Revitalize with the Wild Greens of Spring

Fresh stinging nettle plant on the Bastyr University campus in Kenmore, WA

Spring is coming soon, and with it, the perfect chance to cleanse and rebalance from the excesses of winter. Nature is here to help, offering a vibrant selection of wild greens perfect for digestive rejuvenation.

What does it mean, though, to embark upon a “spring cleaning” of the body, and why bother? When we nutritionists speak of “cleansing,” what we are really referring to is changing dietary habits to support our body’s natural detoxification.

The human body is constantly exposed to disease-causing substances in our food and drink, particularly during the excesses of the holidays. The organs of elimination (liver, kidneys, and large intestines) are responsible for processing and removing these toxins from our body. By consuming foods that improve the health of our organs, especially the liver, we become better able to extract nutrients from our food and eliminate waste, which can reduce symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea and food allergies.

Enter the cleansing superheroes: bitter greens! From the moment their bitter taste touches the tongue, neural reflexes initiate increased output of digestive enzymes, increased rate of gastric emptying, and increased bile production in the liver, which is necessary for fat digestion. Bile also helps rid the liver of waste products and provides lubrication of the intestines to ease the passage of stool.

Wild bitter spring greens are also packed with nutrition. Two of the tastiest are nettle and dandelion greens, available in a field, farmers market, or maybe even grocery store near you.

Stinging nettles may sound fierce, but these forest greens can rise to the level of superfood! Nettles aren’t called stinging for no reason, however: The undersides of the leaves and square stems are covered in stingers that necessitate care when handling. Luckily, companies like Foraged and Found Edibles (http://foragedandfoundedibles.com/) have already done the hard work of picking for you! Nettles are an excellent source of iron and vitamins A, C and K, and are extremely high in calcium (around 500 mg in a 1 cup serving). Nettles also have gentle diuretic action to flush waste from the kidneys, and natural antihistamine and anti-rheumatism properties. Nettles can be eaten raw, but cooking neutralizes their sting.

Dandelion greens are a remarkable liver tonic available right outside on the lawn! Besides their bitter taste that stimulates liver function and improves overall digestion, dandelion greens are rich in vitamins and minerals. One chopped cup provides an entire day’s vitamin A requirement, a third of the needed vitamin C, and three times the daily value for vitamin K! One cup has 100 mg of calcium and a hefty dose of potassium as well. Dandelion greens should be gathered from lawns and meadows free of weed killer, before the flowers open, or can be purchased in a milder-tasting cultivated form from grocery stores and farmers markets.

If you’re ready to step in time to the spring season, try this “wild” twist on pesto for a highly cleansing spread!

Wild Spring Pesto

Nettle pesto, also known as pesto d’urtica, is a traditional Italian recipe for springtime. Be sure and don gloves before handling nettles, they do bite, though the sting is temporary and harmless. Dandelion greens can be mixed in to increase bitterness and liver-cleansing properties. Try this on pasta, bread or swirled into soup.

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