Herbs With Kids – Springtime!
April 2024, Children, Island Resilience

Herbs With Kids – Springtime!

By Jane Valencia

Spring is here, and behold! Many of our beloved herbs are in vibrant form, with new leaves unfurling and some actually in flower. This is a fine time for you and your children to forage for herbs, as the new growth that beckons us mirrors the vitality the plants impart to us. Young leaves that are edible now likely won’t be so later when they become bigger and tougher.

Many “weedy” plants are mineral-rich tonic herbs, and help to cleanse the body of the congestion that illness and the winter’s heavier foods can bring. Even just nibbling on them can be refreshing to the spirits, as well as our bodies. Your children may already be familiar with some of the plants below, as they tend to be favorites. Furthermore, all of the plants mentioned here are wonderful for infusing in vinegar. Please see the “Springtime Vinegar Recipe” included in this article.

Important note: Before harvesting herbs, please learn or review some plant safety basics. Read my August 2023 article, “Herbs with Kids – Plant Safety Basics and a Few Summer Remedies.”

Look for the following in disturbed, open areas, such as your yard, or perhaps your garden:

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

This delicious, nutrient-dense, and juicy herb is wonderful to eat as you pick, or to include in a salad. In a vinegar, it lends a subtle mineral flavor. Chickweed is a gentle, effective remedy for soothing hot, inflamed skin conditions, such as insect bites, scrapes, and itchiness.

It also makes for a cooling, gentle remedy for pink eye (conjunctivitis). Pound some chickweed to make a green and gooey mass, or “poultice.” Place the poultice on your inflamed, closed eye (note: make separate poultices for each eye, and do not interchange or reuse the poultices). When the poultice gets warm (every 10 minutes or so), replace it with a fresh poultice. Do this several times a day for 2-3 days.

Dandelion flower and leaf (Taraxacum officinale) – The young leaves are a spring tonic, and help aid digestion. The flower is a favorite among Islanders for making into dandelion fritters. Make up a batch of simple pancake batter. Then either (1) add the flowers to the batter and cook them up as you would pancakes. Or (2) dip the flowers in the batter and fry up the coated flowers. That’s it!

Kids and the kid in you may especially enjoy herbal fritters drizzled with another plant’s tasty gift: maple syrup. For savory fritters, eliminate the sugar, and, if you wish. add spices or other herbs.

Be sure to read Dandelion by Dr. Leigh Siergewitz, published in last month’s Loop, for medicinal information about this plant, as well as more ideas for preparing it as food or beverage.

Purple archangel, more commonly known as purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) – This herb has many common names, including henbit. When I witnessed one of my hens nibbling this plant, I knew why! Myself, I prefer to call this plant purple archangel. With its tiny-lipped flowers and many pairs of small “wings” (leaves), this weed resembles miniature dragons, or perhaps cherubim or seraphim. For its imaginative inspiration alone, I court them. I browse on the leaves and flowers, and also include them in my springtime vinegars. There is a subtle “green” flavor, distantly reminiscent of nettle.

Nettle (Urtica dioica) Eat your nettles! Drink your nettles! So much green goodness exists in this plant. But how do you eat this plant without getting stung? One can harvest nettle bare-handed and get minimally stung – and one can eat a leaf raw, by folding the leaf in on itself and crushing it so that all the stinging hairs break, and the leaf becomes juicy. But these practices are best learned in person from someone familiar with nettle.

If you and your children are new to nettle harvesting, you can avoid getting stung by moving carefully around the nettles, and by wearing gloves. Use scissors or clippers to cut off what you want. Harvest just the top three pairs of leaves, and from young plants before they flower.

You can chop the nettles and include them directly in your vinegar. They will lend a lovely rose color to it.

When using nettles to cook, I plunge them briefly in just-boiled water to deactivate the stinging hairs. I do this even when I plan to sauté the nettles or bake with them. That’s just my extra precaution in relation to nettles, as cooking in oil or baking them can often work fine on their own to deactivate the stings.

I include nettle in stir-fries, omelets, lasagna and more – using them like kale or spinach in these dishes.

To find out a lot more, read Kathy Abascal’s article “It is Nettle Time,” published in February 2023.

Cleavers (Galium aparine) – At this stage in spring, cleavers are not so good to eat raw, as they are starting to get more pronounced hairs that can irritate the throat, or the skin of some when handled. But you can chop this herb up and add them into a vinegar, where they will lend their mineral-rich goodness.

Cleavers also promote lymphatic drainage when made into tea or tinctured (a topic for another time). Also called “sticky-whicky” by Island children, cleavers will, by late spring, have grown into long lanky, hairy strands that stick to things. Kids love to grab lengths of cleavers and decorate themselves with crowns and garments made of the plant, or sneak up on friends and decorate them. Cleavers can be made into balls, hoops, and much more. Playing with them leads to ingenuity!

