Spring 'Kraut

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

When spring finally comes here in the northeast it can sometimes feel like a race against time. After waiting months for the return of the green, the plants seemingly pop-up all at once, with wonderful exuberance, and at a pace that few of us can keep up with. Harvesting spring greens- if you let it- could easily be a full-time job! And there’s not only the challenge of collecting all your favorites during their prime harvest windows, there’s also the challenge of preserving the spring harvest because it’s simply not always possible to eat all the greens at once!

Enter fermentation, a form of food preservation that was developed and utilized by our ancestors for just this situation. What I love about fermentation is that it’s living medicine, and while I love making wild salad, pesto, frittata, soup, vinegar, and more with the wild spring abundance, there’s something special about knowing that the food you’ve prepared is probiotic and teeming with beneficial microbes that we enter into a reciprocal relationship with when we take them into our bodies. Symbiosis is a beautiful thing! You can read more about the benefits of probiotic foods in my recipe for New England-Style Kimchi, and read-on for my recipe for preserving some of my favorite spring greens in a seasonal-inspired sauerkraut.


Spring ‘Kraut

9 cups cabbage, thinly shredded (about 1 medium-sized cabbage)
3 cups Nettles leaves and stems (Urtica dioica), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), chopped
1/2 cup Garlic Mustard leaves and stems (Alliaria petiolata), coarsely chopped
4 tsp sea salt
other nice additions: Dandelion lvs, Wild Garlic (Allium vineale), Chickweed, Violet lvs, Yellow Dock lvs, Garlic lvs

nettles kraut.jpg

First-off, this recipe is meant to be played around with. If you don’t have access to one of the greens in the recipe it’s ok to leave it out or substitute it for something you have an abundance of! Start by chopping your cabbage. Pile it into a big bowl and sprinkle with about 2 tsp of the salt and begin massaging it with your hands. The cabbage will begin to breakdown, releasing its juices which becomes the brine. Once the cabbage is thoroughly massaged start adding the Nettles bit by bit, along with the remaining salt, and keep massaging. You can wear gloves for this part if you’re worried about the sting (which will be rendered harmless by the fermentation process). Once you’ve added all the Nettles, add the Garlic Mustard and Chives and mix and massage thoroughly.

Next choose your vessel- a fermentation crock or widemouth mason jar will work. Pack the ‘kraut into your vessel and press in with your hands or use a sauerkraut stamper (also called a pounder or tamper) until the brine covers the ‘kraut. Use a heavy lid or small plate with a sterilized rock on it for the crock or mason jar to keep the brine levels over the veggies, or another good trick for this if you don’t have a small lid is to fill a ziplock bag with water and use that to keep ‘kraut below the brine level. Lastly, you can always make brine to top-off the sauerkraut by mixing 1 1/2 tbsp sea salt with 1 quart water. The bottom-line is that the brine level needs to be over the veggies. Now you sit back and let it ferment! Fermentation time will vary based on the weather, but start checking it after a few days to track its progression. It’s ready when it tastes sour, crunchy, and still salty, but not nearly as salty as it tasted when it first started fermenting. Then put it into a jar with a lid and keep in the fridge or your root cellar, if you’re lucky enough to have one! Enjoy as a condiment, with sandwiches, with breakfast, with a heavy meal, as a base for salad dressing, on a picnic, or even as a simple snack. Happy spring and happy fermenting!

And for any of you wanting to learn more about working with our locally abundant medicinal and edible plants, the summer and fall sessions of our bioregional herbalism series, From the Roots Up, is OPEN for registration! This hands-on course meets outside and in the field and focuses on field botany and plant ID, medicine-making, gaining intimacy with our local plants, reading the herbal landscape, materia medica, and so much more!

Learn More Here




Nettles & Asparagus Kichari

Nettles  (Urtica dioica)

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Kichari is a classic Indian stew of white rice, mung beans, ghee, and loads and loads of spices. It's food as medicine at it's finest. It supports all the eliminatory pathways in the body (often done as a cleanse in Ayurveda), boosts metabolic fire, and provides a re-set to your digestive system, especially if it's feeling sluggish and overwhelmed. It can be helpful for emotional feelings of overwhelm too, as well as excessive anger and frustration, all of which often arise in the spring.  Read more on this in my recent Harmonizing With the Spring post. You can add veggies to kichari too, and this recipe calls for locally abundant Nettles (Urtica dioica) and Asparagus for a particularly medicinal recipe.

