Happy Spring Equinox

Happy Spring Equinox

At the dawn of the Spring Equinox  – we reflect on the new cycle that is about to begin. Tentatively, the earth wakes from her winter’s sleep, buds swell, birds sing, flowers burst forth – despite the suffering and sorrow we witness daily.

Persephone is returning to the upper world. At the Spring Equinox, light and dark are hanging in the balance. But with every passing day, the sun gathers strength. Mother Earth, violated and scarred by war yet again, nevertheless dons her spring flower garment and slowly turns the land lush and green.

The joy and expectant anticipation we usually feel at this time are somewhat subdued. And yet, we are all so ready for spring!

We all want to return to some kind of normalcy. Are we hoping in vain?
But the garden is calling nonetheless. The soil is eager to receive the seeds, so they may be quickened and burst to life.

At home, it is time to clear out the winter dust. Spring-cleaning, painting, and decorating are on the agenda. Get ready for the light season and make the most of its fleeting joys!

It is also time for inner cleansing and to boost our vitality with the fresh vitamins and nutrients of early spring herbs. When the body is strong, the mind is also string – and right now, we need all the resilience we can muster.

Focus on the things that matter to you most and make your intentions clear. Life is precious.

The Spring Equinox stands for new beginnings. It is a time to celebrate the eternal life force and the mysteries of its eternal return.

Foraging Dandelion

Foraging Dandelion

Everybody loves Dandelions! Nothing gladdens the heart more than the sight of a meadow covered in its bright yellow bloom. They are such a truly plentiful spring delight that there is hardly a lawn where they cannot be found. However, lawns are not where they are most welcomed. Not at all delighted by this little spring greeting, gardeners often spare no effort when it comes to banning them from their yards.

 

T’is folly! If they knew its true value perhaps they would not be so ungrateful. Dandelion is surely one of the most beneficial plants available – it is a blessing that it is so resilient and abundant!

 

From the earliest days of spring, its bright yellow flowers appear like miniature suns that beam back at the big daddy in the sky.

 

Every part of this plant can be used for food or medicine. Even the seeds, as every child knows: they tell the future, and one can blow one’s wishes and prayers to the wind which will be carried to the heavens on their dandy little parachute seeds.

 

History and Uses

 

According to the doctrine of signatures, Jupiter owns this herb. It seems quite fitting, considering its prolific nature. Jupiter is larger than life and does nothing by halves. However, the old herbalists were also concerned with the essential nature of an herb when determining its planetary ruler: bitter herbs, especially yellow ones, were often assigned to Jupiter. Often, as in this case, such herbs had an affinity with the liver, Jupiter’s seat in the human body. Liver herbs are almost always bitter, as the bitter principles stimulate liver function and help with the work of breaking down fats and cleansing the body of toxins.

 

The liver also plays an important part in hormone regulation. Despite their bitter taste, liver herbs can ‘gladden the heart’. They combat common afflictions such as the ‘winter blahs’ and other hormonal ups and downs, including the menstrual cycle, or the menopause. Jupiter is the eternal optimist and many of his herbs help to lift the spirit.

 

After the sedentary winter months, Dandelion is just what we need to detox the liver and to brighten the spirits. This is particularly true when we ate too much and moved too little, indulging in heavy, greasy foods neglecting our greens. In the old days, seasonal availability was limited as there was no such thing as greenhouse vegetables or imports from the other side of the planet. Thus, Lent was a time of fasting and purification intended to shake off the winter sluggishness and get in shape for spring. Dandelion is one of the best herbs to support such a spring cleaning effort.

 

Medicinal action

 

The roots are particularly good for the liver, while the leaves have a more pronounced effect on the kidneys. The French name for this herb ‘pis en lit’ (piss in the bed), is a rather to-the-point descriptive term. There are many highly effective diuretic herbs, but Dandelion is unique in that it does not deplete potassium levels as many other diuretics do. On the contrary, it is a rich source of Potassium as well as a host of other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C and A, calcium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. It also contains choline, a substance that helps the liver to metabolize fat.

