Despite the snow, the wild greens of Spring are starting to return. The Hawk and Hawthorne’s nettle patch has already provided a few good meals. The tiny white stars of chickweed’s flowers are dotting the ground beside the compost pile, and the purple violets are already coloring the grass between our garden beds. I feel that eating wild foods gives us the unique gift of being totally re-enchanted with our landscape each Spring.
Even though I have seen violet flowers every Spring for 10 years (before that I didn’t know what violets were or that I should care about them), I welcome them as much as they welcome me home to this bioregion each year. I relish the first mess of nettles creamed with local yoghurt and garlic, I celebrate the first dead nettle eggie fritter, (this year lovingly crafted with our own chicken’s eggs). The first wild foods of Spring in Appalachia will dress my Ostara table and each mouthful reminds me of the ones who came before, frying poke in bacon fat, cooking down creasys and adorning their Easter lamb with the new mint eagerly bursting forth from the bare garden beds.
Here’s what we’re doing with the wild plants that grace our doorstep and the fieldsides as we continue to rise to the occasion of the Spring Equinox.
How do you wash your windows? Make a non-toxic bathroom cleaner? Gear up your liver to digest all the rich custards of Ostara’s feast night? VINEGAR. Vinegar is one of my favorite substances since it can just about cure everything and clean everything...within reason.
Vinegar has been used since the dawn of humanity as a medicine and condiment. It is made through the process of yeasts fermenting natural food sugars present in fruits and other vegetative matter into alcohol. Next, acetic acid bacteria (Acetobacter) convert the alcohol to acetic acid. The culture of acetic acid bacteria grows on the surface of the liquid and fermentation proceeds slowly over the course of weeks or months, it’s much like making kombucha. The longer fermentation period allows for the accumulation of a nontoxic slime composed of yeast and acetic acid bacteria, known as the “Mother” of vinegar, which we often see merrily floating about in vinegar bottles. We’ve been using vinegar a long time, especially since it’s easy to make from another favorite concoction of ours, wine. It’s been used as medicine and to preserve food for a very long time.
Acetic acid is the main chemical present in vinegar which gives it its remarkable actions. It has been shown to kill certain bacteria and/or prevent them from multiplying and reaching harmful levels. Vinegar is an acid and it can help to support better acid levels in the stomach which can assist in more efficient protein and mineral absorption. In studies Apple cider vinegar has shown great promise in improving insulin sensitivity and helping to lower blood sugar responses after measles as a disinfectant and natural preservative, it makes a great homemade cleaning product! Studies suggest that vinegar can increase feelings of fullness and help people eat fewer calories, which can lead to weight loss. Several animal studies have shown that vinegar can reduce blood triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure, but further research is needed in humans to determine this fact. Generally speaking when we use vinegar for medicine, seek out 5% acidity for some fruit vinegars are weaker.
Bakir, Sena, et al. "Investigating the Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Activities of Different Vinegars." European Food Research & Technology, vol. 243, no. 12, Dec. 2017, pp. 2083-2094.
Chen, Hengye, et al. "Vinegar Functions on Health: Constituents, Sources, and Formation Mechanisms." Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science & Food Safety, vol. 15, no. 6, Nov. 2016, p. 1124.
Halstead, Fenella D., et al. "The Antibacterial Activity of Acetic Acid against Biofilm-Producing Pathogens of Relevance to Burns Patients." Plos ONE, vol. 10, no. 9, 09 Sept. 2015, pp. 1-15.
Ismael, Narjis F. "Vinegar" as Anti-Bacterial Biofilm Formed by Streptococcus Pyogenes Isolated from Recurrent Tonsillitis Patients, in Vitro." Jordan Journal of Biological Sciences, vol. 6, no. 3, Sept. 2013, pp. 191-197.
We can make nourishing herbal vinegars to provide minerals and even pickle our favorite Spring wild vegetables and herbs. Here is how I make herbal vinegars, I learned from Juliet over at Chestnut Herb School:
+Fresh Herbal Vinegar Instructions+
+To do it with Dry Herbs+
I love to make herbal vinegar with dandelion leaf and root, burdock root, chickweed, nettle, mint, lemonbalm, violet and yellow dock. But you can get creative. Susan Weed has lots of good info about it.
