If you live in chillier climes (say, the North Eastern United States) where you’re still fully in winter’s grasp, let me apologize in advance for this overly optimistic, springy, green post.
Despite my regular comments about the gray English weather – Spring is officially underway here in London. It’s such a relief after months of gray drizzle to see bursts of green along the sidewalks and in the parks, little sprouts of prickly nettles along the Thames, carpets of violets dotted with tall yellow daffodils and my favorite masses of sticky green cleavers. I think I’m going a little crazy about it, honestly. On every walk outside I’m looking for more signs of Spring, urging the nettles to grow faster so I can make nettle soup and just smelling all the green-ness, like perfume!
Early spring foraging is a delicate practice. When there are just a few new shoots appearing, you don’t really want to pick them – you want to let them grow up a bit and spread out. In mid-summer, the nettles here in London are chest-high and abundant. You can pick to your heart’s content. But in early spring they are just tiny little sprouts (still prickly though!). I feel like they need time to get established before any serious harvesting.
The same thing with cleavers. As eager as I am to do my annual spring cleanse with cleavers cold infusion (which tastes like spring in a glass, by the way – yum!), I only found one patch that was abundant enough to pick from in mid-March. But give it a few more weeks and the cleavers will be everywhere.
What IS abundant this time of year is violets. They have such a short season – and this is it. And oh, the fragrance. I was in Toulouse recently visiting a good friend, and Toulouse is all about violets. Violet perfume, violet-scented linen spray, violet-infused sugar… In the local farmers market I found these bottles of homemade violet syrup. At the time I thought I could never find enough violets to make syrup myself – but how wrong I was. On my walk this week, the violets were in full bloom and there were thousands of them. Not enough to start a commercial violet-syrup business, of course, but more than enough for a bottle or two for personal use. And isn’t that the best part of learning to make things yourself? You can produce amazing-quality products in small quantity for yourself and friends – things that you could never find commercially.
Let’s take a quick look at what I found on my early spring forage in London…
- Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica): the unmistakable, prickly, iron-rich ‘weed’ that is abundant across England. You can cook with nettles like spinach. Once cooked, the sting is deactivated. Try Nettle Soup or Nettle Pesto. Nettle Tea (especially blended with mint) is also a favorite. Nettles are also a key ingredient in my wild weeds iron tonic (which is a delicious tonic wine!) The silica content of nettles gives you shiny hair – try it in my Rosemary-Nettle hair rinse.
- Cleavers (Galium aparine): This soft sticky plant is also known as sticky-weed or sticky-willy or sometimes, goosegrass. It’s often found growing with nettles, and is a gentle lymphatic cleanser. I like to drink it as a cold-infusion over a couple of days as a gentle spring detox. Learn more about cleavers cold infusion here.
- Violets (Viola odorata): violets are sweet-smelling and edible, and only around for a short time in the spring. They’re a very cooling plant, and the leaves and flowers are used to soothe skin irritations. You could make an infused oil to capture some of the scent and the skin-soothing properties (with the same method as my daisy salve) or turn them into Violet Syrup (post coming soon!) like I did.
What’s coming up for spring where you live? Let us know your favorite springtime forage or recipe in the comments!