Spring Serenade

Living in Harmony with the Seasons

Nettle Magic: Nourishing Nettle Recipes for Spring Wellness

This new column explores the intersection of food and herbs for health. The title “Medicine Meal” comes from the Japanese Yakuzen culture, which is about creating delicious, healthful meals using traditional Chinese medicine herbs and principles.


The rhythmic ebb and flow of each season gives us clues about living in harmony with nature. Although the transition between seasons can be subtle in Sonoma County, there are many lessons here from both traditional wisdom and observation of the natural world.

We’re currently in the middle of spring, which spans from late January to early May, with the vernal equinox in March considered the season’s peak rather than the beginning. Accordingly, the nature of the spring months is irregular, and we might observe a week of spontaneous rains and intense wind followed by green grasses and sunshine lighting up the rolling hills.

Although springtime is associated with images of baby animals and new beginnings, in reality, this season often leaves folks feeling restless, irritable, and uncomfortable (think body aches and stiff joints). Yet in nature, as in life, the most challenging seasons and transitions also hold potential for growth. This springtime edge helps thaw the stagnation of the winter months and shake off tired, old habits in favor of new experiences.

I think the most satisfying way to explore living in harmony with the seasons is through our daily food and drinks. Find seasonal produce at farmers’ markets, farm stands, CSAs, and local grocers like Jupiter Foods in Petaluma. As spring progresses, take advantage of the bounty of fresh produce, all of which can be incorporated into a tasty meal.

• Focus on light, crisp, and cooling foods—asparagus, peas, spring onions, kale, chard, bok choy, dandelion, chrysanthemum greens, and nettle.

• The tastes of spring are sour and spicy according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Try lemon, mandarins, kumquats, arugula, radish, pickles, and sauerkrauts from local makers like Golden State Pickle Works and Wild West Ferments.

• Experiment with quick and light cooking preparations like steaming, stir fry, and even a moderate amount of raw food.

• Spring is a traditional season for detoxification. Support the body’s natural capacity to gently cleanse by incorporating foods like miso, mung bean, mushrooms, seaweed, and nettles.


Makes 4 servings

This soup is a delicious example of how food can be medicine. Nettles are a mineral-rich and nutrient-dense herb that grow freely during the rainy spring season. They grow like a weed in Sonoma County, and if you have access to a nettle patch, you can make many batches of soup. Take care to wear gloves when harvesting fresh nettle leaves because the stem and underside of the leaves have hairs that sting the skin until cooked. Dandelion greens can be substituted in this recipe if you can’t find nettle.


2 Tbsp olive oil

2 leeks (white and light green parts), thinly chopped

2 zucchini, chopped

1 ½ cup fresh nettle leaves, stems removed (or ¾ cup dried nettle)

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (homemade broth is best)

3 Tbsp grass-fed unsalted butter, melted

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Crème fresh, sour cream, or pesto for serving

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and zucchini and sauté for a few minutes or until soft. Stir in the broth and nettles (or dandelion greens). Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, add the melted butter and use an immersion blender to blend into a creamy consistency. (If using a regular blender, blend in small batches and let the steam out carefully.) Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide into bowls, top with a dollop of crème fresh or sour cream and serve immediately.


Makes 1 cup

Nettle tea is known as a folk remedy that calms the nervous system, eases seasonal allergies, and heals musculoskeletal injuries. Nettles can be like an herbal multivitamin with many nutrients, including iron and calcium. According to TCM, nettle’s salty nature speaks to kidney energy, which has an energetic influence on the bones and nervous system. I add oat straw and oat tops to my tea because they are considered nerve tonics, meaning that they can benefit the nervous system and build resilience to stress when taken over time. Adding ginger root and tangerine peel gives this tea a delicious flavor and also invigorates Qi (energy) in the body according to TCM—a quintessential drink in the medicine meal tradition.


1 tsp dried nettle

1 tsp oat straw and/or tops, dried (optional)

½ inch fresh ginger root (optional)

1-inch strip of fresh tangerine or orange peel (optional)

To make a cup of tea, place one heaping teaspoon of nettle in a teapot. Add the oat straw/tops, ginger, and tangerine peel to the teapot if using. Pour 1 cup of boiling water (200° F) over herbs and cover and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and drink immediately. The medicinal dose is 1-2 cups daily for one week. Continue drinking the tea as you please if you notice that the tea makes you feel calmer and more resilient to stress and pain.

Dried nettle, oat straw, and oat tops (loose-leaf) can be found at Rosemary’s Garden in Sebastopol and farmers’ markets, or check out Traditional Medicinals Organic Nettle Tea, available at many local markets.

Erin Masako Wilkins is an Asian American herbalist, Japanese acupuncturist, and the author of Asian American Herbalism: Traditional and Modern Healing Practices for Everyday Wellness. She owns the online tea shop Herb Folk, teaches virtual and in-person workshops, and is faculty at the California School of Herbal Studies and Land of Verse.

Disclaimer: Be sure to identify plants properly when foraging for wild plants. Exercise caution and seek guidance from experienced foragers. Consult a qualified healthcare professional before taking new herbal supplements or changing your diet, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, immunocompromised, or on medication. As always, seek outside help if something doesn’t feel right for you.

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