Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Nettle’ Category

DSC_0084

From top left clockwise: Nettle, hawthorn blossom, cleavers, ground elder, ground ivy, garlic mustard/jack by the hedge, dandelion flowers, hawthorn leaves, dandelion leaves.

One of the things I love most about spring is that it is probably the time when picking plentiful quantities of wild food is the easiest, at least in temperate northern zones such as the area in which I live. There are many edible wild spring greens in the hedgerows, woods and waysides and in no time at all you can have an abundant harvest for creating delicious and healthful meals and teas.

IMG_1887

A mix of wild and cultivated salad leaves decorated with primrose, three cornered leek and heartsease flowers.

Eating even small quantities of wild foods regularly is one of the best things you can do for your health as they are so nutritionally dense, vibrant, seasonal and fresh. So many of the best wild foods are those we consider weeds, but when we look at the qualities of these plants, how tenacious and insuppressible they are, we can see that their strength and vitality surely makes for a more fortifying meal than those cultivated plants that have been shipped half way round the world and sat on supermarket shelves for days. I think weed is a derogatory term, the four letter word of the plant world, which I will henceforth refer to as w**d. I do however reserve the right to use it, along with other four letter words, in the presence of my arch-nemesis ground elder.

IMG_1819

Young lime/ linden leaves

At this time of year we have a lovely mix of mild tasting moistening greens, like the young lime/linden and violet leaves, and more drying or pungent herbs like nettles, young yarrow leaves, jack-by-the hedge and the dead nettles. This makes for a perfect balance of nourishing and toning qualities to help build us up and get us into shape after winter.

IMG_1826

My little forager picking lime leaves.

The three cornered leek or wild onion is one of the most delicious additions to spring salads, tasting something like a spring onion, and the flowers make beautiful decorative additions to any meal and are also edible. They are more common in the south west than the south east and I don’t find many growing near me but luckily it has spread all over my parent’s garden so I got to pick lots when visiting recently.

IMG_1847

Three cornered leek

IMG_1857

IMG_1853

From a distance it looks a little like white bluebells or even snowdrops but can be easily differentiated close up by the shape of the flowers and the distinctive triangular stem, hence the common name of three cornered leek. Also the smell of onion is a give away. Do be sure of your identification as both snowdrop and bluebell bulbs are poisonous.

IMG_1869

Wavy bittercress is a very common spring salad green which has delicious leaves and flowers and tastes much like normal cress.

DSC_0131

Wavy bittercress

Lady’s smock, also known as cuckoo flower, is another edible mustard family plant with deliciously peppery leaves and flowers.

DSC_0142

Lady’s smock

Jack by the hedge or garlic mustard is also in the mustard family or Brassicaceae. This family used to be known as the Cruciferae so if you have an older plant identification book you will find this name instead.

Jack by the hedge

Jack by the hedge

Nettles are found in abundance at this time of year and are a true superfood for the blood. You can read more about them in a previous post here.

DSC_0122

Nettles in the spring sunshine

Pick cleavers by the handful for use in cold infusions and juices, instructions for which can be found here.

DSC_0051

A tangle of cleavers

Wild garlic is one of the true delicacies of the season. If, like me, you love the fiery garlic taste then make it into a pesto by itself but if it is a bit too intense for your palette you can tone it down with nettles or shop bought herbs like basil. More about wild garlic can be found here.

DSC_0028

Wild garlic pesto – pungent and powerful!

Do remember when picking wild greens to be absolutely 100% sure of your identification as some edibles have poisonous lookalikes. Also avoid the sides of paths where dogs are commonly walked and always, always pick with respect to the environment and don’t over harvest. Finally avoid the edges of fields unless you know the land to be organically managed.

DSC_0095

At the back; cleavers cold infusion and hawthorn blossom tea. Centre; nettle pesto with jack by the hedge and ground elder. Front; wild green salad of hawthorn leaves, jack by the hedge, dandelion leaves, violet leaves and white dead nettle with nettle pesto and dandelion flowers on toast, nettle and ground elder soup.

Spring greens and flowers also make for wonderful teas.

Ground ivy has a pleasant but musky flavour which is nice in teas when mixed with something lighter like a little mint from the garden. It is great for stuffy sinuses that can go along with spring allergies.

Ground ivy

Ground ivy

And the most wonderful spring tea of all in my opinion is hawthorn blossom, the very Queen of May herself. Read more about hawthorn blossom here.