I like to make magical vinegars as well. To create a magical floor, window and door washes to put your renewed protections in place, try pine vinegar. If you have any left over, use it up clearing your home or dwelling space magically and craft a new batch at the Equinox to continue cleansing your spaces throughout the year. My dear colleague Cory Hutcheson has a great article about Magical Spring Cleaning that can’t be beat. Try crafting your pine vinegar, using any readily available pine species, and following the directions above. Anoint all the windows and doors on the Spring Equinnox and wash your floors and bathroom with it. Chase away the evils and odors of the stuffy Old Winter and breathe in the clear, clean air of Spring.
The new tips of hemlock, pine and spruce can all also be made into delicious pickles. I highly recommend them. Add a splash of honey and hot pepper vinegar to your pine vinegar for a powerful tonic to ward away colds and flu as the seasons continue to change.
In Appalachian folk medicine, the blood is the sap of a person. It rises in Spring and falls in Winter. It can be augmented and moved by taking certain herbs and tonics. A tonic is an herbal preparation that is used for the maintenance of health rather than the acute treatment of symptoms of a disease.
To move the slow blood of Winter in Spring, there were many traditional plant medicines taken and prepared. Some of the tastiest are sassafras, spicebush, cherry bark, black or sweet birch. Bitter herbs also make of the other class of Spring tonics. Dandelion, burdock, dock, poke, wild onion, ramp, strong tea of red clover blossoms, yellow root, and nettles all make a fine tonic.
+Greens for the Ostara Table+
Now that we’ve scrubbed the table clean, let’s laden it. I like to make the following to call in the Spring this March 20th:
+Wild Green Fritters for the Equinox+
These can be made in a million ways but here is the basic instructions from my dear friend Abby Artemisia:
Makes 5 medium fritters. Recipe may be divided in half. Other wild greens may be added or substituted. Garlic salt or salt and garlic powder can be substituted for the ramp salt. Really go nuts! Just remember to NEVER eat a wild plant without learning it from a real live expert.
2 c Purple Dead Nettle leaf, flower, and stem (Lamium purpureum)
4 Wild Onion tops and bulbs (Allium vineale)
¼ c Bee Balm leaf (Monarda didyma)
¼ c Sochan leaf (cutleaf coneflower) (Rudbeckia laciniata)
½ c Violet leaf (Viola species)
1 tsp Ramp Salt
3 TBsp butter
Chop plant ingredients fine. If plants are wet, braise lightly.
Beat eggs. Mix into plant material so everything is coated with eggs. Sprinkle salt over everything.
Heat butter in pan over medium heat. Form into patties and put in pan.
Heat for a few minutes until patties hold together and are lightly browned on bottom.
Flip. Cook for a few more minutes until lightly browned on bottom.
Garnish with a few sprigs of dead nettle and violet flowers.
Possible condiments: fire cider/hot sauce, sour cream, salsa
+Fermented Wild Greens+
I was told that you can’t make tasty wild greens, so of course I tried it myself. I say just grab whatever is around I use nettle, violet, chickweed, dead nettle, wild onion and toothwort leaves. Wash the plants, drain them, chop them fine, place in a big bowl. Then add salt (2% – 3% of weight of fresh plant), mash up well with hands, let stand 20 minutes to draw out the liquid. Pack in jars small jars, leave to ferment 1 week in a cool, well aerated place and enjoy. Make some today to enjoy at Ostara and mix a few tablespoons of this salty connection into a few cups of yogurt to make a local tzatziki sauce. For exact instructions see this fantastic article.
How ever you enjoy spring plants, I hope you make some nice pine vinegar to dress your Ostara wild salad greens or steamed nettles for your supper and chase away the ghoulies of Winter from your domicile. Hail and Welcome the Quickening yearI Hail the Spring!
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