BLOG 26: Witnessing the first green plants emerge in spring is very exciting for us North-Easterners. These guys certainly make us happy to see them after all the snow melts. Imagining how quickly they respond and grow to the initial tilting of the earth towards the sun is astonishing proof of how healthy and strong they are in the plant world. Did you know that many of the first greens on the block, like dandelions, chickweed and nettles, for example, actually give the gift of physical and mental vitality to us if we consume them. Coincidence? I think not. Have you not noticed your cravings for greens increase with the Earth’s tilt towards the sun? Long winters take a toll on our physical and mental health and our cravings for greens is a cry for help. These emerging miracle plants are just Mother Nature doing her thing at the right time as usual. Collecting Spring greens is very important to foragers because they have experienced the vitality kick greens give them. As I’ve preached manys times, there is nothing comparable to eating freshly picked live plants.
With the exception of a fresh farmer’s market, most produce we consume are from the supermarkets and are ‘dead’. Tasty for sure, but with no vitality, especially if they weren’t sun-ripened BEFORE being picked and shipped to us North-Easterners. They have not been sun-kissed and therefore not naturally energized. I believe those who depend on imported ‘dead’ produce eat less veggies because their bodies simply do not crave them. We need food to live so avoiding sun-kissed veggies allows those old ancient survival genes to be triggered and these genes crave sugar, salt and fat for a quick survival fix. We all know what happens when we forgo veggies for sugar, salt and fat...we lose our vitality and get on the road to ill health. Greens are alkalizing to our bodies and disease cannot live or thrive in a alkaline ph balanced body. Not eating enough greens and alkalizing foods makes us acidic, as does negative thought, stress and anger. In my past experience as a health food store manager and supplements consultant for many years, I have seen miracles happen with customers simply adding green food supplements to their diet. Also If we eat enough greens all those many common nagging acidic ailments like itches, headaches, cramps, etc disappear in the first week!.
Okay as you read this, I know what you are thinking...Spring has sprung already so what greens can I forage during the summer? Well I’m happy to tell you that spring greens grow all summer too but we need to eat the tender new young leaves only. There is a superstar plant out there to forage all summer. A plant that is a universal favourite of most herbalists because when they are in doubt of a specific remedy to help a client they at least know this superstar plant will come to the rescue and be helpful in any situation. That plant is Stinging Nettle or Urtica Dioica for you latin lovers. Its medicinal uses are plentiful because of its alkalizing effects and the fact that it is a multi-vitamin and multi-mineral plant you can consume daily as a steamed vegetable, tonic tea or vinegar. Steamed nettles taste just like spinach and are yummy by the way. They are excellent as a replacement to basil in Pesto.
Yes, Stinging Nettle does have a negative reputation due to its formic acid, histamine and acetycholine mix delivered through its fine hairs. Formic acid is the same ingredient found in bee stings and ant bites that cause blisters and a temporary burning sensation on our skin. The burning can last up to 24 hours in some. The good news is that the ability to sting is neutralized when you dry, steam, boil or blend the nettle leaves in a smoothie. Gloves and pants need to be worn when harvesting Nettles to avoid the sting. Perhaps you or your child has in the past ran through a field and mysteriously got stung all over from something forming blisters? Ya, that be Nettle. Thankfully herbs that soothe the burning are always close at hand. Herb leaves like dock and plantain are usually living right next to Nettles. Chew these leaves to a pulp and spit them out and spread it on the affected burning area for instant soothing relief. By the way, dock and plantain leaf poultices are excellent for bee stings and other bites too. The nutritional content and medicinal uses of Stinging Nettles are plentiful. According to my Herbalist teacher, Rosemary Gladstar, this extremely nourishing, strengthening and versatile herb been used since antiquity for food, cordage, fabric, dyes and medicine. Its use covers many ailments of the urinary tract, liver, digestive tract, reproductive and respiratory system. She stresses that nettles are deeply nourishing and revitalizing due to its highly digestible form of vitamins and minerals and excellent for nourishing the body from vitamin deficient ailments and after any lengthy illness or prolonged stress. As a daily tonic tea, nettles are excellent for our whole body’s physical and chemical functions and to strengthen our vitality. No need to spend $50 monthly on green supplements or buy ‘dead’ spinach and kale for your morning smoothie. Simply find your nearest reliable perennial patch of nettles and harvest them. They will appear in the same spot every year. They are probably hanging in your yard right now. It is an invasive plant so one must eat it to control it in the yard. How interesting is that force of Nature? Very interesting! Please leave them in your yard, according to the Herbal Academy, they are good companion plants for increasing the flavour of other plants, reducing bug infestations and they make a good mulch and compost. Its trying it’s hardest for you to let it stay so be nice. Nettles are perennial and like full sun and slightly damp soil. It likes to hang around creeks and running water and nitrogen rich soils. Their stems are square and the nodes have two leaves that are opposite from each other. The leaves are toothed and long oval shaped. The leaves and stalk are covered in tiny stinging hairs. I believe it’s burn is the perfect way to get our attention as this plant is entirely green with no colourful flowers or showy features. Without the burn we would overlook this plant for sure. With all it’s wonderful properties it definitely needs our attention. As a food or medicinal tea, we harvest only the tops of the plant just before it flowers. The roots and seeds are not eaten but are used medicinally. Today, the roots are found in most male formulas for the prostate gland. Nettle leaf tea or tincture can be readily bought in any health food store buts that’s just silly as its freely available to all of us to forage. Nettles contain: protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, selenium, zinc, potassium, boron, vitamins A, B, C, E and K, bioflavonoids, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and chlorophyll. Nettles have been used for hundreds of years for anemia, muscle cramps, eczema, gout and arthritis. Now get out their and pick some for dinner as your vegetable tonight. Don’t forget to teach a child to recognize this stinging wonder and how to quickly soothe the sting with dock or plantain so they don’t come home crying and covered in blisters and freaking you out. Instead you can grab your scissors and basket and run over and harvest the Nettles for dinner.
This article was written for and was published in the June edition 2019 of the Madawaska Highlander.
Simple Nettle tea tonic:
1 teaspoon of dried nettle to every cup of water. Simmer in freshly boiled water for 20 minutes. For tonic purposes its best to drink three cups daily so make a three day batch (2 ¼ litres) and consume within three days.
Gladstar, Rosemary. The Art and Science of Herbalism course material.
Grieve, Maud. A Modern Herbal.
Foster, Duke and Peterson. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America (Peterson Field Guide)
Peterson and Peterson. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America