Finding My Roots: Enjoying Herbal Roots and Root Vegetables in a Late Spring

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I know what most Iowans (and other Midwestern denizens) are probably thinking right now: it seems like spring is never going to come.

Harvested Spring Dandelion Greens | Iowa Herbalist
Harvested dandelion greens in spring – something to look forward to soon (I hope)

I rarely write about how I feel personally in relation to the weather, nature, herbs, and whatever is around me on this website, not to mention even in my writing work. But it’s been strange seeing how my emotional state has been a parallel (or even a microcosm) of the stop-and-start spring we’ve been seeing over the past month: a glimmer of warm days ahead, only to get a dusting of 2-3 inches of snow and deep cold again instead.

It’s as if everything is saying: you’re not ready. Not yet.

Ginger Root and Powdered Turmeric | Iowa Herbalist

I haven’t felt ready for spring for several weeks.

It’s been a perfect echo of the weather here, but it’s not my usual self– and just as unusual as this weather. During the cold months I write more for a living, a perfect indoor activity for such a season. But come spring, I restlessly gear myself towards the outdoor work I do more of during the warmer months and the growing season on our farm.

As it tends to go, physical labor outdoors is something I really look forward to and achingly welcome after months of getting soft and pithy, sitting inside.

Only in this long winter, for some reason, I’m not.

Parsnip Roots | Iowa Herbalist
Delicious parsnip roots – roasted in the oven, they’re a perfect indoor hygge food.

Even as a farmer and herbalist, my work in the winter doesn’t stop since I’m also a writer. It just changes to work and pressure of a different nature.

It’s losing count of the cups of coffee I drink to meet staggered deadlines. Its skipping meals and getting that feeling like I’m getting more done somehow by doing that.

I haven’t been able to get a tropical vacation getaway like some people. Despite winter forcing me indoors, I haven’t quite rested and re-nourished– I haven’t had my break, and I think by not being ready for spring, it’s because I’m still chasing that rest and re-nourishment.

The other reason: I’ve been addicted to hygge lately. Staying inside, peering with a comfy feeling at yet more snow on the ground, sipping hot beverages with a satisfied feeling – I think I’m still addicted to the feeling of winter. I don’t quite want to let it go yet, before the busy farming season hits; there is still more rest and renourishing to do, I sense.

Calamus Roots | Iowa Herbalist
Harvested calamus roots grown in my home. Potent, healing, soothing, and very aromatic.

Apparently, this weather and the late spring agrees.

So what does this have to do with herbalism? Don’t worry, I’m getting there.

The excessive coffee and skipped meals, lately, have been coming at a price. I’m getting stuff done– but at the expense of something. My energy, my excitement to go outside, and obviously my overall outlook and, to some extent, my positivity, perhaps.

Though I’m not hauling shiitake logs and working the soil outdoors, my body– and especially my back– have been feeling the pain of too much sitting work, which tires me out even more. Overall, I have felt deficient and even ungrounded.

I’m ready for the growing and harvesting season to begin in my mind. But getting in touch with my body… I’m absolutely not. I’m not taking care of myself.

I’m not…. rooted.

So it was with a strange coincidence that, one evening recently during this bizarre and un-ending winter, instead of skipping dinner to meet a writing deadline, I baked a sweet potato.

Sweet Potato Closeup | Iowa Herbalist

Let’s just say that I’ve long loved sweet potatoes, but that it had been a while. But the sensation and flavor when I ate it this time around was eye-opening and amazing.

I’m not going to lie – it was near-orgasmic. Something my body (AND my mind) was deeply craving was suddenly satisfied.

And go ahead, think of me as a weird person for finding a vegetable so pleasurable.

The next time I was at the grocery store, needless to say I stocked up on a ridiculous amount of sweet potatoes. Ever since the re-encounter with this root veggie I’ve always had some affection for, the hunger was real. I couldn’t get enough.

Instead of skipping meals, I’ve been baking sweet potatoes instead. It’s almost felt like a medicine, something my body has sorely needed.

And, in a weird way that will never be proven by science– only in my empirical experience– it’s also felt like a medicine for my mind.

Sweet Potato | Iowa Herbalist

Following at the tail end of that, one evening I also ran out of decaf coffee. I’d been drinking it in the evenings for its roasted, toasted hygge feeling of comfort, one of the main reasons I love coffee in the first place (though the caffeine buzz is great, too).