 

Dandelion

 

 

Foraging

 

Dandelion is truly one of the most healthful plants one could possibly add to one’s diet. It can be used freely and without fear of any ill effects (except perhaps bedwetting). 

 

For the foraging gourmet, the medicinal uses are all very well, but better still are the myriad ways in which this wonderful herb can be transformed into various culinary delicacies:

 

Happily, for the forager, all parts of the Dandelion are edible and this is a plant that suffers no lasting ill-effects from the collection of its roots. In fact, it more often encourages it to grow, since every small bit of Dandelion root that breaks off or is left in the soil will produce more Dandelion plants.

 

For culinary purposes, it is best to collect older roots as the younger ones are just too small. Beware that Dandelion roots are bitter. They may not make the tastiest vegetable, but they make a very wholesome and very passable coffee substitute.

 

Dandelion Coffee

 

To make Dandelion coffee, gather the roots either early in the spring or late autumn (they tend to be sweeter in the autumn). Scrub them well to clean off all the dirt and let them dry before roasting them in the oven at a low temperature. People have different methods for doing this, some prefer to grind the roots before roasting them, others roast them whole. I prefer the whole root method as I feel that greater surface exposure during the roasting process also loses more of the nutrients. Roasting takes about 4 hours. To tell if they are ready, try to break one. When it is ready it will break with a snap and the interior will be dark brown. Now you can grind it. Store in a jar. Take about a teaspoon per cup of water to make a cup of Dandelion coffee. Add milk or sugar, to taste.

 

 

Stir-fries, fillings, and vegetable sides

 

Used sparingly, Dandelion roots can also be sliced and added to stir-fries, fillings, or vegetable sides. 

The unopened flower buds can also be sautéed very briefly. Serve with melted butter, salt, and pepper. You need a lot of them, to make this more than a ‘one teaspoon experience’.

The very young Dandelion rosettes can be prepared as what my foraging friend Melana Hiatt calls ‘yard squid’:

 

‘Yard Squid’

 

Cut the Dandelion rosettes just below the ground with enough of the root to hold the leaves in place. Wash well, making sure all the grit and dirt are removed. To reduce the bitterness blanch them in salt water for about five minutes. (But remember that removing the bitterness also removes its medicinally active principles.) Dip in a thin egg/milk mixture, roll them in coarse cornflour or bread crumbs, or a mixture of both, then fry them in oil. The culinarily intrepid might like to season the crumbs/flour as well. Meat eaters can add bits of fried bacon or minced meat. Vegetarians can add toasted sunflower seeds sprinkled with Tamari or Soya sauce, if desired.

 

Dandelion Salad Greens

 

The young tender, leaves make excellent salad greens. Mix with other spring greens to mask the bitterness. Dandelion goes especially well with boiled eggs and cress-type herbs. As a dressing, try fruity vinaigrette (e.g. with raspberry vinegar), or a sweet and sour dressing made with yogurt, lemon juice, pepper, salt, garlic and a little sugar (and chilies, for those who like it hot).

 

Dandelion Greens

 

Pot-herb

 

The leaves can also be cooked as a pot-herb, or side dish:

Blanch in salt water for five minutes, remove from the heat and stir in butter or Crème Fraiche and seasonings.

Some like to prepare it so it takes on the consistency of fine spinach. Chop the leaves really fine or put them through a food processor, perhaps along with other herbs that may be available, such as nettles or garlic hedge mustard, for example. Sauté an onion, stir in the herbs, season with garlic, salt, pepper or chilies, cook for about 7 minutes, take off the heat and stir in some crème or crème fraîche for a more delicate flavor.

