The first herbs of Spring contain fresh nutrients that were once unavailable in the winter diet. Many winter diets were comprised of the foods from the fall harvest that could be stored in root cellars, canned, pickled or dried. Until modern transportation and refrigeration was available, leafy green vegetables and fresh fruits were not available in the winter unless you lived in an area with a year-round temperate climate.
The first herbs of spring include Creeping Charlie, (Glechoma bederace) sometimes called Ground Ivy or Gill Over the Ground, which is eaten much like spinach both fresh and cooked. This ground covering plant is also combined with hops to help clarify beer and impart a unique flavor. Creeping Charlie has been a staple in spring tonics as it helps with digestion, improves appetite and stimulates the circulatory system. Creeping Charlie can be dried for later use and is often combined with other herbs for relieving coughs, colds and flu like symptoms.
Dandelion, (Taraxacum officinale) is an easily recognized spring herb, often used in the creation of Spring Tonics. This common plant contains large quantities of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C, A, B1 and B2, 1 iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus. The young leaves are not bitter and can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. The dried flowers can be used like Saffron, strong tea made from the dried root or fresh, young leaves can help relieve constipation and water retention. Dandelion has antibacterial properties which allow it to be used to help with dysentery, pneumonia and staph infections. The fresh sap has long been used to soften corns, calluses and remove warts, while a strong tea made from the dried root can be used to treat acne and eczema. Dandelion leaves can be added to compost piles to improve the breakdown of materials, a reddish brown dye can be obtained by boiling peeled, fresh roots in water.
Plantain (Plantago major and minor) when added to a salad or cooked with some of the other first herbs of spring provides fiber and nutrients. Plantain leaves are astringent and can be used to take the sting out of insect bites and used as a poultice.
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) adds a lemony flavor to salads, providing Vitamin C, and the flowers can add a touch of color and flavor when used as a garnish. Sorrel helps to promote digestive health and tea made from the leaves is astringent and may be used to treat minor skin wounds.
Food that is colorful and appealing improves the appetite and adding edible flowers to salads and cooked greens is both healthy and nutritious. The Redbud tree (Cercis canadensis) has a purple-red flower that is sweet and spicy, and high in Vitamin C. Unopened buds can be pickled and used as a garnish or eaten fresh and the flowers can be eaten fresh, added to salads or sprinkled over other vegetable dishes. Tea made from the inner bark of the Redbud tree has been used as an astringent due to the high Vitamin C content and to help reduce fevers.
As one of the first herbs of spring, Wild Violets (Viola odorata) have edible flower petals and young leaves. However, the leaves become fibrous as they age, and the flower petals must be plucked individually. The leaves will thicken broths and soup and the flower petals can be made into jelly. The first herbs of spring provide fresh nutrients and provide nutrients that may have been lacking in the winter diet. The medicinal value of the herbs of spring were once highly valued as people prepared to work the land and provide for the coming winter.