I had a sudden remembering that I had store-bought dandelion root coffee in the cupboard (it may also have chicory root or burdock root in it too, but I’m not sure). Instead of bewailing my lack of comforting evening decaf or going to the store, I made a piping hot cup of that instead.

Again, just like the sweet potato root, it was absolutely amazing. It catapulted me into feelings of comfort, happiness, and feeling…

Rooted.

Roasted Chicory Root Coffee | Iowa Herbalist
Closeup of roasted chicory root coffee, a beloved beverage in Europe– and particularly countries like Belgium, where my family comes from.

It’s strange the way nature talks to us. Even stranger are the ways it provides us with exactly what we need.

Maybe winter tells you you’re not ready for spring yet by, well, simply not ending…yet. And maybe, for each of us, it’s got a different message depending on where we’re at.

Though I find it funniest of all that I stumble on the comfort of root vegetables and herbal roots precisely during a time when I need more nourishment and rooting.

It should be noted, too, that late spring is also the best time to harvest a lot of herbal roots– because the energy in these roots is just waking up in preparation for spring and flowering. That’s just when you want to nab them and dig them up: when they’re supercharged.

This might not apply to the delicious sweet potato and some other agricultural root crops we roast during winter, which are more frequently dug up in late fall. But it does apply to herbal roots like dandelion, burdock, and chicory, which I’ve been enjoying so deeply in the form of toasty late spring coffees as of late.

Chicory Flower | Iowa Herbalist
The flower of the chicory plant.

Instead of chugging coffee and nothing else to get through winter work, I’ve instead reconnected with these hearty root vegetables and herbal roots (or, at the very least, made a genuine effort to).

Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins A, C, B vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and even healthful fatty acids, for example. Studies also suggest they could be important natural therapies and future drug sources for fighting cancer and diabetes as an anti-inflammatory food.

Dandelions are known to contain all this nutrition too, as well as tons of vitamin K, plus the benefits of being an herbal digestive bitter. Studies also show they could protect the liver. With chicory as a very very close relative, it’s not so far-fetched to think it could have similar health perks.

And, as a result, am starting to feel more nourished and rooted than before.

I’m hoping and planning to grow sweet potatoes in the upcoming seasons at our farm, and to even roast my very own herbal roots coffee (recipe on harvesting/roasting to come, it’s still too cold to harvest these wonderul herbs yet– though you’ll find a nice baked sweet potato recipe below) from wild chicory roots and dandelions I will weed out and forage while farming.

More projects, more goals, more work to do when it’s warm.

But, still, slowly. Spring is far from being here yet.

So in the meantime, I’m going to keep rooting… for myself. In this winter that seems to have no end in sight, even in April, maybe you should try it, too.

Chicory Root Coffee | Iowa Herbalist
Dandelion and chicory root coffee.

Baked Sweet Potato Recipe

What you need: just one large medium- to large-sized sweet potato (so simple).

  1. Take your sweet potato and jab it all over with a fork, as evenly as possible. This way the heat can travel deep within the tuber to roast its insides as well.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
  3. Once heated, place your sweet potato on a cookie sheet or oven pan. Place in oven (I prefer the bottom rack but I don’t think that matters too much). Let roast for half an hour.
  4. After half an hour, flip it over. Put it back in the oven. Bake an additional half an hour, or until sweet potato caves in when poked with the blunt side of a fork– or when carmelized, sweet inner juices start crackling out of the fork holes.
  5. Remove from oven. Split open. Sprinkle with your additional desired accoutrements. Popular choices are a bit of sugar, butter, sliced nuts, sliced bananas, even almond butter or a drizzle of honey (or even a floral simple syrup).
  6. Eat, savor, and enjoy.

Baked Sweet Potato | Iowa Herbalist

Adrian White is a certified herbalist, farmer, and health, food, agriculture, and sustainability freelance writer. She regularly contributes to Rodale's Organic Life and Healthline with bylines in The Guardian and Civil Eats. She is owner of Deer Nation Herbs and Jupiter Ridge LLC, an organic farm. Hire her as a freelance writer for your projects or book an herbal educational health consultation with her if desired.

2 thoughts on “Finding My Roots: Enjoying Herbal Roots and Root Vegetables in a Late Spring

  1. Love this article! I can relate to the feelings of the not quite ready for Spring (physically) as it is snowing outside once again and covering our newly bloomed tulips. I now have a plan for dinner this evening, sweet potatoes.

    Thank you, Adrian.
    I love your blog 🙂

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