Herbal vinegars are well loved in my kitchen, from spicy fire cider in the winter with its warming stimulation of the immune system to sweeter, and more whimsical, fruit-forward shrubs in the summer. But in the springtime, it’s all about mineral-rich vinegars to cleanse, detox, and even ward off allergies. Spring
medicine is all about targeting sources of stagnation and toxin build up while preparing it for the year ahead. While spring feels full of opportunity in growth, it can also be curtailed by congestion, seasonal allergies, and other seasonal stressors. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, spring is represented by the wood element, which corresponds with the liver and the gallbladder. These organs are usually the primary targets for spring cleansing protocols as these systems tend to have less flow and more stagnation over the winter season. The two flavors associated with these organs are sour and bitter, as well as the color green. Our Vernal Vinegar features juicy, chlorophyll-rich greens that our body craves post-winter. Chlorophyll purifies the body by binding with toxins to hamper absorption and increasing oxygen flow in the body, which alkalizes, detoxifies, and neutralizes free radicals. The addition of bitter herbs, like dandelion and yellow dock, help stimulate our liver. Healthy liver function is the key to detoxification. When the body tastes a bitter flavor, the liver is stimulated, producing the gastric juices that are necessary for breaking down fats and cleansing waste in the body. Don’t mask the bitter flavor, embrace it! If your body can’t taste it, you’re not getting all the benefits!
This recipe includes an abundance of hand-harvested, young leafy herbs & roots readily found in
our early spring’s budding landscape: nettle leaves, dandelion leaf, flower & roots, chickweed, cleavers, sorrel, speedwell, fennel, mint, and yellow dock root. These green gifts from our rainy winters are a symbol of transition into spring. It’s no accident that these health-supporting herbs are a part of spring’s bounty, as our bodies are meant to be nourished in harmony with the Earth’s seasons.
The vast diversity of these greens should not be overlooked in terms of supporting our body’s ecosystem. Think about how many different vegetables you consume in a day, in a week. Lack of biodiversity in our diets can increase our susceptibility to illness by depriving us of critical nutrients. Nutritive herbs, prebiotics, and inulin-rich foods, such as those included in this tonic, can assist our digestive systems in supporting our immune system, as well as keep our elimination channels flowing, which in turn can support our skin health.
We’ve already discussed dandelion’s benefits, and as a classic tonic herb, it is a natural addition to this deeply nourishing infusion. Yellow dock root mirrors dandelion root’s benefits, while also being a good source of iron. Nettle leaves, too, are a nourishing and building tonic herb, rich in protein, iron, vitamins and minerals. Nettles are also high in histamines, serotonin, and quercetin, making them an effective remedy for seasonal allergies. I could go on and on about nettles, but we’ll save that for another time. ;)
Cooling chickweed functions both as a mild laxative and a diuretic, helping the body to rid itself of toxins through the kidneys and the bowels. The saponins in Chickweed have been found to emulsify fat cells and flush them from the body. This versatile herb also supports healthy thyroid function which is essential in the smooth running of the body’s metabolism. It contains natural lecithin which specifically aids in fat metabolism. In fact, chickweed is known as the “diet herb” for its appetite suppressant actions! Chickweed also balances the beneficial bacteria in the gut, providing the optimum environment for healthy digestion. Digestive allies fennel and mint are included, as well.
Tangy sheep’s sorrel is known as a plant with many nutrients including: Vitamin C, B, D, E, K, beta carotene, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. It is known for its antibacterial properties, and has been used to treat bacterial infections including Staph, E. coli and Salmonella. It is also known as a treatment for urinary and kidney dysfunction. Sheep’s sorrel is believed to contain more antioxidants than most herbs and is used as a Native American cancer treatment called Essiac.
Tenacious cleavers is a springtime star. When making the seasonal transition from winter to spring, cleavers’ energy can be a useful force in stimulating the lymphatic system. The springtime allure of cleavers has survived since antiquity, when healers praised cleavers for their ability to relieve temporary water retention.
A lesser known but ubiquitous garden plant, speedwell is highly nutritious and is loaded with antioxidant polyphenols. It also has natural expectorant, diuretic, depurative, liver protective and tonic properties. It is astringent (it contains tannins) and bitter. Many herbalists use it to relieve various types of allergies.
Apple cider vinegar forms the base for the tonic, as it is exceptionally good at extracting all the minerals and vitamins from our herbs and assisting the body in absorbing these benefits. ACV itself is touted as a health wonder food. Numerous studies in show that vinegar can improve insulin function and lower blood sugar levels after meals. Other studies suggest that vinegar can increase feelings of fullness and help people eat fewer calories.
Drink your Vernal Vinegar as is, a tablespoon or so daily, or dilute in water or tea, preferably first thing in the morning; or before a meal to enhance digestion. If you absolutely can’t take the taste (it is rather unpalatable, I admit!), you can put it on salads with a bit of olive oil or drizzle in soups and sauces. However you take it, do so mindfully, remembering all the benefits it is bringing into your body. ;)
This is a very simple recipe that you can easily recreate at home. There are no real rules. As long as you can accurately identify the plants, you can add them in any amounts or percentages as you wish. Additional spring herbs that can be added in addition to these already described include violets, red clover blossoms, blackberry and/or raspberry leaf, plantain, burdock root, and horsetail. I simply used what was readily and abundantly available from my own gardens. By the time you’re reading this, all of the plants mentioned here should be readily available and easily wildcrafted.
A quick note about wildcrafting guidelines. First off, know your herbs and do not harvest endangered species. Do not over harvest; take only what you need and be sure there are plenty of plants around to propagate and for the pollinators, too. And never harvest from plants that are located near roads, drainage ditches, in or near municipal areas that are routinely treated with herbicides, or in areas where animals frequently eliminate. Always ask permission if harvesting on private land. Bring the right tools – gloves, scissors or multi-tool, a basket, a first aid kit and sun protection. Finally, give thanks to the plant and be grateful for its sacrifice.