Hawthorn blossom

Hawthorn blossom

I have also written a post on harvesting spring greens in this issue of the Mother magazine.

Wishing you all a joyous Beltane and a marvellous May Day!

 

Read Full Post »

DSC_0018

Despite the chilly temperatures, March is upon us and spring is most definitely on its way. Young nettles are popping up amongst the snowdrops and the first little cleavers, sweet violets and wild garlics can be seen in our wakening countryside.

As the weather is cold, I am still enjoying some of the more warming foods of winter but this is now tempered with an urge for the fresh green foods of spring. Yesterday was bright but bitter, leading me to combine my inter-seasonal desires into this tasty dish which filled our bodies and our hearts with both the wintery sustenance and the spring-like vitality that we craved.

DSC_0051

Nettle, Squash and Almond Curry:

Ingredients:

1 tblsp coconut oil
1 large onion
6 cloves garlic
Inch long piece ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 large butternut squash
3 courgettes
1 colander fresh nettle tops
1 tin coconut milk

For the curry sauce:
1 cup blanched almonds and water for soaking
1 1/2 cups water
3 cardamom pods
2 chillies
Another inch chopped ginger
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp garam masala
Salt and pepper to taste

DSC_0242

See how red and rich in iron these young nettle tops are.

Method:

First soak the blanched almonds for an hour before you begin to prepare the other ingredients.

Gently fry the cumin seeds in the coconut oil for a few minutes before adding the onion, garlic and ginger. When this has begun to soften add in the cubed butternut squash and the courgette. Leave cooking on a gentle heat whilst you blend the strained, soaked almonds with the cup and a half of water and the spices and seasoning until you have a thick fragrant paste. Add to the cooking vegetables with a tin of coconut milk and stir well. Leave to cook for about 20 mins or until the vegetables are soft adding a little hot water now and again to prevent the sauce from thickening too much. When just about done, add the washed nettle tops into the pan and allow to cook down for a few minutes.

We served ours with saffron and cardamom spiced brown rice.

if you prefer something lighter, you can find some of my recipes for nettle soup here.

DSC_0252

 

I hope that, if you are here in the northern parts of the world, your spring is bringing you many blessings and that those elsewhere are also enjoying the delights of their season. Happy nettle picking!

Read Full Post »

It’s that time of year again! It seemed like one day there was hardly anything green and the next the lane was covered in fresh young nettles, assuring me that, despite some cold evenings this week, spring has well and truly sprung.

I have written a few posts on nettles in the past and do excuse me if I repeat myself a little, but this time I wanted to go into a bit more detail on why nettle is so fantastic, as both food and medicine.

This is the time of year when we are both a bit deficient and a bit stagnant as we reach the end of the long winter months. Our bodies slow down during the cold weather, fluids thicken and we are generally less active as well as tending to eat more rich or stodgy meals and less fresh foods. I wrote in my post on January detox recently that often the foods we think of as either ‘cleansing’ or ‘nourishing’ can be just the same thing- and there is no finer example of this than the lovely nettle herself.

For a start nettle is one of the most nutrient dense wild foods that we have readily available to us. High in calcium, chromium, magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium, potassium, trace minerals, protein and many vitamins including A and C, nettle is a very good all round nourishing tonic herb. Nettle has a good reputation as an iron tonic, not just because it contains relatively high levels but because it also contains amino acids and vitamin C which are both required as co-factors for iron absorption. This is the beauty of our nutritive herbs, unlike the average vitamin and mineral supplement, the constituents are presented in a balanced way which allows for greater assimilation and absorption but also prevents excessive build-up. Nettle contains tannins which will tone the mucus membranes of the digestive tract and also prevent too much iron absorption. Nature is so much cleverer than we are.

Nettle is also high in flavonoids, including quercetin and rutin, as well as  chlorophyll, both of which help to improve the health of the blood and circulatory system. All this and more has led to nettles reputation as a blood tonic. In traditional Western herbal medicine nettle was considered specific for pale, tired, anaemic people and has been used by practitioners of Chinese medicine to treat what is called blood deficiency. This is not just what we think of as anaemia but a more complex picture of the health of the blood as a whole. If, like me, you are vegetarian or vegan then nettle is one of the best things you can include in your diet to ensure your blood stays healthy and vital. Nettle has long been used as a hair tonic as it feeds the follicles through increasing the health and nutrient content of the blood and I always notice how quickly and strongly my hair and nails grow when taking it regularly.

