The last of the spring tonics that I’d like to talk about is dandelion root. Dandelions have been a staple of the Ozark hillfolk diet for hundreds of years. It’s abundant and all parts of the plant can be used. Part of the importance of the spring tonic is in getting the body systems cleaned out and moving again after being stagnant in the winter. Used to people had a seasonal diet, meaning they would only be eating what was available during that season or what could be preserved and eaten later. My grandparents and great-grandparents used to can everything, from vegetables out of the garden, to meat, and even bread. This would insure a proper diet all year round even in the dead of winter.
The first settlers to this area weren’t so lucky to have a big garden every year, unless they were one of the valley dwellers with flat(ish) land and good soil. If you were out in the hills you’d be lucky to have a big enough spot of land to grow just enough for your family to eat. The hillfolk relied not only on what they could grow but also on what they could go out and find. This is part of the reason why spring tonics were so important. During the winter months hillfolk would be mostly eating root vegetables and what meat they could preserve and store during the warm months. Their diet wouldn’t be nearly as good as it was during the rest of the year. So come spring the hillfolk were ready to go out and gather up any greens and mushrooms that were newly popping up out of the soil. Spring tonics became a way for folks to “thin out the blood” which was often a euphemism for getting the bowels working again, after having been on a diet of hard to digest foods during the winter.
One such staple tonic was dandelion root. Hillfolk ate the greens and flowers year round (the flowers are amazing when battered and fried like fritters) but the root tea was most commonly taken as a spring tonic because of its diuretic and gentle laxative effect on the body and supposed ability to fortify the blood and liver. The root was often roasted then ground up and brewed like coffee or sometimes mixed with other tonic plants like sassafras, chicory, or sarsaparilla. I drink dandelion root tonic a few times a year, roasted like I mentioned above, it’s got a pleasant, almost sweet taste to it. It’s definitely a plant that lets you know it’s working, so be well aware that frequent bathroom trips are normal with this tonic.