Nettles & Asparagus are Health Tonics

Both Nettles and Asparagus are classic spring tonics, known to invigorate the body and provide deep nourishment.  Asparagus is a natural diuretic that wakes-up the urinary system, which is how we eliminate most liquid wastes from the body.... this is why it makes your pee smell bad! It also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, and is loaded with trace minerals, anti-inflammatory antioxidants, and nutrients like Folate, Vitamin K, Chromium, Vitamin C, Zinc, Manganese, and Selenium. Asparagus really defines spring here in the Valley, and once the Asparagus stands start popping-up down in Hadley, I know it's really spring! In addition to the nutritional benefits, eating with the seasons nourishes us on a deep spiritual level, connecting us with nature and the place where we live. Psychology now has a theory that addiction and substance abuse is fueled by lack of connection to community, and- I would add- to the land and nature. How beautiful that something as simple as connecting with the seasons through locally abundant foods can support mental health and promote feelings of well-being.

Nettles are also a classic harbinger of spring here in western Massachusetts, and almost every farm I know has a wild patch. Their season is April-June here, and then they have another season in the fall too if the patch is mowed in the summer. Read more about their nutritional benefits, ID, and harvest, and also how to make an amazingly delicious soup with them here! They're nutritional powerhouses (perhaps the most nutritious plant we know of) and have the same season as Asparagus. It's best to harvest them before flowering and this recipe calls for the top 4-6 inches of the plant, roughly chopped, leaves and stem and all.  When the plants get older the stems can get tough, in which case you can harvest the entire aerial portions and strip the leaves form the stem, using just those. You can wear gloves when harvesting, but the sting is actually medicinal and anti-inflammatory for arthritic conditions! If you don't believe me, look-up "urtication" to read about the practice of applying fresh Nettles leaves topically to alleviate arthritic pain!  Additionally, Nettles are classified as an "alterative" in herbal medicine, which is an herb that gently supports the major organs of elimination (liver, lungs, kidneys, skin, intestines) and improves their function. Why is this so important? When our eliminatory pathways aren't functioning properly (generally due to to being overloaded by our own metabolic waste and sometimes environmental factors as well) we can manifest a huge variety of symptoms including digestive problems, low energy, skin conditions, seasonal and environmental allergies, headaches, and body pain. 

Kichari is Food as Medicine and a Nourishing Cleanse

Kichari, as a food, is an alterative! This medicinal stew is classically utilized in Ayurveda as a gentle and nourishing cleanse by fasting on just kichari for anywhere from 5-10 days which supports all the eliminatory processes of the body. The spices and ghee are central here, and the well-cooked rice and mung beans provide easy to digest nutritional support while the spices and ghee do their work of stoking the digestive fire, called Agni in Ayurveda. The body knows how to heal itself. Kichari is so easy to digest and assimilate that it gives your body a break from the heavy lifting of digesting so it can divert more energy into its own self-renewing processes without depriving it of food and nutrients. This is my version of cleansing; NOT a paradigm where the body is dirty with toxins that need to be removed or a fast where caloric intake needs to be tightly managed or even eliminated. That frame of mind sets you up for self criticism, negative self-talk, feelings of inadequacy and shame, and is not at all body positive. This about renewal, self-love, nourishment, and supporting the amazing vital processes of the body that it already knows how to do. If these medicinal virtues really speak to you and you're planning a fast of just kichari be aware that it really wakes-up the digestive system and you'll often be needing to eat a lot, so plan on one pot/day of the recipe below. It's suggested to take Triphala powder along with a kichari fast to further support elimination.  Take 1/4 tsp in water in the morning and just before bed for about 3 days, then increasing dose to 1/2 tsp.  You could use digestive bitters instead of the Triphala and I've got a recipe for those here. You can also enjoy kichari as a medicinal and versatile meal (which I often do), switching-up the vegetable portion to match the seasonal abundance at hand. 

And now, the recipe!

