Springtime Renewals: Drinking to the Vernal Equinox

By Romany Reagan

The vernal equinox is almost upon us. A time to hail the arrival of spring and to wake up our bodies and minds from a long winter’s cosy. This seasonal flux might feel a bit odd this year. We’re all welcoming the coming of spring from our stay-inside lockdowns, but we can create a feeling of renewal by brightening up our homes and cleansing our bodies to best prepare for the times ahead. 

Now—while a good spring cleaning is surely a wonderful thing for the spirit, when it comes to how I’ll embrace the season, I’d rather play with herbs in the kitchen than bust out a mop, so here’s my contribution to the Vernal Equinox: beverages! 

Detail of people drinking, from a treatise on the Seven Vices, 1330-1340, British Library

In rural Britain, it was traditional to drink dandelion and burdock cordials at the vernal equinox because these herbs were believed to help to cleanse the blood and are a good tonic for the body after its winter hardships. Dandelion is purported to boot immunity and reduce inflammation; burdock root is known as an antioxidant that clears toxins from the blood—but there have been countless other slightly more dubious uses noted through the centuries, from curing baldness to reducing fever with a poultice on the feet.

I’ve researched some dandelion and burdock recipes from the saintly to the sinful and put them together for you in the handy way-too-much-time-on-my-hands recipe cards below! 

***Unless you live in a rural area, you probably will want keep to social distancing guidelines and not forage your own dandelion and burdock. And also, unless you live in a rural area, you probably don’t have the faintest notion where to forage anyway. Luckily, the internet has you covered from the safe oasis of your couch: Dandelion here and Burdock here***

Dandelion & Burdock 

All hail the mighty dandelion! The name ‘dandelion’ comes from the French ‘dent de lion’, meaning ‘lion’s tooth’ from the toothed edges of their leaves. Digging up dandelion roots and drinking the expressed juice as a simple bitter was a common folk-cure for a disordered liver and dandelion sap was used to remove warts.

By the early 19th century, British medical botanists, Barton and Castle, wrote that use of burdock root had gone out of style, but offered a very thorough history of its use. It is unclear if burdock’s use was actually in decline amongst the common folk. 

“In 1833, Wooster Beach recommended the root or seed of burdock to be made into a decoction for ‘ulcers, rheumatism, and in all disease of the skin’. He also used the roots in a ‘medical beer’ [see Dandelion & Burdock Beer recipe below] aimed at purifying the blood, which is a use that held on for a long time in Southern folk medicine. Homeopathic physician Edwin Hale suggested that the official preparation was a tincture of the root and seeds. In the 1923 translation of Rosa Anglica, the introduction states that a decoction of burdock root and bogbean was still in common use as a blood purifier. It has also been reported that drinking the root decoction was effective against baldness. At some point, physicians started interchanging the part of the plant they recommended or using both the seeds and the root in a preparation.” (Hoffelt) 

If you aren’t already all a-tingle to get your vernal equinox cleansing project in full swing, this anecdotal evidence should have everyone brewing up a dandelion bounty: an announcement from The Times on 23 January, 1951, reads: “Mr William Weeds, of Caunsall, near Kidderminster, who was 100 years old last November, died yesterday. For 75 years he had taken daily a glass of dandelion wine, and contended that this beverage enabled his grandmother to live to be 103.” 

So, there you have it. Drink your dandelions, grind your burdock, and welcome in the season of renewal!

Bonus: for the truly adventurous, the Guardian has a guide here on how to make your own Dandelion and Burdock Beer! 

If that just sounds too healthy to be borne, we also have this Dandelion & Burdock Tonic, from all places Martha Stewart!

Our first bitters recipe comes from Practical Self Reliance:

This second, slightly more adventurous, bitters recipe comes from Joybilee Farm:

And these following concoctions I made up out of my self-isolation brain:

Enjoy! And a merry vernal equinox to all!

‘Holyday’, James Tissot, 1876, Tate Britain

References and further reading: 

Drury, Susan, ‘Plants and Wart Cures in England from the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century: Some Examples’, Folklore, 102:1, p97-100. Journal. 1991.

Hoffelt, Stephany, ‘The History of Burdock’ https://naturallysimple.org/living/2017/07/13/the-history-of-burdock/

Lake, F. Coote, ‘Folk Life and Traditions’, Folklore, 62:3, p404-405. Journal. 1951.

Newman, Leslie F., ‘Some Notes on the Pharmacology and Therapeutic Value of Folk-Medicines’, Folklore, 59:3, p118-135. Journal. 1948.

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