Nature on our doorsteps - Springtime tonic

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

In the past, nutritious vegetables and fruits were only available at seasonal times of the year. Getting fresh vegetables in winter was a challenge.

Before the widespread availability of vitamin supplements, our bodies were usually desperately in need of a good dose of instant goodness by springtime.

Charlock or Wild Turnip is another of the spring tonic plants compressor

Charlock, or Wild Turnip, is another of the ‘spring tonics’ plants

Previous generations would watch for the first signs of plant growth early in the new year, waiting to head out to pick wild ‘spring greens’.

Newly sprouting plant shoots are bursting with all the vitamins, minerals and iron that are needed to fuel new plant growth.

These nutrients are also exactly what human bodies needed after a long winter without fresh fruit and vegetables.

Young Nettles were eagerly gathered. Nettles contain iron, vitamins A, B, C, magnesium and calcium and were seen as a ‘spring tonic’, purifying and strengthening the blood after winter.

While fresh Nettles can sting, this is destroyed by cooking.

Nettles bright new shoots are full of vitamins and iron compressor

Nettle’s bright new shoots are full of vitamins and iron

Nettle leaves were lightly boiled, either on their own or with potatoes, to make a nutritious soup. Leaves were also steeped in boiling water to make a tea.

Only newly growing Nettle tips were used, because the plant becomes tough and stringy as it matures in early summer.

By then, other seasonal vegetables would be available once again and Nettles were left to grow in peace.

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