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?

Summer Mushroom Foraging

I don’t usually have enough time to create a blog post over the summer and early autumn months, for what should be obvious reasons. The gardens look atrocious right now, as I have neglected clean up in favor of harvesting and preserving before it’s too late. I wanted to share a brief glimpse of some of the wild foraging I have been doing over the course of the season.

I’ve been getting braver every year with mushroom hunting, and have been learning to identify and eat/make medicine with more species. This year I’ve found morels, Berkeley’s polypore, black staining polypore, hen of the woods, chanterelles, craterellus ignigolor (an edible chanterelle lookalike,) black trumpets, small white puffballs, turkey tails, reishi (ganoderma tsugae,) and honey mushrooms. I think there are a few more varieties, but those are the ones I could easily identify and harvest enough to save at home. All mushrooms should be cooked before eating them, but some can just be lightly sautéed in butter. Most of the mushrooms ended up in my dehydrator to be dried and stored for later use.

Reishi and turkey tail mushrooms make incredibly powerful medicine that improves immune system functioning. Turkey tail mushrooms even have reported cancer-fighting benefits. Most of the other mushrooms I have been foraging mainly for eating purposes, but all mushrooms hold tons of vitamins and extra benefits that modern produced vegetables just can’t beat. Check out this list of some commonly foraged mushrooms!

In order to retain the mushroomy goodness in an easy form, I made a broth with a combination of a little of almost all of these. I simmered slowly for about 4 hours, then strained and poured this into ice cube trays so I can just pop one into whatever soup or water I am boiling (like for pasta or rice.) The ice cube size keeps the amount of broth small enough not to change the flavor of what I am cooking, but still add precious vitamins and minerals to my food. The broth itself is a medicinal powerhouse but I can honestly say taking a sip of it was not a tasty experience. I also started tinctures of the reishi and turkey tail, which I need to strain soon (now that I think about it) and remove the mushrooms to do a water decoction. Different constituents are extracted with different methods, so I do a double decocted tincture with my foraged medicinal mushrooms. Then I strain and combine equal parts decoction with the alcohol extraction to create a tincture fit for fighting bodily crime.

Mushroom broth

For whatever reason, life and the Great Spirit have given me the gift of being able to learn and recognize both plants and mushrooms with more ease than most people. I am very grateful for this, and hope to share it with more people as time goes on. If you would like to book a foraging class or hire me to come walk your land and show you all the edible species right under your nose, please utilize the Contact Us form. Obviously winter is not the best time to forage, but I can help you from now through early November, or any time starting in early April through the rest of the year. I occasionally arrange foraging classes on my own, but I can be available for private functions as well. I can do Herb Walks, Mushroom Walks, Edible Walks, or even teach a class on how to make some simple medicines or foods with the ingredients we find.

Keep an eye on my blog and Facebook or Instagram pages for more foraging posts and finds! And go watch Fantastic Fungi if you haven’t done so yet. It’ll blow your mind!

Herbal Smoke and Smudging

Cleansing your body and your space with herbal smoke has been practiced by many cultures all over the globe for centuries. There is quite a lot of controversy over the word “Smudging,” as it originates from the Native Indian tribes of the Southwestern United States, where white sage (salvia apiana) grows wild.

I personally use the word “smudging” more often than not because at this point in time it is the most recognizable term for the practice of lighting a bundle of dried herbs and wafting the smoke in a specific direction with a specific intent. This YouTube Channel gives a very succinct and accurate demonstration on the process. I personally grow my own white sage in pots that I move indoors over winter. I think a lot of the argument for cultural appropriation stems from the fact that there are a dangerous number of people going onto land they don’t have permission to be on and foraging for (stealing) wild white sage, to the point that the plant is now endangered in the wild.

Many European cultures have been practicing cleansing rituals similar to smudging for centuries. Working with herbs found in your native region, whether they are native plants or (like mugwort) invasive plants is one of the best and most sustainable ways you can create smoke sticks.

