Nordic Tradition Green Medicine: Botanicals To Bolster and Balance Health
By Gigi Stafne
In order to restore balance to the human body, we should first clear, cleanse and nourish all of our systems. Nature offers an abundance of green medicine to help us. In the spring more than ever, we need these power-packed wild foods and herbs that are emerging from the soil to help us balance and bolster the body.
We truly need wild food during this seasonal shift and nature provides us with an abundant variety of green medicine. In cooler regions, look to wild green spring nourishment when the trees are budding out, when moss covers the earth in a soft blanket, and cleavers, chickweed, ground ivy, motherwort and wood violets spring up.
Further, foraging for these wild edibles offers the opportunity to get outdoors. After months of being cooped up inside experiencing this seasonal shift of renewal, vitality and uplifting energy, is equally beneficial for helping bring your body into balance with the nature around you.
We Are The Microcosm of the Macrocosm
What are the healing aspects of this season as vital energy ascends from deep within Mama Earth? Traditionally, Spring Equinox marks the blessing time of fields, plant growth, newborn animals, fertility and regenerative nourishment. There is rising energy in all living things. We are the microcosm of the macrocosm of nature. Now is the time to release the stagnant energy and toxicity retained in our bodies during winter.
This spring, try some of these wild natural foods to balance and bolster your health.
Sinzibuckwud is a First Nations Algonquin word for maple syrup, literally meaning drawn from wood. Sweetwater is another name for this first precious run of sap. The optimal two to six weeks for sap runs varies from year to year depending on where you live.
Tapping trees such as sugar maple or paper birch begins during Maple Moon, when night temperatures are in the mid-20’s and sunny days reach the mid-40’s Fahrenheit. That’s the sweet spot, when starch in the roots and trunk rise in the tree, converting to sugar.
When the time is just right, we head to the woods and ask permission from any sacred tree before drilling a small hole in the sturdy trunk. Next we insert a spile or tap. Succulent sweetwater then drips into a traditional lined birch basket or little metal bucket.
Some people use high-tech plastic tubes and bags (mainly for commercial or larger scale operations). I prefer au naturale.
Several times I’ve witnessed a tree-loving friend kneel on the cold wet ground contorting her neck to get sweetwater to drip on her tongue—sweetwater-erotica.
I include sweetwater in my spring botanical balance diet because it’s a pure tree medicine, and ancient energy drink. This first fluid is ninety-eight percent water and two percent natural sugars, spiked with natural antioxidants, calcium, iron, manganese and potassium. After a long winter there’s nothing better than passing around the sweetwater jug, and pouring it into our kukksa cups (Nordic wooden drinking cup) to savor. In certain tree worshipping cultures this first run of sweetwater was ingested for nearly one month each spring to revitalize the entire body after a long winter of stagnation.
One of the most overlooked of wild foods and green medicines abundant in spring are the bursting buds of various trees and shrubs. After a long winter of dormancy, buds and catkins become more visible to the eye, even though they were present during the colder months. Gather buds before the gently warming weather of spring transforms them into foliage.
Bitter buds have always been an important boost of nutrition for traditional people living on the land. Some of my favorites are tasty tips of basswood, pine, spruce and tamarack. These wild edible buds are green medicine you can collect and munch while hiking in the woods. You may also collect these to prepare tree teas, medicinal tinctures, syrups or cordials.
Basswood (Linden) buds contain antispasmodic and sedative properties, meaning this tea will help with headaches and anxiety among other conditions. Bright evergreen spruce tips are tart, rich in vitamins A and C. They have amazing antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, as do the tips of pine and tamarack. Most evergreens are nutritive, antibacterial, antiviral and antiparasitic in nature. Enjoy collecting buds in the wild and eating them raw or integrating them into your herbal medicine making.
Foodies, foragers and friends always love hiking through the lush green forest admiring unfurling ferns like Ostrich, Cinnamon, Interrupted, Shield and Maiden’s Hair. Fiddlehead is a general term for the early stage, unfurling fern fronds. The still tightly coiled, disc-like fronds can be collected, sauteed, added to soups, stir-frys and other culinary dishes.
When wildcrafting, I remind herb students it is best to limit intake to approximately three spring servings or meals of fiddleheads (a palmful each time). Avoid Bracken ferns that can disrupt the tummy and have a potential to be carcinogenic in large quantities. Avoid eating any ferns or fiddleheads raw, as you must destroy certain enzymes that the human body cannot process unless cooked.
Search for abundant, large Ostrich ferns which tend to be the most delicious tasting fiddleheads. Maiden Hair ferns are among the very delicate and are now at-risk due to deforestation. Tread lightly, let them flourish in the wild.
Be sure to carefully identify the fern species using reliable field guides. Or, ask for information on local plants often available from your county extension office. Then forage and feast on fiddleheads this spring! Your body will get a botanical boost of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus and potassium.
Bend down low and get your dose of wild green medicine! The more bitter, the better to balance and bolster health. As springtime progresses there will be plenty of food afoot in the wild for foragers, even in your backyard—providing it has not been sprayed by toxic chemicals.
Why not skip the grocery store produce aisle for a while and head outside to gather nature’s nutrients instead? Chickweed, dandelion greens, ground ivy, wood violets and nettles are are plentiful in many regions. They each provide a range of vitamins, minerals and herbal medicine benefits. These wild weedies help kick-start your body, especially the vital elimination organs.
Take dandelion greens as an example. They’ll start moving liver stagnation and help you gently detoxify if you eat them raw, mixed into your salad. Ground ivy, on the other hand, is a heavy-duty metal detox. Gather this one when you need a serious cleanse. Chickweed and Wood Violets are nutritive and gentle. Nettle leaves can be steamed, cooked or brewed. They are a rich green remedy, plus a natural antihistamine to boot if you suffer from springtime allergies. Later in summer or fall, remember to carefully gather Nettle seeds to use as an adrenal rebuilder for your body when it has been hit by too much stress.
Eat Your Weedies
Humans are meant to eat from sundry wild edible greens that emerge from fertile nature in spring, not from fast food lanes. Get outside and eat your weedies! Grab your botanical field guide, take a plant identification walk and learn more about these amazing plants that have long been considered primary spring foods and green medicine.
Fill your wicker gathering basket with basswood and birch buds, chickweed, dandelion greens, ground ivy, lamb’s quarter, plantain, watercress, and wood violet flowers. Head home to your kitchen or herb workshop and enjoy preparing these wild, tasty treats for friends and family.
Gigi Stafne MH, ND is a clinician, national educator and writer within ecological, health justice and natural medicine fields. She is Director of Green Wisdom School of Natural & Botanical Medicine in the Upper Midwest United States and Ontario, Canada and former long time Executive Director of Herbalists Without Borders International, addressing issues of health and social justice globally, and remains a national-international trauma trainer and free peoples clinics coordinator. www.greenwisdom.weebly.com
This article provides educational information for readers on natural and botanical medicine subjects. Content is not intended to take the place of personalized medical counseling, diagnosis and/or treatment by a physician. Herbs and other botanicals are classified by the Food and Drug Administration as food products, not medicines