Happily here in Northeast Ohio the world is turning just a little bit greener everyday. It was the longest winter that I can remember in many years, with fabulous storms and blustery days but I'm ready to come out of my cave! My horses are beginning to shed their coats and everywhere I look I see stray wisps of hay and grass being carried away by the birds who are busily building their nests. The beautifully established patch of Lily of the Valley that are quietly tucked away in the side yard have begun to poke through the falling leaves. I can't wait to pick bouquets of them to place in the little crystal vase of my mothers that sits on my desk!
With the first rays of springtime warmth come loads of garden catalogs and plenty of inspiration to get out into the yard to begin to plant. I'm so excited because this is the first year that I'll be in my new home for an entire season of planting. My raspberries are beginning to bud and so are my roses. Everyday gives me a thrilling new glimpse of something green that wintered over in my herb boxes. And true to form I've gained about 8 extra winter pounds that need to disappear!
It seems that I fight this same eight pounds every year and this winter was no different. Here in Ohio the winters are cold and there's not much to do but eat and sleep! But springtime is the best time of year for a cleanse, because all of the best things for you to eat to wake up a body that's carrying just a little extra winter padding are available in our gardens starting right about now! Springtime tonics are among the easiest and most effective of cleanses and I'm pretty sure that mother nature makes them that way on purpose because winter foods although delicious and very sustaining can pack on the pounds. So springtime with it's sumptuous feast of dandelions,asparagus, wild ramps, violet leaves ,fiddle head ferns and chickweed can be just what this witch orders to cleanse her blood and create an abundance of energy. Each of these wild foods have a very distinct medicinal use and combined to make delicious juices and salads will restore anyBODY that's suffered bit too much with the winter blues!
Wild food is all around you, you just have to look for it. When I still lived on our farm, we had a beautiful artesian spring that must have been the original water source for our century home. I loved it because it was beautiful and magical place, nestled deep in the woods by the barn and down a wee hill and every spring the first thing that would begin to grow would be the wonderful patch of peppery watercress that loved the fresh clean running water. I loved it down by that little spring. I "planted" big clusters of crystals of all sorts among the trees down there and one day took Alex and all of the neighbor kids down to the spring to show them what I'd found. They were teenagers before they actually figured it out but they still talk about the "crystal forest" with the same twinkling smiles and peals of laughter that they had when they were very young.
Watercress is a perfect spring tonic because it stimulates your digestion and really gives a boost to your tired blood. My mother always made little tea sandwiches with watercress, thinly sliced breast of chicken and a little mayo and they were absolutely delicious and perfect for tea. I love to make watercress soup and the easiest way to do it is to bring about 4 cups of very good chicken broth to a simmer and add a can of coconut milk. You could also do this with heavy cream or half and half, but because I use this as a tonic soup I'll go without the dairy with the exception of about 1 teaspoon of salted butter that I'll stir in near the end. Bring it all to a simmer, salt and pepper it and add a a couple of tablespoons of minced shallot. Let it all simmer for about 5 minutes, whisking continuously and then add about 3 cups of watercress leaves. Whisk them in and reduce the heat, letting them wilt and infuse the soup with their rich wild flavor. Take the whole thing off the stove and put it into the pitcher of a blender or a vitamix, give it a couple of turns and serve. Garnish it with a few toasted almonds and serve. It will be very green, it will be good and you will begin to feel your blood become enlivened after the first few spoonfuls! You can use the same base for a soup of fresh asparagus, but be careful of eating too much asparagus if you have issues with your kidneys or suffer with gout. As absolutely delicious as it is fresh asparagus is very high in purines and can contribute to a rise of uric acid levels in the blood, one of the primary causes of gout.
A salad of dandelion leaves is deliciously bitter and has a wonderful diuretic quality that can be used if you want to cleanse your kidneys. Fresh young sweet violet leaves are a wonderful addition for any woman who suffers from fibroids either in the uterus or the breasts and the tiny leaves of the friendly little chickweed plant are wonderful to eat and will help keep all of your most intimate parts slippery, moist and cool!
And then there are the ramps or the wild leeks as they're known in certain parts of the Appalachians. There are acres of ramps in the woods that I ride in and every spring I saddle up and ride out to collect some. There is no more exquisite smell in the woods at this time of year than the perfume of the moist soil and the wild scent of the onions. They can be eaten raw if you dare with fresh butter and salt or minced and mixed with butter and chevre and then slathered under the skin of a young chicken and put in the oven to roast. Ramps are very stimulating and eaten to promote energy and passion. Enjoy one raw and you'll know what I mean because they definitely stoke the fires inside, but make sure that you're enjoying them with someone that you love for they are very pungent! One of my favorite things to do with them is to make a wonderful bloody mary for a Sunday brunch. Just take some organic tomato or V8 type juice, add some sriracha hot sauce to taste, a teaspoon of good horseradish,a tablespoon of minced wild ramp, salt and pepper and for fun some bacon flavored vodka! Stir, pour over ice and add one wild ramp for a gorgeous spring garnish! Yummmmmmm!
Now that you've enjoyed yourself here at the farm , why don't you follow the trail through my woods, pick some ramps of your own and go visit my darling friend Roxana, Mistress of the divine Illuminated Journal. I'm pretty sure that she's blended up some fragrant treats for you to enjoy on this fine first spring day!
All pictures and writing by Beth Schreibman Gehring
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