Here in California, it’s difficult sometimes to tell winter from spring because it may be continually rainy, as it has been this year. Looking at the vegetables and herbs at the farmer’s market, I know that spring is here. While asparagus hit the scene late this year due to cold, then wet weather, it is now locally available. I am patiently awaiting local artichokes but the other vegetable signs of spring have arrived: beautiful baby leeks, green garlic, nettles, dandelion, watercress and other, greens.
The latter two are what I will discuss here as they are less widely used. Spring is a great timing for clearing your system of the heaviness of winter. Greens help in this process. Two of the best are stinging nettles and dandelion, which like other greens, keep your body alkalinized (which is how you want it versus being acidic).
When purchasing nettles, be careful. Do not handle the stems or leaves without protection as you can get stung. That sting can stick with you for more than a day. Generally, a pair of gloves or tongs works well for putting the nettles into, and taking them out of, a plastic bag. Recently, though, I was stung through the bag but that’s only happened once in years of purchasing them. Do not eat nettles uncooked. In order to deactivate their sting, dunk them in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then take them out and use them. How, you might be asking? Use nettles any way that you use cooked greens, mixed with beans, in casseroles, as a side dish. You can also make tea from them to drink daily to help naturally, gently and safely detoxify your body. I make soup with nettles (recipe below) and sometimes use the nettle tea in my husband’s green smoothie that will be featured in one of my upcoming newsletters.
Nettles grow near moist areas, such as stream and riverbeds, and are often classified as weeds. They are highly nutritious and not to be overlooked despite their sting, as they are high in iron, vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals. They can be dried and used later. They are only available fresh in the spring, and sometimes in the fall or winter, depending upon the weather.
Another highly nutritious “weed” is dandelion. Spring dandelion is often the mildest form. Because I am such a wonderful organic gardener (this is a joke), I have an abundance of dandelion. Many people avoid dandelion because it is bitter. Young dandelion is often less bitter but if you find that you don’t care for the flavor, cooking it and mixing it with other greens such as kale or collards might help you get it into your diet. Like nettles, dandelion helps clean up your liver, which is the body’s major organ for detoxification. Dandelion root tea is wonderful for this but it’s easiest to purchase that already made, rather than attempting to dig up dandelion roots. (I’ve done it once but it wasn’t worth the effort and I had to sacrifice one of my lovely dandelion plants in the process.) For many people, drinking the tea is easier than eating the leaves although I encourage eating many green leafy vegetables.
Watercress is not just for fancy tea sandwiches. These tender, bitter leaves make fine punctuation marks in spring salads and soups. I make a potato and watercress soup that includes small spring leeks. Watercress really grows in water, in similar places to nettles, and is wonderful paired with seasonal citrus which helps cut the pungent taste.
To help put more spring in your step, buy some nettles, dandelion and watercress and eat them cooked (always for nettles) or raw in as many ways as possible.
Here’s an easy and tasty green soup, using the freshest seasonal vegetables, which you will find at your local famer’s market.
Early Spring Green Soup with Nettles, Garlic and Leeks
Serves 4 to 6
This is a wonderfully easy blend of very fresh ingredients that needs little more than some salt but you can easily add thyme and bay leaf when cooking it.
4 minutes high pressure; quick release
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup chopped green garlic
1 cup chopped leeks, green and white parts
2 cups potatoes, diced
1 bunch nettles, carefully removed from stems , a scissor works well
2 cups chopped dandelion greens and/or watercress
6 cups homemade vegetable broth
½-1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Sauté onion, garlic and leeks for 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and broth. Lock lid on cooker and bring to high pressure. Reduce heat. Cook for 4 minutes. Quick release the pressure. Remove the lid, carefully tilting it away from you. Blend with a hand blender. Add salt and pepper, to taste
Note: to cook this on the stovetop, add the onion, leeks and potatoes and broth, cook for about 15 minutes at a simmer, until the potatoes are getting cooked through. Stir in the green garlic and nettles and other greens, if using, and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Blend as above.