Nettles & Asparagus Kichari

nettles kichari.jpg

4 cups fresh Nettles tops (top 4-6 inches) or leaves, chopped
2 cups Asparagus, chopped into 2-3 inch pieces
1 cup white basmati rice
1/2 cup mung beans
10 cups water
3 tbsp ghee
Fresh Cilantro, for garnish
NOTE: If Asparagus and Nettles aren’t in season, don’t worry! You can make this with vegetables in season or even leave them out entirely and this will still be a very medicinal dish!

Spice blend:
1.5 tsp Turmeric pwd
1 tsp Fennel Sd
1 tsp Coriander Sd
1 tsp Brown Mustard Sd
1 tsp Cumin Sd
1 pinch (1/4 tsp) Hing/Asafoetida powder

To Make:

Start by combining your rice and mung beans (ideally soaked in water the night before, but not necessary for the recipe to work) and the 10 cups of water. Cover and bring to a low simmer and let cook until soft, stirring occasionally to avoid any sticking to the bottom of the pan. This part take about 20-25 minutes. When it's ready the entire mixture will have a thick, porridge-like consistency. While the rice and mung are cooking, chop your Asparagus and Nettles and set aside. Then lightly grind your spices in a mortar and pestle- you could use powdered spices instead of the full seeds if desired- and set aside. Once the rice and mung are cooked, add the Nettles and Asparagus and cook for another 5 minutes. The spices and ghee are added last. Brown them for just a few minutes in the ghee- being sure not to burn them- until they start to release their aroma. Then add the ghee and spice mix to the rice, mung, and veggies and cook an additional minute or two, and you're done! Garnish with fresh cilantro and a pinch of sea salt if desired. Enjoy

Young Nettles

Young Nettles

 

 

 

Harmonizing With the Spring

Young Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) emerging

Young Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) emerging

The spring is an exciting, transformative, and expansive time. The plants and the earth are waking-up. And, since our bodies are a little microcosm of this larger macrocosm, a little spring awakening is happening within us too! Can you feel it?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and especially 2,000 year old Chinese 5-Element Theory, provides us with a beautiful framework for understanding the spring and its energetics.  Following some simple ancient wisdom described below, we can attune ourselves with natural influences of this season and more easily tap into the rich gifts it has to offer.

This is the concept of harmonizing with the seasons.

 


To more easily begin to harmonize with this magical season, a little background and context will be helpful.....

Spring, the Wood Element, and the Liver-Gallbladder

In Chinese Medicine each season corresponds with an Element and an Organ System.  The spring is associated with the Wood Element and the Chinese Liver-Gallbladder organ system (different from our western anatomical liver and gallbladder) and meridians. Understanding this organ/element pair and its associations is a great place to start since harmonizing with the spring means balancing this element within us, i.e. being sure its not in a state deficiency or excess. 

Young Nettles  (Urtica dioica ) in early spring. A classic spring tonic. Not surprisingly, in TCM the color associated with the spring and the Wood Element is green!

Young Nettles (Urtica dioica) in early spring. A classic spring tonic. Not surprisingly, in TCM the color associated with the spring and the Wood Element is green!

Keywords and phrases for the Liver-Gallbladder/Wood Element/Spring in balance:
Upwards moving energy, yang, growth, expansiveness, clear vision and purpose, decisiveness and decision-making, ambition, hopefulness, starting new projects, productivity

Sounds just about right, doesn’t it?

In the spring it’s easy to see these actions and influences happening in nature all around us (and also feel them within ourselves!) with buds opening, sap running, plants bursting forth from the ground, melting rivers of snow, new growth and renewal of life.  There’s no indecisiveness there- the plants are going to grow!

Using appropriate foods, herbs and daily practices, is the best way to bring ourselves into alignment with these energetics of this season happening all around us. When we do so, we’ll see these qualities reflected in a balanced way within ourselves, on both a physical and mental/emotional level. The Wood Element in balance is a beautiful and powerful thing! It embodies those characteristics described above.

The Wood Element out of balance, however, in Excess, can look like a quick temper, easily frustrated, lack of emotional and mental flexibility, depression, excess heat and inflammation in the system, tight neck and shoulders, and bodily tension in general. In TCM the formula Xiao Yao San (also called Relaxed Wanderer or Free & Easy Wandered) is the classic and super effective treatment for this pattern.