Other springtime herbs you might forage Eat from the plant or include in your herbal vinegar:

Violet (Viola tricolor, V. odorata, and others) – leaves or flowers

Bittercress, also known as shotweed, hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) – for its peppery taste; maybe just a few pinches of the flower or leaf

Plantain (Plantago major, P. lanceolata) – leaf; this humble plant is so worth getting to know

Douglas fir – new needles

Salmonberry – blossoms (if in abundance) and new leaves

Wild cherry – blossoms

Bigleaf maple – flowers; these are great for fritters.

Many more are possible! Do your due diligence in researching herbs. Be careful to use reliable sources. It’s best to consult with specialists you trust. Do not rely on AI-generated content. See this article online for a pointer to reliable resources.

You can also include herbs from your garden, such as rosemary, lemon balm, mint, or thyme. With aromatic herbs such as these, you may wish to use just a little bit. You and your children can taste and decide.

Springtime Herbal Vinegar

Vinegar effectively extracts minerals from herbs while also imparting its own health benefits. These benefits include aiding digestion, helping to regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol, and helping with skin health. When enjoyed with high-mineral foods, vinegar’s acidity helps our bodies to assimilate those minerals. Infusing vinegar with springtime herbs charges our vinegar with additional benefits as a tonic. Combine with olive oil, and add a little garlic or other enjoyable ingredients to make a salad dressing.

Have on hand:

One sterile jar (any size), plus a plastic lid or piece of wax paper. Vinegar is corrosive to metal. Be sure to use a plastic lid, or line a metal lid with natural wax paper.

Vinegar: Use organic if possible. Choices include raw apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar.

A mild-tasting vinegar will allow the herbal flavors to be more pronounced. Using a vinegar that is pale will allow any colors the herbs may impart to be more apparent.


  1. Gather appropriate herbs
  2. Allow them to “wilt” – to dry out for several hours or perhaps for a day if they are especially juicy.
  3. Chop the herbs and loosely fill the jar, leaving at least 3/4″ below the rim.
  4. Pour vinegar to completely cover the herbs, to about 1/2″ below the rim.
  5. Stir the herbs, and make sure they are entirely covered by the vinegar. I like to use a chopstick to stir.
  6. Screw on a plastic lid or a lid lined with wax paper; place the jar in a cool, dark cabinet for up to 4-6 weeks.
  7. Stir daily for the first week, and then every 3 days or so. Taste at the end of the first week, and each time you stir it thereafter. Your herbal vinegar is ready when it tastes good, which could be as short as a week, or as long as 4-6 weeks.
  8. Strain your herbal vinegar through a coffee filter into a clean, sterile bottle or jar.
  9. Store your herbal vinegar in the refrigerator and use within 6 months. If it ever looks or smells “off,” toss it into your compost or yard.

Tonic dosage: Start by taking up to 3 teaspoonfuls (child) or tablespoonfuls (adult) daily.

Note: Springtime herbal vinegars using the herbs above are gentle tonics. However, if you are taking pharmaceuticals, are allergic to certain plants, or have other health concerns, consult with appropriate resources or with your health provider to discern which herbs are right for you to include.

May you and your children enjoy the tastes and friendly medicine of spring!


Purple Dead Nettle (aka Henbit, Purple Archangel)

As an edible, plus interesting facts:

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) by Juliet Blankespoor –


Purple Dead Nettle: Nutrition and Recipes - https://theherbalacademy.com/purple-dead-nettle/


12 Nettle Recipes To Add To Your Cookbook – by Jackie Johnson, N.D.

Rosalee de la Foret has produced a number of monographs (articles) and videos on herbs we tasted or talked about, among them: Chickweed, Cleavers, Nettle, Violet, Plantain

Go to: https://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/Herbs.html

A Pointer to Reliable Resources

Risks of Using AI in Herbalism by Juliet Blankespoor

Making Herbal Vinegar

Making Herbal Vinegars by Donna Onacki https://theherbalacademy.com/making-herbal-vinegars/

Violet Springtime Fairy Vinegar: A Mineral-Rich Spring Tonic by Juliet Blankespoor with Meghan Gemma – https://chestnutherbs.com/violet-springtime-fairy-vinegar/

April 8, 2024

About Author

jane Jane writes about what it means to be an Islander, and how we can nourish healthy community. A harper, storyteller, and herbalist, she also shares tales and art that she is sure the Island told her. Having lived with her family on Vashon for 20+ years, she is convinced of the Island's magic.