Through its nutritive action on the blood and body fluids, its cleansing action via the organs of elimination and its tonifying action on the mucus membranes, nettle will have an effect on the whole body and this is one of the reasons that, like so many of our herbs, it is hard to put into rigid categories. The effects of having well nourished blood will include more energy, better circulation, improved mental clarity and better sleep. Effects on the mucus membranes might include improved digestion, increased kidney function or relief from chronic lung symptoms such as coughing wheezing and phlegm. It can be very tempting in today’s climate to look for a more reductionist explanation of how herbs work – the ‘this chemical constituent has this action’- approach to treatment, but herbs are, by their very nature, holistic in the way the act and that is part of their wonder.

Nettle is a prime remedy for treating fatigue and blood sugar balancing. Nettle can help to regulate body metabolism and has been used for the entire endocrine system, from balancing the thyroid, strengthening adrenal function and restoring the reproductive organs. According to Chinese herbalist Peter Holmes, ” Nettle herb provides excellent support for complex metabolic disorders, especially when they involve the connective tissue and/or endocrine glands and metabolic toxicosis – insufficient breakdown of metabolic wastes.” I think it works on blood sugar levels both directly and also indirectly as, by energising us and increasing vitality, it reduces cravings for artificially stimuating foods like sugar and caffieine.

Nettle has astringent, toning and cleansing properties that enable the liver, kidneys, skin and lungs to all work more effectively, thus increasing natural detoxification. It helps to drain damp, or excessive and stagnant fluids in the body, and has been used to help oedema, resolve problems of chronic phlegm and reduce accumulations in conditions such as arthritis and gout. It is a herb we commonly turn to for atopic conditions such as eczema, asthma, allergies and hayfever. Though it is useful for most people with these conditions, in a very few others it can actually cause allergies. Because of its astringent nature it is considered a haemostatic and can help to check excessive bleeding in the body when taken internally.

The energetics of nettles have been somewhat disputed over the centuries. Because of it’s stimulating and moving qualities it was once considered hot, notably by Culpepper who considered it a herb of Mars- hot and dry. Most modern herbalists however consider it cooling and drying. At the risk of being a non-committal fence sitter, I tend to think of it as fairly neutral in temperature, mostly because of it’s nutritive and balancing properties. Being astringent, it is certainly towards the drier end of things but again, how much so will depend on numerous other factors such as environment and climate. In Ayurvedic medicine nettle is considered to increase Vata, because it is cooling and drying, and decrease pitta and kapha. However in the Western tradition it would have been considered mostly quite specific for Vata type people who are often thin, pale, emotionally scattered and dreamy, though it would have been used with more moistening herbs if the person was overly dry. I often think that these kinds of discrepancies are to do with the climate in different areas. For example in northern Europe the climate tends to be very damp so the drying aspects of nettle would not be so problematic but some parts of India may be much drier so people with dry conditions would be more easily aggravated.

There are many ways to include nettle in your diet and here are just a few ideas:

  • Raw from the hedgerow – just like this.
  • Juiced – mixed with other fruits and veggies such as apples, celery, fennel. ginger, lemon or other greens.
  • Tea – One teaspoon of dried nettle herb or two teaspoons of fresh per cup of boiling water makes a nice refreshing and nutrient rich tea.
  • Nourishing infusion- Like a very strong tea, this utilises 25g of herb to about a pint of boiling water. Allow it to steep over night in a cafetierre then strain out in the morning and drink throughout the day, providing an abundance of vitamins and minerals. Teas made in this way used to be known as ‘standard infusions’ and were considered both more nutritive and more therapeutic than normal teas. In recent years they have been popularised by Susun Weed as ‘nourishing infusions’ which I think is a lovely way to describe them. After drinking I always use the spent plant material from my nettle infusions as a mulch around my roses.
  • Infused vinegar- Loosely fill a jar with fresh nettle tops, cover in apple cider vinegar, cap with a plastic lid and leave to infuse for a month to six weeks. Strain and bottle then add to salads and other dishes. We add a few mls of nettle infused cider vinegar to our hens drinking water to increase their nutrient intake.
  • Soup- See my recipes for nettle soup here and here. You can also add powdered nettle or nettle infusions to the stocks of other soups.
  • Stir fries, bakes and curries – Slice the nettle tops finely and cook them up just like you would spinach.
  • Hair washes and baths- make a strong tea as above and use as a final hair rinse after washing or add to bath water.
Here’s a photo of the nourishing infusion, looks pretty packed with nutrients doesn’t it!