The Wood Element out of balance, in a Deficiency, can look like indecisiveness, lack of flexibility, stiffness, dryness in the joints (osteoarthritis), lack of motivation, irritability, and loss of good judgement.

Whether you feel you you have one of these patterns reflected in you or not, working with balancing your Wood Element in the spring will help you cultivate within yourself the attributes of the Wood Element in balance described above- motivation, productivity, clear vision, decisiveness, and hopefulness.  These are the true qualities and nature of the spring. But if you do feel this element could use some particular balancing, here's a great thing to know- the spring the time that holds the highest potential for healing within the Wood Element. To me that's a really profound concept to reflect on. We can harness the natural influences of this season to catalyze deep healing within ourselves.


The “Gifts” of the Spring

Chinese 5-Element Theory also talks about specific “gifts” of each season that we can experience when we are harmonizing with the season at hand.

 

Gifts of the Spring and the Wood Element:

Smooth Flow around obstacles, Flexibility

 

The image to think about here is a new plant sprouting from the ground, maneuvering around fallen sticks and debris from the winter (like the Snowdrops below) with ease, reaching for the sun.  Or a young flexible sapling easily swaying in the wind with no rigidity or tenseness in response to the force of the wind, just ease. I just love this visual, especially when challenging situations arise that might tempt my temper- be like the sapling in the wind! How wonderful to think about being able to access flexibility and easy flow around obstacles particularly in the spring!

Snowdrops  (Galanthus   nivalis)  pushing through the winter debris and leaves with flexibility and ease

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) pushing through the winter debris and leaves with flexibility and ease


Harmonizing with the Spring

Harmonizing our energy with the spring and the Wood Element doesn't have to be complicated and can be as simple as nibbling young leaves, drinking maple sap, or moving our body daily, but there are some basic guidelines and ancient wisdom we can take inspiration from to guide our choices during this season. Read on for some suggestions. Choose what appeals or works for you. If you don't have access to these particular foods or herbs, come back to the flavors described below and let you taste buds guide you!

Food Energetics
Eat light. Lightly cooked, more raw than any other season. Not a time for an abundance of heavy, oily, and salty foods.

MOST IMPORTANTLY:  If it’s growing outside right now, it’s the best food choice we can make.  When we eat these wild foods straight from the ground we're aligning ourselves with this same upward-moving, nothing-can-stop-it energy of the spring. Also, fresh local spinach, asparagus, arugula and greens from the farmer's market, or any spring green grown locally has this same energetic influence!

Young Knotweed  (Fallopia japonica)  bursting forth. These shoots can grow more than an inch/day.  It really exemplifies the upward-moving, yang energy of the spring! Asparagus is a great example of this too. Young Knotweed shots are delicious- I like to cook them like asparagus and often cook them together. Some folks like to use them in place of Rhubarb in desserts.

Young Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) bursting forth. These shoots can grow more than an inch/day.  It really exemplifies the upward-moving, yang energy of the spring! Asparagus is a great example of this too. Young Knotweed shots are delicious- I like to cook them like asparagus and often cook them together. Some folks like to use them in place of Rhubarb in desserts.

Flavor
Eat foods that emphasize aspects of yang- upward moving, rising and expansive. The sweet and pungent (aka spicy/aromatic) flavors have this influence on our body.

What….what? Sweet and pungent for the spring? You were probably thinking sour and bitter, for the liver and spring, right?

Paul Pitchford puts it best:
“One misunderstanding often arises regarding the use of flavors for seasonal attunement:  The flavor associated with each Element affects the organ in that Element in specific, therapeutic ways, but it is not used for general attunement to the associated season. “- Healing With Whole Foods, By Paul Pitchford

So, in other words, if you have a hot, angry, over-heated liver, i.e. the Wood Element in Excess, then yes, the flavors for you are bitter and sour, as they are very cooling.  But if you’re looking to attune with the spring, the best flavors to emphasize are sweet and pungent. Why? In TCM it is said that the sweet and pungent flavor have upward-moving, yang energy.  So eating this flavor helps harmonize one with all the seasonal influences of the spring that we’ve discussed above.

It’s important to remember that very few plants have just one true flavor. Look for plants that contain the pungent and/or sweet flavor, which you will almost never find alone, which is fine! Common pairings are bitter/pungent, salty/sweet, and bitter/sweet.  Many other flavor combinations are possible!  And of course, a little bitter in the spring (or anytime really) definitely doesn’t hurt!

