Weedy wonders

Our bodies can feel sluggish and a little overwhelmed by the time winter recedes and the spring sun encourages us to get outside.

As the heavier foods of colder months make way to the first fresh greens of spring, those very greens can help our bodies get ready to move and jump-start our digestive and lymphatic systems for a vibrant season ahead.

But you don’t need to go to the grocery store to get your leafy fix: Some of the most nutritious and tasty greens likely grow right outside your door.

When considering your plant-based options, keep in mind that it’s possible to be allergic to any type of herb or weed. If you’re prone to seasonal or other types of allergies, exercise caution or speak with your doctor before trying any of the following.

Wild, weedy plants such as nettles, chickweed, and dandelion have been traditionally used to help move lymph, encourage healthy digestion, and ensure that the body has access to critical trace minerals after a long winter.

While most of us no longer forego fresh greens for the winter season, our bodies can still benefit from the supportive nutrition of wild greens during spring.

These plants frequently grow in yards or gardens, and can also often be found at your local farmers market. If you do choose to gather them yourself, make sure that you have properly identified the plants, and that you’re harvesting them from a clean area away from busy roads, runoff, and old construction sites.

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Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Nettles — yes, the stinging kind that you generally try to avoid — are a nutritional powerhouse and one of the best wild weeds you can incorporate into your spring diet. Due to their stingy nature, nettles aren’t suitable to eat raw, and gloves are recommended for gathering and handling.

But once you give them a quick dip in some boiling water — 45 to 60 seconds will do the trick — the stinging is neutralized and your nettles are ready to eat.

One of the best ways to make use of this stinging delight is to make pesto. Check out a delicious recipe for nettle pesto below.

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Chickweed (Stellaria media)

This simple, star-shaped flower is one of the earlier spring weedy greens. If you’re a gardener, you may have tried to eradicate chickweed in the past. But this year, just eat it!

Chickweed is a gentle cooling, moistening, and anti-inflammatory herb that helps the lymph fluid in your body start moving after the long winter.

It’s packed with potent minerals like calcium, magnesium, and zinc, and tastes best raw before flowering or gently cooked after the flowers appear.

Try sprinkling some fresh chickweed on a sandwich, or mix it into the nettle pesto recipe found below.

If you want to enjoy the benefits of fresh chickweed all season long, try juicing the young greens and freezing the juice into ice cubes. These can be added to soups, smoothies, and your water bottle for a nutrient-dense boost.

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Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

In herbal medicine, the bitter flavor is considered a critical part of digestion. Have you ever had an aperitif drink before dining? That bitter taste lets your digestive system know that food is on the way, helping to prepare your entire tract to receive nourishment.

Lucky for us, dandelion is an abundant bitter green just waiting to be eaten. Dandelion gets such a bad rap for popping up where it’s not wanted, but its tenacious nature is the perfect reason to incorporate it into your spring diet.

The young greens can be eaten raw and mixed into a salad, but once the dandelion has flowered, you’ll find the most enjoyment by gently sautéing the leaves with salt and oil like you would young spinach or chard.

As a bonus, you can batter and fry dandelion flowers, too. They don’t have the bitter benefit of the leaves, but they sure are tasty.

Nettle Pesto Recipe

If you’re looking for a simple, tasty way to enjoy spring greens and reap the healthy benefits, this pesto recipe is one of my favorites.

Ingredients

  • ½ lb. fresh nettles (dandelion greens or chickweed
  • 5-7 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • ⅓–½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Without touching the nettles with bare hands, add the greens to the boiling water. Blanch for 1 minute before straining well and squeezing out any extra water from the leaves.
  2. Place the nettles in a large food processor. Add the garlic and pine nuts, and process until it forms a paste.
  3. With the processor running, add olive oil to reach the desired consistency.
  4. Add the cheese (you can sub in nutritional yeast) and pulse until mixed.
  5. Taste, then add more olive oil, cheese, garlic, or salt to adjust flavor and consistency.

Nettle pesto is a lovely spread for sandwiches and can be used as a sauce for pasta, fish, or chicken. Freeze any leftovers for up to 3 months.


Sarah M. Chappell is a clinical herbalist, writer, and teacher based in Asheville, North Carolina. When not making alcohol-free herbal remedies or sharing how to use tarot as a tool for self-care, she enjoys knitting, playing with her rescue pit bull, and posting on Instagram.