“Our doctors and pharmacists are ashamed of fetching such a common weed from behind the fences to include in their formulas, even though in both cookery and medicine it has proven its mightily impressive effects.” Hieronymus Bock, 1532.

“Nettle is one of the most widely applicable plants in the materia medica. The herb strengthens and supports the whole body.” David Hoffman, 2003.

References:
Medical Herbalism – David Hoffman
The Energetics of Western Herbs – Peter Holmes
The Book of Herbal Wisdom – Matthew Wood
The Yoga of Herbs – D.Frawley and V.Lad

Read Full Post »

Spring is getting into full swing here in the South East and the time for indulging in copious bowls of nettle soup is upon us once more. Each year I end up with a new favourite variation on this time honoured classic of wild food cuisine and this year I’ve managed the impossible. I’ve come up with a recipe that my husband not only tolerates, but actually enjoys too.

Creamy Nettle and Broccoli Soup with Wild Garlic Oil:

Ingredients-
1 colander full of freshly picked and washed nettle tops
1 head broccoli
1 tin of cannellini beans
1 large onion or 3 shallots
3 cloves of garlic
Tablespoon olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice
stock and seasoning to taste
Wild garlic oil (and leaves if available) to garnish

This is such a quick and simple soup but the texture and flavours make it feel both nourishing and fulfilling. Begin by lightly frying the onion and garlic in the olive oil until softened but not brown. Add the stock, cannellini beans (pre-cooked) and broccoli to the pan and cook until broccoli is tender. Add the nettle tops and a squeeze of lemon and cook for a few minutes until the nettles are wilted and soft. Add seasoning to taste and blend to a thick and creamy consistency. Garnish with a drizzle of wild garlic oil and, if available, some freshly chopped wild garlic leaves and violet flowers.

To make the wild garlic oil you simply lightly pack your blender with freshly picked wild garlic leaves and add somewhere in the region of 250ml virgin olive oil. Blend until you have an almost smooth vibrant green oil. This will last a couple of weeks in the fridge and can be added to soups, salad dressings or smeared on crackers. I always add it at the end though as wild garlic looses much of its flavour when cooked.

You can read my last year’s nettle soup recipes here and my recipe for wild garlic pesto here.

I hope  those of you in the Northern hemisphere are enjoying your spring bounties too.

Read Full Post »

They’re back and they’re bad – as my fingers, still stinging two days later, can attest. So far this year I’ve only picked a few nettles, to add to teas or green juices, so it was a pleasure to get out in the bright sun this weekend and gather some fresh young tops for making a spring tonic tincture.

Sarah Furey told me that Stephen Church of The Herbarium told her (who says the oral tradition is dead) that the young nettles appearing at this time of year which have a reddish tinge to their leaves are particularly high in minerals and make for an exceptionally nourishing spring tonic tincture. It makes sense doesn’t it, when you think that the reddy colour can often signify the presence of iron.

This is one of those wonderful examples of how using our senses to observe the subtle changes in plants throughout the year can give us so many clues as to their healing virtues.

Later, when the nettles grow tall and vibrantly green, their diuretic and kidney tonic properties are more prominent.

In the true spirit of enquiry, I decided to make two nettle tinctures this year to compare and contrast the differences in taste and action.

I gathered enough young nettle tops for a couple of litres of tincture, washed them thoroughly and allowed to drain. I made a 1:2 tincture but, as the nettles were fresh, it will probably end up more in the region of a 1:3. If you’d like specific advice on tincture making, the best place to visit is the afore mentioned Herbarium which has brilliant instructions for making tinctures from various different plant parts. You can read the first part of the series here.

I packed my blender with the nettles and alcohol (vodka is fine for this tincture) and pulsed it until the nettles were nicely broken down but not pureed. Then it went into the jars where it will macerate for two weeks in a cool dark place being shaken and blessed daily.

And there were just enough left over to add to a green juice with some cleavers, fennel, celery, cucumber, apple and ginger.

Delicious and radiant, the nettle is so abundant and full of virtues we should count ourselves very lucky to be surrounded by it.

