic pain).  When steamed or blanched, nettles become quite delicious, with a taste somewhat between spinach and kale, and it makes a great side dish or addition to soups or stir-fries.  It is high in protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, selenium, silicon, and vitamins B, C, D, K, and carotenoids.   Nettle also have a high iron content and are great to eat or make into a tea during menstruation.  The freeze-dried form of nettles may help relieve seasonal allergies.  It is common to find shampoos, conditioners, and hair products with nettle extract in them as many believe it helps stimulate hair growth.

Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads:

Fiddleheads are a Vermont favorite and are enjoyed in many states throughout the United States.  Of course, if you have never been taught how to identify the edible variety or don’t know anyone who can teach you, it is best to purchase these at the Co-op, as they have a poisonous look alike.  Since fiddleheads can be easily disturbed, only harvest 30-40% of the stalks in each clump.  Once you learn the simple identification and cooking tricks and have access to the supply at the market, the fiddlehead feast of spring can become a loved tradition.   According to the USDA, just one 100 gram serving of fiddleheads almost meets your daily requirement of vitamin A.  Fiddleheads also have a notable amount of vitamin C and riboflavin.  To a lesser extent, they contain phosphorous, iron, calcium and magnesium. [vi]  Along with most other spring greens, fiddleheads help decongest the liver of fatty, salty, winter foods.  There are many delicious recipes out there, but even just a sauté in ghee or butter is fantastic!

On top of the weather turning, the sunshine blessing us with longer days, and the first sign of the trees budding, adding these fresh, local foods into your diet is a great way to further enjoy and stay connected to the land and its seasons.

Happy Harvesting & Spring Cleansing!

 


[i] ASPARAGUS: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings - WebMD.WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2014. Page: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-286-ASPARAGUS.a...

[ii] ": Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings - WebMD." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. . <http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-718-SORREL.aspx....

[iii] "Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants." Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants. eowyndbh, 17 Aug. 2012. Web. . <https://keys2liberty.wordpress.com/tag/wild-leek/>.

[iv] Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy & supplements: a scientific & traditional approach second edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 2008. 150. Print.

[v] Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy & supplements: a scientific & traditional approach second edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 2008. 151. Print.

[vi] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2013. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 26. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl

 

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