After the carb-laden winter months, the appearance of new growth such as dandelions, nettles and wild garlic, offers an invitation to revitalise the diet and start a Spring detox.
Many wild Spring greens provide a diuretic, mildly laxative or lymphatic cleanse and stimulate the digestive system - whilst also offering significant nutritional benefits. In fact, wild foods are often superior in nutritional content than shop bought, cultivated or farmed foods.
Read on to find out the many health benefits of wild garlic, stinging nettles and dandelions - and check out these recipes for wild garlic and nettle pesto and wild garlic, dandelion and shiitake mushroom vegan quiche.
The nettle is a diuretic, which means that it helps in removing harmful chemicals and excess liquid from the body. Herbalists also prescribe the use of nettle in treating urinary tract infections because of its ability to cleanse and dispel toxins. Nettles contain high amounts of iron and vitamin C. Vitamin C improves the body’s absorption of iron, which aids in alleviating anemia and fatigue. This herb also contains a considerable amount of potassium, a mineral that reduces tension in the arteries and blood vessels, lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Nettles also contain vitamins A, D, E and K, plus amino acids and antioxidants. While they can be found anywhere, it’s important to choose a location away from traffic fumes or places where dogs might have passed. March and April are the best times to pick nettles, while the shoots are still young. Wear protective gloves and pick the top tender shoots, which are the most nutritious part of the plant. Nettles can be added to soups, stir fries, juices, or made into a tea. Nettle leaves should be cooked before eating to get rid of the sting, unless they are being juiced. Any recipe with spinach as an ingredient can be replaced with nettles.
These provide 535% of the recommended daily value of vitamin K, which may be the most important source of plant-based food to help strengthen bones. Dandelion greens also provide the body with 112% of the daily minimum requirement of vitamin A, which is particularly good for the skin, vision and mucus membranes. They are high in fibre, contain vitamins C and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, potassium and manganese. Dandelions are easy to identify with their distinctive yellow flowers - and once again be careful where you are picking them in relation to pollution and passers by. You could try combining dandelion leaves with other leaves such as watercress and rocket in a green salad with olive oil and apple cider vinegar before a main meal to support digestion. Dandelion root can also be dried and made into a tea to help with digestive problems.
While the wild variety of garlic is more subtle in flavour than its cultivated cousin, wild garlic has the most health benefits of any type of garlic. It is known for its antibacterial, antibiotic and antiviral properties, and contains vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, phosphorus, sodium and copper. It may help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Wild garlic is found in damp, shady locations in March and April. It looks very similar to lily of the valley (which is toxic), but the smell is unmistakable. Crush a leaf between your fingers and the smell of garlic will be released. Wild garlic can be added to sauteed greens, stir fries, quiches, omelettes, infused into oil and added to sauces.
- If there’s any doubt about the type of plant you are picking then use caution, leave it and return another time after checking a plant book or online resource. Don’t risk eating a poisonous or inedible plant.
- Forage sustainably - don’t take more than you plan to eat, only pick where there are plentiful supplies of the plant and ensure you leave some for others and for wildlife.
- Wash your plants thoroughly when you get them home to remove dirt and potential pesticides.
For further information on foraging throughout the year, check out the seminal Food for Free by Richard Mabey, explore articles and podcasts by foraging expert Robert Harford or get in touch with local herbalists or bushcraft experts who may be running foraging walks and workshops in your area.