My son and I were holed up at home yesterday feeling sick and sorry for ourselves, so I dug out a lovely book I got 2nd hand last year - A Soothing Broth by Pat Willard (1998). The subtitle is Tonics, Custards, Soups and Other Cure-Alls for Colds, Coughs, Upset Tummies, and Out-of-Sorts Days.
It’s a mix of essays, anecdotes and old-fashioned recipes, detailing Willard's personal journey to rediscover the lost art of ‘invalid cooking’.
In one chapter, entitled The Change in Seasons, Willard writes:
It is an age-old tradition among most of the world’s population to produce specific brews from native plants and roots just for the fall and spring. The spring elixirs were formulated to purge the blood and organs of sluggish waste (the by-products of heavy food and inactivity) so the body would regain its strength for the summer months …
Spring tonics are foods or drinks that usually contain the young shoots of wild spring greens. And as Willard says, ‘If it can’t be scientifically proven that they purify the system, they certainly hit it with a vitamin wallop.’
I often get sick during seasonal changeovers. Maybe, I thought yesterday, what my son and I need is a spring tonic.
In her spring tonic recipes, Willard focuses mainly on dandelions, but elsewhere I’ve seen recipes using chickweed, nettles and cleavers.
Since we’ve got loads of cleavers in our garden, and since I’ve never done anything with it before except stick it to my clothes for momentary amusement - I decided to try that.
Raw cleavers leaves taste mild and slightly salty, and some have just a faint bitterness. The texture is unpleasant though - like eating velcro. Cleavers is, I've read, a perfect candidate for juicing.
I spent a good 20 minutes in the garden snipping off nice-looking bits and filling a colander. We don’t have a juicer, so I whizzed it up in the blender (stems, leaves and all), then squeezed it through muslin.
My son and I each had a couple of tablespoonfuls added to homemade lemonade. Later we added some to rosehip cordial.
Both were nice, but we preferred the lemonade combo. I've written down my Cleavers Lemonade recipe at my recipe journal blog.