The Weeds that Make You Healthy
Healthy Living

As the countryside and your backyard come to life during this season of renewal, consider harvesting some of the ingredients that have been used since ancient times in spring tonics.The brews purportedly have medicinal properties that are good for everything from detoxifying several organ systems to giving you an overall feeling of well-being.

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Plenty of modern pharmaceuticals have their base in herbal lore, but Western practitioners have typically been skeptical of the value of natural pick-me-ups. Recently, though, that skepticism has given way to a thriving industry of commercial products that are available year round. Yet if you'd like to try your hand at gathering fresh blooms and leaves while ye may (to paraphrase a line from the famous Robert Herrick poem) just be sure to forage and sip wisely. We'll start by giving you safety tips and then we'll list the most iconic weeds and wildflowers you can use to make cleansing elixirs.

Safety First

Remember that herbs are real medicine and can interact with other medications. Be sure to remind your doctor or your pharmacist of the full list of drugs you take, both OTC and prescription, and ask if certain herbs are contraindicated for you.

Avoid plants that may have been sprayed with herbicides or insecticides.Your safest bet is to grow your own, either in a kitchen garden or on your windowsill, but plants that abound in untamed areas such as roadsides or fields are probably OK as well.

Watch out for poisonous varieties. Stick to recommended plants and if you're ever in doubt about the identity of a plant, take a pass on that one! To avoid dangerous mistakes, look up pictures and descriptions of plants and herbs in a reliable guide or a trusted Internet site.

Don't be a scofflaw! Picking plants in national, state, or city parks and forests and on Native American reservations is illegal.

The Most Favored Plants for Tonics:

Nettle: This is the number-one choice of enthusiasts. The leaves are powerhouses of iron, calcium, minerals, fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K. You can steam and eat them as well as brew them for a tea.

Hawthorn: Sometimes called thornapple and said to be especially good for the heart, this one is best as a tea.

Dandelions: Yes, those yellow weeds that torture homeowners on a quest for the perfect lawn are actually great for infusing into a vigor-inducing drink. They are tasty as a steamed side dish as well. The putative claim that dandelions are "blood purifiers" may be false, but who knows?

Parsley: This one is supposed to good as a diuretic and as an aid for rheumatic conditions, so don't relegate the little green sprigs to the role of mere decorations. Steam them and make yourself some parsley tea! (Caution: For the young women in your life, remind them that parsley seeds should be avoided during pregnancy.)

Sassafras Root Bark Also known as cinnamon wood, this plant yields a tea that is widely believed to purify the blood and cleanse the kidneys.

Violets Who knew? Those pretty purple flowers can become a mildly sweet tea that users claim fights off colds and fevers. The leaves are considered valuable as well and they make a nice addition to your salads.

A final note: Herbalists say that spring tonics ought to be taken once a day for a week or two in order to do any good. Why not get creative by experimenting with combinations of several ingredients and come up with your personal version of this age-old rite of spring? Here's to your health!