Herbs and Greens for Spring

“Show me your garden and I shall show you who you are.” – A. Austin

Welcome Spring! Did you know that there is a world of health springing to life right outside your door? This is the best time of the year for healthy greens and herbs that can be easily added to your diet. Fresh spring greens and herbs can add minerals, vitamins and more to your family’s dinner table. Easily picked and (sometimes) free of charge, greens can provide your body with increased vigor and health. Sometimes even weeds (such as dandelion) can be added. In fact, it is surprising just how many benefits are contained in the simple dandelion leaf or root. Our ancestors understood this and regularly included wild greens and herbs in their diets. It is only in recent times that we have stopped eating nature’s greens and plants and have come to rely more on foods created by man with very little natural health benefits. No wonder our nation’s health status is deteriorating!
Join me in my quest for better health and let’s reverse this unhealthy trend. Take a look around your yard and neighborhood and see what can be included in your next salad. Keep in mind that not all lawns are chemical free, however, and only include greens and herbs that you are certain are free of added chemicals. Also, I would like to suggest that you purchase an identification book for wild greens. Use this book to be absolutely sure that what you are picking is edible. A favorite of mine is, Wild Edibles of Missouri, by Jan Phillips. This book is full of useful information about plants growing in the central United States (including my native state of Illinois). It includes drawings and pictures of the plants so there is no doubt about what each plant looks like.

To get you started, I am including a list of some favorite herbs and greens that are available in the early Spring. Many of these (especially the herbs) can be incorporated into your garden plans to be enjoyed throughout the summer as well. Most wild greens, however, are better picked when the leaves are young and tender.

Spring Salad Herbs and Greens
* Creeping Thyme      * French Sorrell- lots of vitamins and minerals
* Costmary                  * Chives, Garlic and Common- good for heart health.
* Cilantro- lots of vitamins and minerals
* Sage                           * Chamomile, German, leaves and blossoms.
* Parsley- 3 times more vitamin C than citrus juices
* Catnip                       * Rosemary
* Fennel                      * Monarda/Bee Balm

Some Early Wild Greens/Weeds to look for:
* Young dandelion greens or root                * Chickweed
* Wild strawberry leaves                               * Redbud (leaves, buds)- Buds are rich in Vitamin C.
* Red Clover (leaves and blooms)                * Wild Violets or Johnny-Jump-Ups (Heartsease)
* Wild onions (tops and bulbs)- High in vitamins A and C
* Common Milkweed (shoots need to be cooked- bitter) (tight buds in salads)
* Chickory (leaves, flowers and root)
* Plantain (leaves)-Amish called ‘Pigs ear leaves’
* Wild Lettuce                                                  * Asparagus Shoots-Lots of vitamins and minerals.
* Burdock root                                                 * Lamb’s Quarters- Lots of vitamins and minerals.
* Blackberry leaf                                             * Peach tree leaf

Now that you have some herbs and greens for a refreshing salad, how about topping it off with a flavorful herbal oil or adding a little herb vinegar to create a vinaigrette? Both can be easily made with a few ingredients and a little time. Herbal vinegar and oils carry additional flavor throughout a dish, are versatile and convenient. They can also be used as a condiment, to finish dishes, to saute meats, as a sauce substitute on meats and vegetables or even as a tenderizing marinade.
To create a fabulous Lemon Dill Vinegar, add 4-5 sprigs of fresh dill weed (rinsed and dried thoroughly), 4-5 sprigs of fresh lemon balm or lemon verbena, along with 1 Tbl. of lemon juice, 2-3 cloves of fresh garlic (peeled) and 1/2 tsp. peppercorns to a 16 ounce bottle of white wine vinegar. Allow the vinegar to sit in a dark, dry pantry for about 10 days, shaking periodically. Strain vinegar and it is ready to use.

To create a Lemon Dill Oil, add 4-5 sprigs of fresh dill weed (rinsed and dried thoroughly), 4-5 sprigs of fresh lemon balm or lemon verbena, along with 1 tsp. peppercorns, 1 Tbl. lemon zest and 2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary to a clean, neutral olive oil or canola oil. Allow to sit in a refrigerator for about 2 weeks, shaking periodically. Strain oil using cheesecloth or clean, cotton cloth and it is ready to use. (Note: Fresh garlic is not recommended for adding to homemade oils due to the danger of botulism. In the vinegar recipe above, the vinegar acts as a preservative.)

To make an unforgettable vinaigrette, pour 3/4 cup of the Lemon Dill Vinegar and 1/2 cup of the Lemon Dill Oil in a blender. Add 1/2 cup firmly-packed brown sugar, 2 Tbl. Dijon mustard, 1 Tbl. poppy seeds and 1/4 tsp. sea salt. Mix well and chill before serving. Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups of vinaigrette dressing. Top your salad off with boiled egg slices, homemade croutons or even edible flowers from the herb list above. It’s a meal fit for a king on a pauper’s budget!

If you are interested in learning more about the creation of herbal vinegar, oils and/or vinaigrette, check out the Kitchen Secrets of the Vinegar Ladies. Written by Dixie Anderson and Tami Feulner, this book is full of information and recipes to create flavored vinegar along with family recipes using the vinegar you have created. Additional information (along with vinegar supplies and herbs) are also available from our herb shop, The Simple Heart of Life, 1486 Turkey Farm Road, Bluffs, Illinois. You can also post a message below or on our Facebook page. We would love to share your experiences with herbal cooking!

Spring greens and herbs, another of life’s simple pleasures to savor!

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