19th century Parisian flower girl

Recipe Monday! Spring Tonics

I missed spring. The vernal equinox came around on March 19th, the earliness since 1896 so I don’t feel so bad. I was also busy trying to come to terms with the whole stay-at-home-and-inside situation.

Some fun facts about 1896:

Buffalo Bill Cody founded Cody, Wyoming.

Utah became the 45th state in the Union.

The first official college basketball game was played–University of Iowa vs University of Chicago. Chicago won, 15/12.

Winnipeg won the Stanley Cup.

The first summer Olympics were held in Athens, Greece.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation in Plessy v Ferguson under the “separate but equal” doctrine.

The presidential election pitted William McKinley (R) against William Jennings Bryan (D). The big issue revolved around competing economic solutions to pull the country out of a deep depression. While McKinley won, the election led to the formation of the modern Progressive Party and was considered the first “great struggle of the masses…. against the privileged classes.”

Some not so fun facts about 2020:

Wyoming and Utah were among the last states to institute stay-at-home orders and, then, only in some places.

Basketball, the Stanley Cup and summer Olympics have been called off.

Plessy v Ferguson was overturned in 1954 as part of the Brown v the Board of Education ruling. However, in a shade of the “separate but equal” doctrine, blacks have lost jobs and are dying at a higher rate from the the virus due in part to discrimination and racism.

The country’s economic revival will again be a central issue in the 2020 presidential election and many of the ideas put forth by the modern Progressive Party are already seeping into the Democratic platform. Hopefully, the results will be different than in 1896.

But who cares about all that? Spring is here and it’s time to rejuvenate our bodies and spirits in the form of historical tonic recipes. Three require gathering fresh herbs. (The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine is a good source for safely identifying and gathering herbs.) Two are vinegar base, a safe ingredient that has been valued for centuries for medicinal use. I have made and tasted all the recipes. While I can’t vouch for their scientifically proved effectiveness, they are certainly bracing.

Still being sold in England today–at 15% proof alcohol it will not help you with the kids!

A Spring Tonic
15 meadow plants, leaves and roots, gathered while they’re still young*
1 bottle good white wine
1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 cups good fruit brandy (homemade is best)

Clean the meadow plants under a strong stream of water. Shred the leaves and dice the roots. Place the leaves and roots in an earthenware or glass jug or bowl and pour the wine over the plants. Cover with a cloth and let steep for at least 3 days, stirring occasionally.

Remove cover and pour the wine and plants into a stainless steal sauce pan. Bring to a boil over a medium flame. Remove from heat and strain the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. Press the leaves and roots with the back of a spoon to extract any remaining juices. Discard the leaves and roots.

While the liquid is still hot, add the honey, stirring until the honey dissolves. Let cool completely. Add the fruit brandy and stir.
Pour the liquid into a container (a wine bottle is preferred but you can also use a plastic milk carton) and let sit in a dark cool place until the following spring. It can be bottled or used directly from the container
Take two tablespoons morning and at night.

*Suggested plants: Licorice, milk thistle, yellow dock, wild thyme, burdock root, dandelion, beets, parsnip, carrots, lovage, chicory root, wild yam root, nettle leaves, violets–leaves and flower, mint, mustard greens, chickweed, watercress, wild arugula.

A Tonic Soup for Convalescents

(Recommended by Dr. John Fothergill, 1712-1780)

6 cups water
2 sweet onions, sliced
2 fresh burdock roots
1/4 cup yellow dock root
½ cup dandelion roots
1 fresh young beet
1 young parsnip
1 new potato, medium diced
2 young carrots
2 ounces kelp
1 lovage stalk, chopped
1 cup chopped dandelion leaves
1 cup chopped yellow dock greens
1 large garlic clove, diced

Fill a large soup pot with the water and add the onion, roots, beets, parsnip, potato, carrots, lovage and kelp. Bring to a simmer over a low flame and cook for about 30 minutes, or until roots and vegetables are tender.

Add greens and garlic and simmer only a few minutes more, just until the greens are wilted.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Dandelion Salad

(As told to me by Miss Glover, Atlanta Georgia, circa 1979)

1 bunch fresh young dandelion leaves, coarsely shredded
4 strips bacon
1 firm sweet onion, cut into thin slices
salt and pepper to taste
3 to 4 tablespoons good cider or herb-flavored vinegar

Sort through the dandelion leaves and discard stems and any leaves that seem tough. Place in a large salad bowl.

In a skillet, saute the bacon until crisp. Add the onions and briefly cook, turning once or twice just to wilt. Remove bacon and onions with a slotted spoon and mix in with the dandelion leaves, tossing briefly. (You don’t want to drain the bacon and onions, but let the grease gently coat–not drown–the leaves.)

Sprinkle the salad with salt and pepper and the vinegar. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Makes 2 servings.

Two Vinegar Tonics

An Amish recipe

1 tablespoon fresh cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
½ cup cold water
Mix the vinegar and honey with the water in a tall glass. Drink in the morning.

Recommended not only as an appetite suppressant but for kidney troubles and hay fever.
Makes 1 serving.

An Oxycrate

(Recommended by Dr. Robert Wallace Johnson, Nurse’s Guide and Family Assistance 1719/1720)

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 ½ ounces honey
1 quart water

Mix all together in a bottle and cork.
Take 1 tablespoon in the morning.

5 thoughts on “Recipe Monday! Spring Tonics

    1. Ah, thank you! On another note, here’s how stupid I am…..I couldn’t figure out why I never got email notices of your posts and I had to go looking for them, which was fine because I love them but I didn’t want to miss them. Finally, today, I found the damn setting thing and now will receive them as soon as you write them. A happy day!

  1. Dearest Pat, thank you as ever for your fabulous posts. Every morsel is delicious. And if you hadn’t mentioned the Spring Equinox, I would have no idea. Just one thing I must mention: Wyoming. It’s really not fair (or mathematically rational) to call out WY on social distancing. There are 109 acres for every person in Wyoming, and Wyomingites have practiced a masterful balance of social responsibility and social distancing for generations. That is the very definition of high plains tundra culture. Also, WY (as a territory) gave women the right to vote in 1869, before even becoming a state, and well before 1896. (Politically motivated? Me no-know)… but the state backed it up by being the first to let women serve on juries (1870), be court bailiffs (1870), serve as justice of the peace (1870) –no, that was NOT the same woman–and elect a woman governor (1924). But good god! There is no kelp in WY, and I’m just grateful to be able to access the ingredients in your beautiful tonics here on the east coast xo

    1. You’re absolutely right. I goofed. I know people out west are among the most selfless citizens we have and in their sparse landscape know the importance of looking out for one another which is the essence of what is needed now. And a great big thank you for letting me know about the state’s women history. I ran right up to read some more about it. Along the way I found a 1921 photo of the Jackson town council–all women, each and every one looking like life would be a little richer knowing them. I wish I could post it here. Finally–and the least of it–thank you for the kind words. It helps to keep going! P.S.: You can use dried Japanese seaweed, the kind used in sushi. If you can’t find it in local markets, you can also order it on line. Just crumple it in with everything else. Will set you right up!