Spring Tonics

Early Green Plants

March 17, 2020
Spring Tonic Tea

What’s a Spring Tonic? While the vernal equinox may mark the moment of spring, the appearance of the first greens makes it real. Over the centuries, people have relied on the green plants that emerge early in the season as a sort of “detox” to revive, strengthen, and invigorate the body. Learn more and see a few recipes.

What is a Spring Tonic?

While the vernal equinox may mark the moment of spring, the appearance of the first greens makes it real. The early settlers were firm believers in the tonic effects of eating spring greens: they were said to stimulate the digestion, purify the blood, cure scurvy and ague, combat rheumatism, and repel kidney stones after a long cold winter of inactivity.

Rich in vitamins and trace minerals, these cleansing greens and roots were prepared and drunk in early spring, providing much-needed nourishment and energy after a nutrient-poor winter. Tonics also stimulated the appetite, the circulation, and bodily functions as settlers got ready for physical farm labor.

Let’s face it—anything fresh and green no doubt tasted great after a wearisome winter of salt pork and dried beans!

Make a Dandelions Tonic

Dandelions were so valued that they were cultivated in gardens.

Try using the tender young leaves in salads, either fresh or blanched, as the French and Dutch settlers favored. 

Or, use the leaves as one would spinach or make them into soup. (Those who boiled dandelion greens in water often made a point of drinking the “pot likker” or cooking water, which was, in fact, loaded with water-soluble vitamins.)

Did you know? Dandelions can also be used as a relaxing body rub. See our Natural Remedies for Stress and Anxiety.

One warning. Make sure that the dandelions have not been treated with chemicals before you pick them. Our lawn is safe as we try not to use any pesticides or fertilizers on it.


Rhubarb Tonic

Rhubarb, or pieplant, was widely regarded as a fine spring tonic to aid the blood and the digestive system. Cooked and stewed rhubarb was called “spring fruit” in early cookbooks.

Note: Only eat rhubarb stalks. Do not eat the leaves, as they contain high levels of oxalic acid, which is toxic in high doses.

Boil rhubarb and enjoy it as a soup (with some sweetener). Rhubarb is also delicious in preserves, puddings, and pies.

(See rhubarb recipes here.)
(See rhubarb planting guide here.)

Sassafras Tea

Early spring means it’s time to make Sassafras Tea! Old-times made this popular spring tonic by boiling together bunches of sweet fern, sarsaparilla, wintergreen and sassafras with water.

Image: Sassafras leaves

Or, you can just boil sassafras root.

Sassafras saplings were a pioneer tree, and still common, especially on field edges. Note: As with all wild plants, be sure to get help if you need tree identification, such as the Audubon Society Field Guide.

Sassafras roots are dug up, dried for a few days, and chopped into two-inch pieces. (You need about a foot of root for a half-gallon of tea.)  Leaves are dried, too. After boiling the concoction and simmering for 15 minutes, it’s drained and sweetened with sugar to taste. Sassafras tea is still popular today.

Note: If you find these plants in the wild, make sure that you are allowed to legally dig the roots. If you make these tonics for ingestion, consult with a health professional so that you are making them safely. For example, sassafras can be toxic in large amounts, so don’t drink enormous amounts year-round!

If you make or drink spring tonics, or have any questions, please share below!


Reader Comments

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Favorite Spring Tonics

I drink a lot of dandelion leaf tea in the spring, and enjoy adding the plant as a leafy green in my diet. Also, LOVE rhubarb. One of my favorite spring tonics is nettles tea. It has so many nutrients that you can just feel it working as you drink it. I like to mix dandelion leaf and nettles together for a more powerful drink. Sometimes I add hawthorn or elder berries or elder flowers.

Sassafras tea

Sassafras tea is said to be a Indian tonic ,after sitting around all winter your blood gets thick from a poor diet of meat and fat. The tea is a natural blood thinner. Also there are 2 kinds of Sassafras tea a red and a white.The red grows only on the hill facing the north. The white looks the same ,but, you can put all the sugar you want in it and it would still be bitter. Ihave tasted both.

Sassafras Tea;

Sassafras Leaf Tea is excellent; a nice cinnamon woodsy herbal type flavor; a flavorful Leaf!;

The Polk and it berries can

The Polk and it berries can be used to worm fowl.
To eat Polk weed they must/have to be rinsed well in boiling water 3 times before consuming, they are slightly poisonous.

Ramps are from the lily

Ramps are from the lily family (so no seed), and only grow under specific conditions. Over harvesting is a problem as well. One can easily make a substitute by combining garlic and onion then adding to your fried potatoes, soups or whatever.

I found a website called

I found a website called mountainroseherbs.com that gives more information about all their herbs and their site says sassafras is not to be taken carelessly as too much tea might be toxic on a long term basis. "All things in moderation!"

What is poke and what are

What is poke and what are ramps? Also where does one find seeds for these as well as sweet fern, sarsaparilla, wintergreen and sassafras? As a child I had heard of sarsasparilla and sassafras tea. I would love to plant some and try it, or just buy the ingredients. I find that the old recipes had good health benefits that have long been forgotten.

To buy seeds, I came across

Catherine Boeckmann's picture

To buy seeds, I came across this site:
I also came across sassafras roots for purchase: http://stores.ebay.com/Sassafr...
I can't vouch for these sites, but I hope you find it helpful!
I think a lot of people go find these roots in the wild.

Thanks, I'll check them out.

Thanks, I'll check them out.

Don't know about poke, but

Don't know about poke, but Ramps are a wild onion-garlic which grows readily on the slopes of some hills in Western Pennsylvania, and the mountains of West Virginia. It's very strong and tasty. The old timers would make butter-bread and ramp sandwiches. The only problem is, that it's "bouquet" remains with you for days. But, BOY are they good.

In the mountains of Georgia,

In the mountains of Georgia, we like poke salad and ramps for a spring tonic. We also eat the dandelions.

Polk Salad or poke weed

Here is a paragraph from Wikipedia

I suggest you find someone who knows how to prepare and pick this before trying it. It can be deadly if not prepared correctly.

Food uses

Poke is a traditional southern Appalachian food. The leaves and stems can both be eaten, but must be cooked, usually boiled three times in fresh water each time. The leaves have a taste similar to spinach; the stems taste similar to asparagus. To prepare stems, harvest young stalks prior to chambered pith formation, carefully peel the purple skin away, then chop the stalk up and fry in meal like okra. Traditionally, poke leaves are boiled, drained, boiled again, then fatback is added and cooked some more to add flavor. Poisonings occur from failure to drain the water from the leaves at least once. Preferably they should be boiled, drained, and water replaced two or more times.

As noted by the OARDC staff scientists:[10]

"Children are most frequently poisoned... [and] Infants are especially sensitive and have died from eating only a few raw berries. Although boiled young shoots have been eaten as greens and berries cooked in pie, ingestion of any part of the plant cannot be recommended. Adults have been poisoned, sometimes fatally, by eating improperly prepared leaves and shoots, especially if part of the root is harvested with the shoot, and by mistaking the root for an edible tuber."

Although all parts of the plant are considered toxic and the root is never eaten and cannot be made edible,[citation needed] the late 19th century herbal, the King's American Dispensatory, describes various folk medical uses that led individuals to ingest pokeberry products,[25] and festivals still celebrate the plant's use in its historical food preparations (see below). Authorities[who?] advise against eating pokeweed even after thrice boiling, as traces of toxins may still remain,[citation needed] and all agree pokeweed should never be eaten uncooked.[citation needed]