by Tammera J. Karr, PhD, BCHN, CGP, CNW
Cultures throughout the ages have celebrated the return of spring after a long, harsh winter by eating the first new greens available. Native Americans took advantage of fresh, wild plants to supplement their winter diets of dried foods; foraging in woodlands or near streams could bring in an entire meal of crisp flavorful and restorative greens.
Mushrooms often sprouted with the renewed moisture of spring; experts had to hunt for this very nutritious, but dangerous food. Women hunted dandelions, wild onions and leeks, ramps, chickweed, poke, and wild mustard (or a related plant called “creasy greens”) as soon as possible since many of these plants get more bitter as they grow older. Even young, tender leaves and shoots can be bitter, but these wild plants are very nutritious and have long been considered a tonic to wake up the liver and kidneys after a long winter diet of dried starches (like beans and pumpkin) and meat.
Traditional (Algonquin) Green Salad: One-part wild onions or leeks, chopped, and one and a half parts dandelion leaves, to four parts watercress. Add a small amount of sheep or wood sorrel, and then flavor to taste. Add a bit of maple syrup for sweetness, or use other traditional flavorings like salt, along with enough oil to coat the leaves.
Spring Food locally available: Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Broccoli, Cabbages, Curly Kale, Rhubarb, Leeks, Spring Greens, rabbit, lamb, Wild Salmon, steelhead, Crab, Oysters, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Chicory, Cockles, Cod, Hake, Parsley, Mint, Spring Onions. Lettuces, Radishes, Spring Greens, Sea Kale, Watercress, Morel Mushrooms, Wild Garlic, Sorrel, Rhubarb, New Potatoes, Halibut, Sea Bass, Lemon Sole, Spinach.
All and many more of the foods listed here are available in our local farmer’s markets. Eating seasonally provides us with an opportunity to rebalance our immune systems, restore vital nutrients, control blood sugars and weight, reduce heart disease and cancer risks, and improve digestion and cognition.
The Science for Seasonally Eating
According to research studies, nutrient content changes in foods depending on which seasons they were produced in. For example, in a study conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food in London, England researchers found that nutrient content was different in milk harvested in the summer versus winter. Because of the change in the cow’s diet to less fresh plants in the summer, these cows produced nutritionally different kinds of milk. Japanese researchers also found tremendous differences in the nutritional content of spinach harvested in summer versus winter.
A Stanford study backs seasonal eating for healthy Microbiome; published in the Science journal; researchers found that the microbes in the members of the Hadza tribe in Tanzania change dramatically with each season, in sync with seasonal changes made to their diet.
The study showed that certain gut microbes that reside within the gut in one season may almost disappear in the next – suggesting there are dramatic changes taking place in the microbiome from one season to the next. The researchers concluded that the Hadza tribe’s gut microbes and their digestion is cyclical, and in sync with the precise bio-rhythm of nature.
A study published by the University of Missouri confirmed the availability of local food as a key to improving food security. This is so very important for the low income of every community which is made up in large part by elderly and children. Most strategies to assist the hungry, including food banks, and providing food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are short-term, emergency solutions. Those who rely on these programs face daily shortages of fresh and healthy foods, which lead to poor diet choices, nutritional deficiencies, and health problems. An expert at the University of Missouri says the production of sustainable, locally grown foods is key to providing long-term food security for communities.
To local foods and our health.