Ephemeral: something that lasts for a very short time
Fresh: new or recently made, as being not spoiled or not preserved, or as being energized or not tired.
Spring is a time like no other. After the utter desperation of winter, we are starved for vibrant life and color. I have heard the season described as “holy” which I think is an apt description of the feeling (the … passion?) that comes over those of us who live in four-season climates when the first blooming flowers and bright green shoots emerge after so many dark months. And then, as if in the blink of an eye, it’s all gone and the days are sweltering.
Aside from the reawakening that spring excites in us, there are some treats that this season offers which can be found at no other time of year, from tender green edible herbs and greens, to flowers that bloom for only a few days, to lawns carpeted in snowdrops and then squills within the span of a few weeks. Lawns you would have thought to be simply lawns can carry amazing latent beauty ready to spring up and die all within the span of a few weeks. In this post I highlight some ephemeral spring herbs and flowers and their preparations that you don’t want to miss – before they’re gone.
Fresh Spring Herbs
Most herbs taste best when they have only just emerged: the stems and leaves are young, tender, and fresh. Lovage is an early, classic spring herb that is not to be missed. Although it tastes fine later in the season, it is at its best early in the season with its delicate, slightly pinkish stems.
Lovage is a close and underrated cousin to celery, but much easier to grow and its a perennial. Why do I love perennials? In the context of a climate that basically shuts everything down for a significant portion of the year, perennials are great because they outlive that brutal cold and require far less work and maintenance.
Lovage has somewhat of a licorice or anise flavor compared to celery. I dry the leaves both alone and with salt to use just as I would celery leaves or celery salt. The stems have more of that anise flavor which makes an interesting addition, in small quantities, to soups and other green situations. It also makes a (surprisingly) good simple syrup whether for cocktails, teas, or lemonade.
I made a genius discovery recently which is that marmalade is basically concentrated lemonade.
1 half pint of marmalade
Juice from 6 lemons and 4 oranges (honestly I made this up, you could use more or less or any combination of citrus juice you want, including store bought because hand squeezing sucks)
2 quarts water
Optional: rosewater or orange blossom water
Optional: 1 tbsp lovage syrup
Shake the marmalade up with the juice and water. A few drops of the rosewater or orange blossom water make it divine.
Depending on the fineness of the marmalade you get, this will be pulpy. If you aren’t the pulpy sort, then don’t make this. If you are, make this and be sure to shake it up before you drink it.
Fresh Bitter Spring Greens
I have already proclaimed my love of greens in Eat Your Greens. In that post, I mentioned bitter greens in passing, but I think they deserve far more attention because they are healthy, diverse, and easy to grow or forage.
“Bitter” is a flavor that is not commonly represented in American food preferences. Bitter greens are popular in Europe and especially the Mediterranean, where it is common to see radicchio and chicories in grocery stores and market produce stands. One look at the “chicory” section of one of my favorite seed companies, Seeds From Italy, will blow your mind as to the diversity of this type of plant and how valued it is in this region of the world.
Many bitter greens can be harvested in the wild or easily grown at home; some have gained in popularity and can be found in American grocery stores (namely chicory, radicchio, endive, and sometimes even dandelion greens). They often taste best when just emerging…. Wait one week too long and the stems and leaves become tougher and less palatable.
Every year, my amazing boss, friend, and Greece native, Jean Creighton, fulfills a springtime ritual: She descends upon her front suburban yard, lops off those pesky dandelion greens as her neighbors gaze on from their lawn mowers in disbelief, and cooks the fresh young leaves into what she has described to me as a decadent and illusory part of her springtime meals. According to Wikipedia, people in Greece cook up “at least 80 different kinds of greens … depending on the area and season, including black mustard, dandelion, wild sorrel, chicory, fennel, chard, kale, mallow, black nightshade, lamb’s quarters, wild leeks, hoary mustard, charlock, smooth sow thistle and even the fresh leaves of the caper plant.” Sounds fun and healthy to me.
“Trim the root and wash the dandelions (ideally so that the stems remain intact). In a large pot put 1-2 inches of water at the bottom and bring the water to a boil (you don’t want them drowned but they do better in water than in just steam). Put dandelions in for 5-10 min. I check them in 5 minutes to see if they are tender. The earlier in the season the less time they need to cook. When I am happy with the doneness, I remove them from the water and add salt, lemon, and olive oil. Yum.”
Fresh Spring Tea
It’s a treat to pick young, newly emerged herbs and fresh flowers to make a nice piquant spring tea. Use it as an excuse to go flower and herb hunting as you begin to reawaken your senses after a long winter drought. Bring a jar, go for a walk in the woods, add your (edible) specimens, and fill with water. Spring in liquid form!
On your walk, you might find many options for your spring tea bouquet: catmint, wild bergamot, spring beauties, purple deadnettle, chickweed, strawberry or raspberry leaves, creeping Charlie, catnip, nettle, violets. These are just things that I am familiar with where I live. What about where you live?
Happy flower hunting and spring rejuvenation!