I became interested recently in the concept of a “spring tonic,” something I’d run across now and then in historical fiction, but was never too sure what it was. So, belatedly, I looked it up. One of the dictionary definitions of “tonic” is “something that invigorates, restores, refreshes or stimulates.”
So I dug further. Turns out a “spring tonic” is a tincture, tea, or soup made by boiling the early greens of spring, such as dandelions, rhubarb, sassafrass, and nettle. According to the trusty Farmer’s Almanac, “The early settlers were firm believers in the tonic effects of eating spring greens: they were said to stimulate the digestion, purify the blood, cure scurvy and ague, combat rheumatism, and repel kidney stones after a long cold winter of inactivity.
“Rich in vitamins and trace minerals, these cleansing greens and roots were prepared and drunk in early spring, providing much-needed nourishment and energy after a nutrient-poor winter. Tonics also stimulated the appetite, the circulation, and bodily functions as settlers got ready for physical farm labor.”
If you’d like to try making a spring tonic of your own, the Internet abounds with simple recipes. Just be sure you know what you’re doing; don’t use chemically-treated plants, and use only the stalks of rhubarb, never the leaves, as the leaves are poisonous.