Enjoy Spring Tonic Herbs From Your Garden

Early spring greens are a welcome change from the monotony of winter diets.

a bunch of freshly harvested wild leeks

Rudy Malmquist / Getty Images

Winter can leave us all feeling rather sub-par. But once again, our gardens often hold the answer. Making spring tonics from garden plants is a practice which may have fallen by the wayside for many in our modern, connected world. But it can be a great way to get out into your garden or your surrounding area and discover some of the earliest spring greens. 

What Are Spring Tonics?

Over the winter months, historically, people ate stored or canned produce since fresh green food was in short supply. The diet over the coldest part of the year left a lot to be desired, filling stomachs but not necessarily providing all the nutrition modern science tells us is necessary.

Traditionally, often long before most garden crops became available, country folk would get outside early in spring to forage for fresh greens—a way to put paid to nutritional deficiencies and put a spring in their step. The wild greens of early spring became known as spring tonic herbs.

Spring tonic herbs can be eaten fresh, cooked as a side of greens, added to recipes, or used in teas. There are many different recipes—traditional and modern—which recognize the health benefits that these nutrient-packed fresh young greens can bring.

The point is not so much to understand in depth the herbalism or the medicinal effects of particular plants—though this is a fascinating field if you are interested. The most important thing is simply to know which fresh greens you can forage from your garden in the early spring, and to familiarize yourself with the benefits that finding and using these wild plants can bring.

Spring Tonic Plants That I Find in My Garden

The earliest greens of spring will obviously depend on where exactly you live. But many of the plants that most people think of as weeds can be very useful to eat as fresh greens or brew into healthful teas or infusions early in the season.

In my garden, sorrels, nettles, chickweed, plantain, wild garlic, and ramps are some of the first greens I forage for and harvest in early spring. Soon, there will be fat hen, Good King Henry, cleavers, fireweed, dandelion leaves, and so much more.

I can "shop" from my garden long before the first outdoor cultivated crops of spring are ready to yield, and certainly before I even think about direct sowing or transplanting indoor-grown seedlings into the garden.

closeup of sorrel growing in garden

Jenny Dettrick / Getty Images

The Most Effective Spring Tonic: Getting Outdoors

I love getting out into the wilder parts of my garden and filling a basket with fresh nutritious greens for free. While I do still have produce in my polytunnel ready to eat before the first crops of the new season are ready, spring tonic plants bring a natural bounty at this time of year.

For me, however, what really provides true tonic is not merely the nutrients these plants contain, but more the tonic that a stroll through the early spring garden provides. Getting outside and feeling the sun's rays on your face is sure to chase away any remaining winter blues.

Making use of fresh spring greens and making spring tonics is all about forging a closer connection to the turning of the seasons. This is a key component in establishing a more sustainable way of life.

With supermarkets and global food supply chains, it is easy to lose our connection to the edibles in our own backyards. Foraging for spring tonic plants and learning more about the benefits of native and naturalized plants in our areas is very useful. It is a great way to get back to basics and to rediscover our connection with the natural world.

So, why not get out into your garden? Take a good look at the wild plants you find there, and think about looking into some of their properties and researching how they can be used. Even before spring arrives in earnest, there may well be more food around than you imagined. And if nothing else, on a sunny early spring day, you'll get a much-needed dose of vitamin D.