While much of the U.S. is still burdened and buried by winter, spring does seem a long way off. But it's easy to forget that for people of the past, this truly was the most difficult time of the year. All the food that had been stored away in the fall was mostly gone by now, and the few lone onions and moldy turnips remaining in the cellar must have looked unappetizing indeed.
In many parts of Europe and North America, the earliest new plants to sprout in the spring were stinging nettles, right. The young, tender leaves were carefully gathered and boiled to neutralize their sting, then relished as a "fresh" vegetable, the first on the table in many months. It's a healthy vegetable, too, full of protein and iron, with the taste of spinach. Still, when our modern groceries can offer us strawberries all year round, I doubt anyone today joyfully greets the first stinging nettles as a true harbinger of spring.
I took the pictures, above, of the formal, 18th c. style English gardens in Colonial Williamsburg very early one morning last April, 2009. The leaves were new and feathery in the trees and the grass had that first sharp green of the season. Proof that, even after this particularly nasty winter, spring WILL come!