Pungent Foods and Herbs
Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris), Bee Balm (Monarda sp), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Oregano (Origanum sp), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), Dill (Anethum graveolens), Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum), Scallions/Green Onions (Allium fistulosum), Garlic greens and Spring Garlic (Allium sativa), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Evening Primrose Lvs (Oneothera biennsis), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Spearmint (Mentha spicata), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Sage (Salvia officinalis), Onions (especially Spring Onions), Shallots, Mustard Greens, Arugula, and so on. These are all wonderful plants for the spring and among the first to come back in the garden and hit the farmers markets!  And remember, if it's growing from the ground outside right now, it's absolutely the best food you can find for harmonizing with the spring!

Young Catnip  (Nepeta cataria)  emerging. Catnip comes back very early in the spring and is pungent in flavor. Add the tops to salads, make tea, or just nibble on from the garden!

Young Catnip (Nepeta cataria) emerging. Catnip comes back very early in the spring and is pungent in flavor. Add the tops to salads, make tea, or just nibble on from the garden!

Sweet Foods and Herbs
In terms of getting that sweetness in- we’re not talking sweet like sugar or really even honey. What we want is that mild sweetness found in many greens (that is often paired with some bitter and salty flavor), especially in the spring when that yang energy is the strongest. Remember that many greens are sweetest in the spring before they become more bitter in the summer. In terms of domesticated species, the Brassicas like kale and collards, asparagus, spinach and some lettuces really exemplify this. Spring Asparagus is quite sweet too. In terms of wild greens, Dandelion Lvs (Taraxacum officinale), Violet Lf (Viola sp), Plantain (Plantago spp), Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium album), Chickweed (Stellaria media), and Nettles (Urtica dioica) are have some sweetness to them, particularly in the spring.  A garden plant with lots of sweetness is Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).  And don’t forget the roots! Dandelion Rt (Taraxacum officinale), Evening Primrose Rt (Oneothera biennsis), Burdock Rt (Arcticum lappa) all have some sweetness paired with the bitter flavor, and are quite abundant in our northeast bioregion. And don't forget the early spring fruits like Strawberry, and also sweet fruits in general clearly contain the sweet flavor and are appropriate.

Supportive Daily Lifestyle Practices
Create a little Spring within! Launch new projects, be decisive, forage for wild foods, get plenty of movement and exercise, plan and set goals for the year, get your hands in the dirt- grow something! Keep trying to embody that flexible young sapling swaying in the wind, or the daffodils or spring bulbs pushing through the leaves and sticks without an hesitation, yet with flexibility and ease. Nature is truly our biggest teacher- when in doubt look to her for inspiration.

Wishing you all a wonderful spring full of flexibility, ambition, decisiveness, and clear vision and purpose.


Some spring recipes and articles from this blog to get you going

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Folks often confuse this with Violets, but Garlic Mustard has a more curly edge to the leaf, comes-out earlier (it's our earliest wild green!), and- of course- smells strongly of garlic when you crush the leaf. This pungent wild green contains the wild and expansive essence of the spring, and harmonizes us energetically with the spring.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Folks often confuse this with Violets, but Garlic Mustard has a more curly edge to the leaf, comes-out earlier (it's our earliest wild green!), and- of course- smells strongly of garlic when you crush the leaf. This pungent wild green contains the wild and expansive essence of the spring, and harmonizes us energetically with the spring.


Spring Garlic (Allium sativa). Simply harvest some of your garlic early in the spring before it fully matures. It is delicious and quite pungent- perfect spring medicine

Spring Garlic (Allium sativa). Simply harvest some of your garlic early in the spring before it fully matures. It is delicious and quite pungent- perfect spring medicine

References

Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition
By Paul Pitchford

Staying Healthy With the Seasons
By Elson M. Haas

Foundations of Chinese Medicine
By Giovanni Maciocia

The Web That Has No Weaver
By Ted Kapchuk

The Yellow Emporer’s Classic of Medicine/ The Neijing
Circa 200-400 BC

“Living Medicine”
Larken Bunce, Herbstalk 2014

Clearpath School of Herbal Studies
Chris Marano, Clinical Herbalist