Updated: Mar 26, 2020
In the same way that we Spring Clean a house, we should also Spring Clean ourselves. Not by getting into the bath and scrubbing, but by consuming healthy and revitalising foods. As daylight hours increase, as the sun shines a little stronger and as new growth emerges in our gardens and hedgerows, it is important to think about giving ourselves a little bit of a spring time boost.
I’ve always believed that nature provides and, if you speak to a medical herbalist, they will confirm that nature produces certain fruits, salads or vegetables to correspond with the times that our bodies are most in need of the specific minerals, vitamins or nutrients that that particular plant produces.
Think about the Autumn harvest, for example. This is the most abundant time of year in our vegetable gardens and orchards. Why? Because we are about to enter the darkest and coldest time of year, when plant production is at its lowest. And so we harvest and store and eat. Elder produces elder berries in Autumn, at the right time for us to make a tonic from the berries, high in vitamin C and anti-oxidants, to get us through the winter months.
When Spring arrives we are greeted with new growth from a variety of plants packed with vitamins and minerals that will help to cleanse, purify and detox us from our long winter.
It comes down to us being a part of nature, not separate from her, and to our human cycles echoing the cycles of nature.
So what are some of the Spring Clean greens, how do they grow and how can we utilise them?
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Perhaps the prettiest and most versatile herb listed in my spring clean list. Lemon balm is not only a really lovely herb to grow but also a great plant to include in a planting scheme and, as a bonus, is valuable for wildlife too. New growth emerges around about now.
Lemon balm is a bushy perennial of about 1 metre high with and spread of about 50 cm. The leaves are lobed, bright green and slightly fuzzy with a strong lemony scent. The flowers will emerge a little bit later in the year, in the summer months, and are a magnet for bees and other insects.
Lemon balm can be planted as part of a simple herb garden or it can be mixed in with other perennials in a cottage garden style or slightly more naturalistic scheme. Aesthetically, it is not a star plant, but it works well as a foil for other plants and helps to add substance to a planting design. It is winter hardy, easy to grow, easy to look after and reliable.
The fresh new leaves can be used in deserts or picked and steeped in boiling water to make a refreshing, lemon tasting tea.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
I have not met many people who don’t appreciate the smell and taste of mint. It is an invaluable garden herb, despite its propensity for spreading. There are many types of garden mint, Mentha x piperita being one of the strongest flavoured.
Mint is another fantastically multi-functional plant – useful for cooking and making teas and for using in home-made cosmetics. The green foliage can be used in informal flower arranging and also looks fabulous when combined with other perennials in the garden. If left to flower the pretty, fluffy flower heads are also great for insects.
In my garden the mint runs a little bit wild. I control it as best I can and pick it daily for fresh peppermint tea. Each winter I pull up runs of roots to keep it to a certain area and to prevent it from overtaking some of my other perennials.
If you are adverse to the idea of mint running wild then it will grow successfully in a pot or, alternatively, sink a bottomless bucket into the soil and plant the mint into the sunken pot.
There are some gorgeous cultivars of mint available such as chocolate peppermint (M. x piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’) and basil peppermint (M. x piperita f. citrata ‘Basil’). All types of mint can be used in teas or sauces. Mint sauce and salsa verde are two favourites of mine.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
The stinging nettle is perhaps a slightly controversial plant to include in a list of garden herbs. I always encourage anyone who has a slightly larger garden to cultivate even a small nettle patch, but can also understand why you wouldn’t want to. Nettles are vigorous plants that take effort to keep under control. Additionally, the sting is nasty and nettles can often spread almost uncontrollably.
On the positive side. Stinging nettles are hardy and their upright growth would complement many planting designs (although I have never incorporated nettles into any of my planting designs - I might test it out in my own garden first). The leaves and seeds are highly nutritious and can be used for cooking, for creating dyes and for cordage and fabric. On top of all this they are also amazing for wildlife, providing forage and habitat for many insects, garden mammals and reptiles too. This RSPB article lists all the reasons why we should allow nettles in our gardens.
If you cannot entertain the thought of a nettle patch in your garden then they are fairly straightforward to forage. As with any foraging, be thoughtful and respectful. Don’t strip a patch bare. Only take a small amount and be mindful of leaving enough for others and for wildlife too. Even the most abundant of wild plants need looking after and nurturing. We’ve all seen the unpleasant outcome of people stripping shelves bare. The same applies to our natural spaces.
However you happen to get hold of your nettles, once you have them they can be used in teas or as a spinach substitute in soups and stews. One of my favourites is to make a nettle pesto. Nettles can also be used in cosmetics – for tonics and balms.
Get in touch with Wild Edge Garden Design today for help and advice on what herbs to grow in your own garden or balcony. If you enjoyed reading this, why not subscribe from any page on my website.
Huge thanks to my lovely husband, Paul Rose, for his advice on the medicinal properties of all the amazing herbs in my garden and thanks to Anne McIntyre who taught my husband and who has written a number of invaluable books on herbal medicine.