Dandelions a dandy spring tonic

by Ruth Griffiths

Winter seemed darker and longer than usual this year. I’m hungry for the warmth of the sun and the growth that longer days bring. The sunlight itself boosts my spirits, but now is also the season of the “spring tonic.”

Traditionally, spring tonics are concoctions made with early herbs and plants that help cleanse the body and supply it with important vitamins and minerals. In days gone by, when people ate mainly dried and salted foods all winter, the first fresh shoots provided much-needed nutrition. With fresh vegetables now available year round, the spring tonic is no longer necessary. But many people still swear by the cleansing nature of certain plants and herbs. It’s a bit like spring-cleaning for the body.

Many of the first plants of spring — nettles, violets, dandelion greens, asparagus, rhubarb — can be taken as a tonic. The danger, of course, is that eating a little of it can be good, but eating a lot can be harmful. Eating too much green stuff all at once can be like putting the cows onto new grass … you’re going to get the runs. Or worse. Remember that “natural” does not mean it cannot be harmful.

In spring. when I’m hungry for anything green, I harvest the first dandelion shoots that pop up in my yard. I don’t use herbicides, so I am confident they are not contaminated. Nevertheless, I double-wash the spiny dandelion greens because they always seem to be gritty.

You can substitute dandelion greens for spinach in almost any recipe where they will be cooked. I’ve eaten dandelion greens raw in a purchased salad mix, but the greens I harvest at home are much stronger in flavour.

Dandelions are an amazing source of Vitamin A and Vitamin K.

They are also high in fibre, producing a laxative effect. So go easy on your portion size the first time you tuck into a plate of stir-fried dandelions.