Spring is Nettle Season!

I’m sure you’ve heard of nettles. There are two kinds I’m talking about here: Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) and Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum.) Both plants come up in your yard and fields in early to mid Spring, and both are edible and medicinal!

Dead nettles taste better before they flower…. honestly, most herbs in Spring time taste was better before they flower, when the greens are young and fresh. However, both types of “nettle” can be eaten raw, but better cooked, from about early April through mid-May.

I’m not going to go super extensively into every medicinal aspect of each herb here. As you know, I prefer to blog about my personal experiences with the herbs and how I work with them. There are dozens of places online (including the links above) where you can find detailed Materia Medica information on each herb.

I will tell you now that one of the primary things I work with nettles for (and that both of these plants make excellent remedies for) is Seasonal Allergies. You know… this time of year when the weather man is giving you “Pollen Level” alerts and you start seeing a yellow powdery coating on your car when you leave for work in the morning. The days when as soon as you step outside, your nose starts running and your eyes start to itch.

Everyone hates that part about Spring. But the plants have innate intelligence–Nettles knows that while all the trees are busy having tree sex (that’s where most of the pollen comes from,) it’s their time to show you how much they love and can help you! I’m trying to say that stinging nettle and dead nettle come up in spring as remedies to the allergic reactions all the other plants are giving your face.

I collect the tops of nettles and chop them up fresh to make a vodka-based tincture. A strong infusion also works well, as does the herb ground up and encapsulated (though I find you need at least 4 capsules a day, which seems like a lot compared to how little tincture is effective at staving off your sniffles.)

How to pick Stinging Nettle

I use this same method (seen above) to pick all my nettles. They make an amazing pesto too! Stinging nettle is a Nutritive herb, meaning it is full of minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K, and more! I add stinging nettle to any tea blend for a client that needs a boost to their nutrition; if you ingest enough of it it’s like eating the herbal equivalent to a multivitamin.

One final thing about Stinging Nettle is that its seeds are purported to be the BEST kidney and urinary tract tonic in existence! A good point to remember if you know anyone suffering with kidney disease. I just wish I could figure out the trick to harvesting nettle seeds…

Purple Dead Nettle isn’t quite as nutritive, but it still has a lot of similar amazing properties and is a plant worth working with, especially if you can’t find a patch of stinging nettles. You can use it as a green vegetable (just like throwing kale in your stir fry or smoothie) or create a medicinal tincture with it as well. The leaves are slightly fuzzy and soft, and the flavor is more bland than that of stinging nettles. But it’s still got more vitamins in it than most commercial greens!

The last time I got sick (the kids brought home a virus from school) I took my wobbly butt out to the back yard and picked a basket of stinging nettles, chickweed, dandelion greens (this was April so they were still tasty,) and wild onions. I went back into the house and steamed the stinging nettles (a practice I highly recommend before eating them, as it takes their “sting” out) and threw everything into the food processor along with a little lemon juice, some olive oil, grated parmesan cheese, and a small handful of black walnuts. Then I boiled some gluten-free pasta up, added my pesto, and ate a big bowl of it!

I’m not joking when I say this: I ate this meal around noon time, on a day I was feeling woozy and my head was spinning every time I stood up and walked around. By 5pm I was right as rain! Stinging nettles are no joke, man…

Do you need help foraging for wild foods and medicines? Why not schedule a Foraging Walk with me today?

Favorite Herb This Week: Black Birch!

Black Birch (betula lenta) is definitely one of my Top Ten favorite herbs of all time. And luckily for me, it’s ALL OVER the place here in Northeastern Connecticut!

A young black birch I saw on my walk today

Black birch and it’s brother, White birch (also known as the Paper Birch) can pretty much be used interchangeably medicinally speaking, so I have been trying to only work with black birch trees because the white birch are kind of endangered due to the bronze birch borer and a condition called birch dieback (Source). Birch trees can be tapped in the early spring to collect their sap (a great drink in and of itself) in order to make birch syrup, and the inner bark can be harvested to make a flour substitute, though I would only ever try this on a recently fallen or cut tree.

See the horizontal lines in the bark, along with the light/white patches?

It is never recommended that you harvest bark directly from the trunk of the tree, as doing so could accidentally girdle it and cause it to die. Instead, ask the plant’s permission to harvest a branch or two and simply prune them off if it tells you it’s okay. Always leave an offering for the tree, such as a pinch of tobacco or kinnickkinnick, or a few pieces of your hair in way of thanks. Then take them home and carefully strip the bark off each section of branch, being sure to capture the cambium layer. You can also add the buds to your concoction.

Harvesting and scraping bark is always done in late winter or early spring, hence the ugly sweatshirt

My absolute favorite thing to make with birch bark is an infused oil. Some of my birch oil jars have sat for months before I remembered to strain them, but it always works out as the batch just gets even stronger. Add a few drops of birch essential oil and voila! You have the BEST topical painkiller for muscle and joint aches. I think this year I will try making a small batch of tincture as well, as I hear that is useful internally for joint pain. I’ve had arthritis since my early 20s and farming really hurts my back some days, so every little thing I can find to relieve the pain helps!

Birch buds in January

Black birch twigs are useful as fire starters, and fresh twigs can be chewed by adults as a breath freshener and by toddlers to help relieve teething pain.

What do you think? Do you ever work with birch bark? Remember, I can sell you some of the oil I make if you’d like to experience birch’s magical healing properties!

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