 

Dandelion Capers

 

Very early in the spring, when the small, tightly packed, unopened flower buds that are still hiding in the rosette, they can be marinated and prepared as ‘capers’. Make a hot marinade with 1l vinegar, 50g sugar, 50g salt, pepper and spices (e.g. Bay leaf, thyme, coriander seed, chilies, whatever you fancy). Pour enough of the marinade over the still closed Dandelion flower buds to cover them and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes. Fill the marinated flower buds and the pickling juice into a sterilized jar and store in the fridge.  Store the rest of the pickling juice for another time.

 

Once the flowers develop, the leaves become increasingly bitter. Personally, I don’t find this a problem, so long as I pick the young, tender leaves, and not the old ones. But if you are sensitive to bitter tastes, watch for signs that flowering season has begun to take your cue.

 

But the end of one season just marks the beginning of another: The flowers themselves can also be turned into delicious treats. For example deep-fried Dandelion flowers:

 

Prepare a light batter with egg, water or milk, and a little flour. Season to taste (e.g. coriander seed or cinnamon work well). Coat each fully opened flower head with the batter and deep fry quickly. Serve with Maple syrup and lemon juice. Yum!

 

Dandelion Country Wine

 

Dandelion flowers are also an essential ingredient of country wines. There are numerous wonderful recipes – far too many to mention here. But here are just a couple:

Gather 1 gallon of Dandelion flowers on a dry, sunny day.

Put these in a 2-gallon crockpot and pour 1 gallon of boiling water over them.

Cover the jar and allow the flowers to steep for three days.

Strain through a jelly cloth so you can squeeze all the liquid from the flowers.

Put the liquid in a kettle; add 1 small ginger root, the thinly pared peels and juice of 3 organic oranges and 1 organic lemon. Stir in 3 pounds of sugar and allow the liquid to cool until it is barely lukewarm. Spread ½ cake of yeast on a piece of toasted rye bread and float on top. Cover the crock with a cloth and keep it in a warm room for 6 days.

Strain the wine into a gallon jug, corking it loosely with a wad of cotton. Keep in a dark place for 3 weeks, then carefully decant into a bottle and cap or cork tightly. Don’t touch it until Christmas or later.

 

from ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’, Euell Gibbons https://amzn.to/2D41e7n

 

 

For a Dandelion Dessert Wine, try this recipe:

 

On a warm, sunny day gather a large bag (a shopping bag) full of fully opened Dandelion flowers.

 

Place into a large pot, pour 4 liters of water over them and add the zest of one organic, untreated lemon, as well as the zest of one organic, untreated orange. Simmer gently for about 20 min. Allow the liquid to cool to body temperature and strain. Dissolve five chunks of fresh yeast in a little warm water and add this to the Dandelion liquid. Add other flavorings according to taste: perhaps an orange, some cloves, cinnamon or ginger…and 2 kilos of sugar (rock sugar or unrefined cane sugar is best).

 

Leave to ferment for about 6 days. Fill into bottles with the kind of stoppers you would use for making elderflower champagne. They need to fit tightly so that there is no danger of explosion. Flip lids, as can be found on old fashioned beer and lemonade bottles work great. Allow the wine to mature for a few weeks until the liquid is crystal clear. Only then yield to the temptation to try it.

 

Adapted from ‘Holunder, Dost und Gänseblümchen’, Heide Haßkerl https://amzn.to/2XC4qkf (German)

 

 

Dandelion Flower Syrup

 

For those who like it sweet, you can try making Dandelion flower syrup:

 

  • 500g Dandelion flower heads
  • 1.5 l Water
  • Unrefined cane sugar

 

Place the flowers into a large saucepan. Pour 1.5l of boiling water over them. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and cover. Leave to infuse for 24 hours. The following day, strain and measure the resulting liquid. Add an equivalent amount of sugar e.g. 1 kg of sugar per 1 l of liquid. Let the sugar dissolve in the liquid as much as possible before returning it to the cooker. Heat the liquid while stirring frequently to avoid the sugar to burn. When all the sugar has dissolved completely fill the syrup into sterilized bottles with a pop-top lid.

 

This recipe can be varied according to taste: try adding a little ginger, orange juice and zest (only organic, untreated) or cinnamon.

