Monday, 23 February 2015

Spotting signs of Spring and Spring tonics

On Sunday I paid a flying visit to the woods to look for signs of spring growth starting to come up from the woodland floor.  I foraged a bagful of fresh young nettle shoots and a small handful of cleavers to take home to make various nourishing things with.  I also spent a few moments communing with my herbal ally, Hawthorn.  I held 2 thick branches in my hands and put my forehead against the trunk.  I had a feeling of being held in the arms of a woman, who I will call Hawthorn Lady, it felt peaceful and comforting.  I cut a few small branches to strip bark for tincture and offered some Hawthorn Berry tincture in water as a gift in return.

 Hawthorn Lady

  Young plants coming up - not sure what yet


 A young Stinging Nettle

A young Hedge Woundwort

Very small Cleavers 

 Herb Robert coming into leaf

Hazel catkins

Once back home I processed what I had foraged.  I washed the nettles to rinse off soil and picked out dead leaves, bits of grass and other unwanted matter.  I wore gloves for this to avoid getting stung while doing it.  A handful of nettles plus the small amount of cleavers I had picked went into a cafetiere with just boiled water to infuse for tea.  Some of the nettles went into a jar with apricots, Seville orange peel and red wine to make a restorative tonic.  The remaining nettles went into soup.  I scraped the bark off the hawthorn twigs and put the scraped bark into a jar covered in vodka to make a tincture, this is an experiment as there is very little documented use of hawthorn bark in the herbal literature.  

 Hawthorn Bark Tincture

 The nettles I collected in the woods
Nettles are very nutritious, full of vitamins and minerals.  Spring is the time to eat them when the tops are fresh.  They are a spring tonic, some of the first fresh greens available.   They are a tonic for the blood, as they are high in iron in chlorophyll, in a form that is easily absorbed.  They stimulate the kidneys and help clear the blood of toxins. They have an anti-histamine effect which can help hayfever and other allergies.  They enhance immunity and help protect us from infections.  They reduce blood sugar levels and stimulate circulation, which is helpful for diabetics.  They are helpful in treating gout and arthritis.  Nettle roots are used to treat enlarged prostate.  So when you see nettles in the future put on some gloves and gather up a fantastic source of nourishment and support for good health.

Cleavers, often known as Goose-grass, is another great spring tonic plant.  Spring is the best time to eat it before it gets too tough and hairy.  Cleavers cleanses the lymphatic system, so is helpful for swollen glands, adenoid problems, tonsillitis and earache.  Cleavers is also known for helping to shrink tumours.  Cleavers is helpful for urinary irritation and infection such as cystitis.  As cleavers cleanse the body internally this helps clear and nourish the skin.  It is most effective used fresh.  So keep an eye out for cleavers and pick some when you find it for an internal spring clean.

There is lots more information about both these plants in 'Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies' Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal. 

 Nettle & Cleavers infusion

Recipe for Restorative Nettle Tonic
- Half fill a jar with fresh nettle shoots.
- Fill most of the rest of the jar with chopped dried stoned apricots.
- Add the peel of 2 Seville oranges.
- Fill the jar with red wine.
- Poke the contents with a chopstick to make sure there are no air bubbles.
- Leave in a dark place for 2 weeks.
- Strain through a muslin bag, squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
- Decant into sterilised glass bottles & keep in the fridge.
- Take 2 teaspoons once or twice a day when you need a pick-me-up.

Recipe from 'A Year with James Wong: Grow Your Own Drugs' James Wong.
Restorative Nettle Tonic

Recipe for Nourishing Nettle Soup

- 1 Medium onion - chopped.
- 3 Cloves of garlic - finely chopped.
- Saute in about 25g of butter.
- Add 8 carrots, 3 parsnips & 2 sticks of celery chopped with leaves.
- Sweat in pan on low heat with lid on.
- Wash nettle tops and pick out dead leaves etc, roughly cut up with scissors.
- Add nettle tops to vegetables.
- Add a chopped orange with pips removed.
- Add about 1 litre of vegetable stock, to cover vegetables.
- Bring to boil, then simmer till vegetables very soft.
- Blend in liquidiser or with hand blender.
- Add 150ml double cream and stir in.
- Season with freshly grated nutmeg and salt & pepper to taste.
- Serve with fresh bread and butter.

My own recipe, adapted from a recipe of Sarah Head's at and a recipe in 'Grow Your Own Drugs' James Wong

 Nourishing Nettle Soup


  1. I love nettles - thank you for sharing this herbal bulletin! I loved the communing with Lady Hawthorn too

    1. There will be lots more on Hawthorn as the year progresses xx