A few bundles I made before hanging them to dry

Take a walk around your yard or woods and see what grows naturally there. Be sure you aren’t touching poison ivy or something toxic, but if you see a plant that you don’t recognize, it is usually safe to rub a leaf or flower between your fingers and then smell your fingers. Does it smell pungent? Sweet? If there is a definite and pleasant aromatic scent on your fingertips, check a field guide (or the internet) to see if you can identify the plant. You are looking for a plant with a pleasing scent and high volatile oil content. Once you are certain you’re not picking something that could hurt you, ask the plant if you can harvest a little from it. Only take a little and always say thank you, preferably with a personal offering such as tobacco, hair from your head, or some water from your water bottle.

Remember that garden sage (salvia officinalis) works just as well for smudging as white sage; there is no reason to go to the hippie shop and drop a ton of money on a bundle that probably isn’t ethically harvested. It is safe and possible to grow your own white sage instead.

Me tying the knot at the end of a bundle during my Smoke Stick making class

Once your bundle has hung to dry somewhere out of direct sunlight for several weeks, you can tighten the strings and then light the end. Get it smouldering and walk around the house or cleanse your body with the smoke. I will likely teach more classes on this soon!

For more reading about herbal smoke versus smudging, see the articles below:

The Ancient Art of Smoke Cleansing

Smudging vs. Smoke Cleansing

Smoke Cleansing as an Alternative to Smudging

Cleavers is Galium, but not all Galium is Cleavers

That title statement may not mean much to you unless you’re into herbs or foraging, but Cleavers are a common herbal remedy in much of North America and the UK. For the past two years, I have been operating under the exciting assumption that cleavers had graced me with their presence in my back yard and gardens. I encouraged its growth in my gardens and made a deal with the plant that I wouldn’t weed it out as long as it let me pick some to work with it as medicine and food. I was so excited to know that such a great medicinal plant had decided to call my place home!

I was wrong.

THIS is actual “Cleavers,” Galium Aparine

After crying internally and smacking myself repeatedly for my mistake, I am now in a forgiving mood. You see, there are over 600 species of Galium in the world, at least 60 of which are native or naturalized in the United States. I was positive what is in my yard was a galium, and after a little sleuthing and help from some people in a Facebook plant identification group, I have concluded that what I have in my yard is Galium Mollugo, a naturalized but not native variety that likely traveled over from Europe with other immigrants such as Dandelion and Plantain.

Galium Mollugo I have been seeing
This is the galium I’ve seen at my farm. Note the NON-Hairy stem

Galium Mollugo, a.k.a. “Hedge bedstraw,” is what has popped up all over my yard and farm. It’s so named because it smells really nice when dried, so was added to the old style beds that were basically mattresses stuffed with straw. Much nicer to sleep on something that smells more pleasant than the cow barn! It is an edible weed that I frequently add to stir-fry’s and omelets, and makes a lovely tea when used fresh. I usually tincture it fresh as well, for use as a lymphatic cleansing agent and nervine.

Fortunately for me, it seems that most galium species can be used interchangeably in a medicinal fashion. The only one to be slightly wary of is Sweet Woodruff, but I also have that planted in the yard on purpose because of its wonderful scent, so I’m much more positive about that identification. Sweet Woodruff is not meant to be ingested in large amounts due to the compound that makes it smell so nice, Coumarin. You can still use it in a tea or whatever, just not frequently or a lot of it.

I prefer to work with regular cleavers anyhow, and save my sweet woodruff for incense making purposes. Well… with my galium mollugo anyway…. which I’ve been working with thinking it was cleavers for like 3 years now…

At any rate, I wanted to share this post because while I pride myself on my ever-growing foraging skills, I’m definitely not infallible. Hopefully with the photos included here you can understand why I made the mistaken identification, and thankfully the entire species is a safe herb to work with. Don’t forget that it’s very important to double and even triple-check your identification of any wild plant before you eat it!

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