Read Full Post »

Nettle Root Medicine

Despite using the leaf and seed of nettle on a regular basis, this year was the first time I have harvested and made tincture from the roots. I was lucky enough to be accompanied by Sascha, who I should probably mention, gathered the biggest root of all, honestly it was quite impressive!

I’ve been feeling the call of nettle root strongly this autumn and it keeps popping into my mind in relation to a particularly problematic case involving hormonal dysfunction. I have little experience of using the roots of nettle clinically other than in cases of male pattern baldness and problems of the prostate, most notably Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). However the case in question is that of a woman, though certainly a testosterone imbalance is indicated in her symptoms, and there is little information available to support my intuitive nudging that this was the right medicine to turn to.

Several studies have shown the success of nettle root in treating BPH, particularly in its early stages when it can help to slow the growth of prostate cells, improve urinary flow and alleviate the constant urge to urinate. This is especially so when combined with other herbs such as Saw palmetto or Pygeum. It does this primarily by inhibiting proteins that help to carry certain hormones into the cells and would otherwise encourage the growth of prostate cells.

In its action of reducing the numbers of sex hormones available to the tissues I imagine that the benefits of nettle root must be more wide ranging than we usually consider. Though, without doubt, certain herbs may have a greater affinity for either male or female conditions and personalities, there is always some crossover and no herb can be said to belong exclusively to one sex or another. Traditionally, nettle root has been used to help menstrual irregularities and for this reason it’s best avoided in pregnancy. Linda Crockett, a herbalist specialising in women’s hormonal health, includes nettle root in her formulas for polycystic ovarian syndrome and Susan Weed writes, ‘ Use nettle root as a hair and scalp tonic, a urinary strengthener and stimulant, an immune system/ lymphatic strengthener and a bit of first aid’ – primarily in cases of diarrhoea.

There is also some information available online, though it’s hard to know how much of it you can trust, especially when one website contained the following gem, ‘Nettle root is commonly prized for its stems and leaves, which are reported to contain numerous health benefits’. Anyone else notice the obvious flaw there?

I feel like, in getting to know nettle root, I’m accessing a whole new facet of a long time favourite herbal ally, and I’m really excited to carry on my research and experimentation into the possibilities for its different healing applications.

Soaking the roots.

When digging roots it’s especially important to connect with the plants an ask permission because, unlike when you gather the arial parts of perennial herbs, you are taking the life of the plant when you harvest its roots.

The soil is very sticky clay round here so our roots needed a good soak before scrubbing with a brush and chopping finely ready for tincturing.

I’m quite excited to try the finished result and will be experimenting on myself before giving it to my client. I hope to have some interesting findings to report back before too long.

References:

Healing Our Hormones, Healing Our Lives – Linda Crockett
Healing Wise – Susun Weed
Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy – Mills and Bone

Read Full Post »

Since my last post on harvesting nettle seeds I’ve had a couple of emails asking me for more specific details about how and when to harvest. I remember that when I first started to collect herbs and make my own remedies it would always annoy me when writers skimmed the surface of the topics they were discussing, making assumptions that their readers already knew how to make this or that. So, in the spirit of making things clearer, I thought I’d post a few more photos to show those of you who’d like a bit more info exactly what nettles look like at different times of the year, how the seed should look when you pick it and how it looks when it’s dried. I hope that clears up any confusion and makes it easier to get out and enjoy your harvest.

Nettles come up in Spring at which time you can harvest them for soups, to eat raw, to add to juices, vinegars, teas or enjoy as a steamed or cooked green.

Nettles in Spring

Later, as summer starts to warm up, the nettles begin to flower at which time they are no longer good for eating. Nettles in full sun will flower before those in the shade and will also produce seeds earlier.

Nettle in Flower

The flowers begin to turn to seeds…

Ripening into seeds

But aren’t ready to harvest until they look like this.

Perfect Timing

Collect the green seeds rather than the brown or black.

After hanging the stems to allow the insects to escape, cut off the small strands of seeds and allow to air dry or use a dehydrator like this one.

Drying nettle seed in the dehydrator

When dry, take small handfuls of the seeds and rub through a sieve.

Sieving dried seeds

The seeds will come away and you’ll be left with the small grey-green stands like these.

After sieving

Pop your dried seeds into a jar, store somewhere cool and away from bright light and enjoy sprinkled on food.

Jar of dried nettle seeds

Hope that was helpful!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,621 other followers