Bon appetite!

Dandelion Flowers

Spring Equinox

Spring Equinox

Happy Spring Equinox!

A new cycle is beginning – but what a strange beginning it is, with half the world in lock-down! The earth is waking from her winter retreat. Persephone is returning to the upper world and life is ready to burst forth again. At Spring Equinox, the forces of light and dark are hanging in the balance. But with every passing day, the sun is gaining strength now. Birds are returning and are singing their little hearts out to welcome the spring. Buds are bursting and Mother Earth has donned her cloak of early spring flowers as she turns the land verdant and fertile once again.

This is usually a joyful, busy time, full of expectation. This year is a little different. It feels cathartic, rather than light and joyful, the way it usually does. And still, the garden is calling, eager to receive the seeds as soon as the soil has warmed up. This is also a time of spring cleaning, purification, painting and decorating. It is a time to get ready, so everything is set on GO! These are things one can still do, locked down or not, in anticipation of the coming spring. 

Physically, that means boosting your energy with the fresh vitamins and nutrients of the early spring herbs. And this is especially true this year. Boost your immune system and don’t give that virus half a chance!

Mentally, this is a time to be strong and focused. Check on everything that you have planned for and make sure that the pathway for your intentions is clear.  The crisis will pass eventually and there is a light on the other side. Good planning prepares the way to success.

Spiritually, the Spring Equinox augurs new beginnings. We can turn a page and make a new start. It is also a time to celebrate the eternal life-force and the powers of self-renewal. 

Spring Detox

Spring Detox

A Spring Detox resets body, mind, and spirit. Get out into nature, do some foraging, and enjoy the benefits of your pickings.

When the first rays of bright warm sunshine are trying to penetrate the layer of dust that has accumulated on the window panes through the winter, it always hits me: It’s time to get out that cleaning stuff, air out the house and wash the window to let the sunshine in. And honestly,  it feels so good to get everything ready and prepared for a fresh start!

In the olden days, this idea was not only applied to the house, but also to the body. During the winter many of us are confined to a fairly sedentary lifestyle, which is bad enough. But what makes it worse is that rich and heavy diet we tend to adopt at that time. Maybe we intended to give up chocolate after Christmas, but there was so much left that we just kept eating it. And once after January 1st has passed, it seems like one has missed the boat for good intentions. But in fact, that is what Lent is for. It’s the perfect time to tune into nature’s cycle and apply the theme of cleansing and renewal to the body.

Depending on your growing zone, you might have noticed that the monochrome colours are changing and fresh green begins to sprout beneath the old leaves. Nature offers a whole host of delicious and healthful herbs that are just perfect for the job of inner cleaning.  No need to buy dried herbs! Most of what is needed will probably grow right in your backyard, or in a nearby meadow.

What does a body cleansing diet actually do?

The idea of a body cleanse is to support the body’s eliminative functions in order to help it in the process of getting rid of accumulated metabolic waste products, which often linger on in a sluggish system. This is done by taking herbs that stimulate the liver and gallbladder and thereby also increase the metabolic rate. Some might act as diuretics and can assist the body in flushing out uric acid crystals, while others improve the function of the respiratory system. These herbs act as tonics, rather than remedies and improve overall function, not heal specific conditions. To a large part, the job of cleansing the body is the work of the kidneys and the liver. Apart from the herbs, certain foods, such as apples, celery, endive, horseradish, and sauerkraut are very useful here. How about trying them in a salad? Perhaps, with raw onions and garlic, even. Keep the marinade simple: olive oil and lemon juice are perfect. As for drinks, cutting out alcohol, coffee, tea, and sugary drinks is key. Fresh apple juice is very wholesome, or, if you can stomach it, a little apple cider vinegar diluted with water and sweetened with honey is a great cleansing and energy-boosting drink.

If you want to try some of the fresh green that is currently sprouting on your doorstep, you could lookout for the following herbs:

Nettles (Urtica dioica):

Most people seem to fear nettles because of their sting. And, perhaps that is just as well, for if they knew how wholesome and healthy nettles truly are, they would probably be an endangered species. Nettles offer a whole powerhouse of nutrients such as vitamins A, C, and iron. Their action is diuretic and they support the body’s elimination via the kidneys. They are particularly useful for clearing out metabolic waste products such as uric acid deposits, form little crystals that can cause a lot of pain in the joints. The most potent way to benefit from them is to take the freshly expressed juice. Juicing them is not so easy, though. If you don’t want to buy it ready bottled, preparing a tea made from the leaves is a good alternative. Nettle extract lowers the blood sugar level and can thus be very useful for diabetics.

As a wild vegetable, Nettles can be prepared like spinach, although it is best to mix the leaves with some other green, as its action on the eliminative systems can be quite strong when eaten in quantity. Adding the leaves to a warming soup is also a good idea.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale):

Dandelion is one of the most beneficial spring herbs available to us. It bears a double blessing: the leaves are especially good for the urinary system. Their powerful diuretic action helps to flush out the kidneys, but unlike other diuretics, it is also rich in potassium, which means it will not deplete the body of this important mineral. Dandelion leaves can be enjoyed as a tea or used as a pot-herb, added to soups and salads. The roots, on the other hand, are quite bitter and have a beneficial effect on the liver Their chemical composition varies depending on the seasons. In spring they are rich in certain proteins and mineral salts, while in autumn they are rich in inulin (up to 40%), which is very helpful for diabetics.

Daisies (Bellis perennis):

The dainty daisy doesn’t look like much, other than a pretty flower that children like to play with. But the leaves and flowers have long been used in spring-cleansing diets. The juice pressed from the aerial parts is a most potent elixir, but must be freshly prepared each day. One tablespoon per day, diluted with the same amount of water, is the recommended dose.

Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria):

Gardeners curse this little herb, which often pops up uninvited and grows profusely in damp, shady places of the garden. The young shoots and leaves have a powerful cleansing effect on the stomach and intestines. They are also strongly diuretic and very effective in flushing out uric acid crystals and other metabolic waste products. They can be added to soups or salads and make a very potent addition to a spring cleansing diet.

As the name suggests, goutweed is specifically known as a remedy for treating rheumatism and gout – a painful condition affecting the feet (The origin of its Latin name, podagra – ‘gout of the feet’ alludes to this use). However, for this purpose, a strong decoction made from the roots is used as a foot-bath.

Burdock Root (Arctium lappa):

An amazingly resilient herb, Burdock can be found almost anywhere. But it is not always easily spotted. It is a biennial plant, meaning, its cycle takes two years to complete. The root of the second year plants is the most powerful. Burdock is known as a powerful liver tonic, helping it to eliminate toxins from the body. Burdock Root is also very beneficial for diabetics, as it can help to regulate gallbladder secretions. It is also rich in Inulin, a soluble dietary fibre that has several important health benefits. Inulin consists of a type of fructose that cannot be broken down and digested in the small intestines. Instead, it moves on to the lower gut where it acts as a pre-biotic and nourishes the beneficial gut bacteria that inhabit that part of the digestive system.

No-one encourages Burdock to take its place in the garden, as its elephant ear-like leaves are too big and rough, and it does not produce particularly pretty flowers either. Butterflies love them, though. And Burdock is in fact extremely valuable, especially for those who suffer from chronic health problems that call for blood cleansing: arthritis, rheumatism, gout, or skin problems such as psoriasis. Growing it in the garden has the advantage that one can prepare a bed for them with plenty of loose soil and straw, which makes harvesting the roots SO MUCH easier! Trying to pull them up from the compacted ground is, well, let’s just say, a lot of sweat!

Burdock root can be taken as a tea (20g to 1/2 litre of water) or, used as a ‘health food’ it can be added to soups or stir-fries. In the old days, Burdock and Dandelion roots were also often used for brewing a rustic country beer or cordial.

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