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Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

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.

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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!

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A Woodland Wander

The woods on a sunny May morning are truly a wonderful place to be.

The Woods in Bloom

Dappled Light

Hawthorn Sky

Nettles and cleavers are starting to flower. This marks the end of nettle picking season, at least until the seeds are ready to harvest in a few months. Once nettles begin to flower, they produce gritty particles in the leaves called csytoliths which may irritate the kidneys and urinary tract. There are still some without flowers however, so have that last nettle juice while you can!

Nettles Flowering

Cleavers- The tiniest, cutest flower in the woods

Also we have an abundance of Herb Robert on the edge of the woods. Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum, is a wild geranium that has a history of traditional use to staunch bleeding, both internally and externally. Though it is little used today, it helps to heal green wounds and ulcers due to its astringent and vulnerary properties, which also make it beneficial for diarrhoea. A fresh juice is applied externally and a tea or tincture taken for internal use.

There’s also still plenty of Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, also known by his more roguish name, Jack-By-The-Hedge. As the former name implies, the leaves taste both garlicky and mustardy and make a lovely addition to a spring salad. It can also be used to make a warming body rub or poultice for rheumatism or gout, to help treat sore throats and to strengthen the digestion.

Herb Robert

Jack by the Hedge in front of a bank of Herb Robert

Enjoy some woodland wandering and wondering, ’tis medicine for the soul.

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The best known wild food dish is probably nettle soup. There’s actually quite a lot you can do with nettles, using them in the same way you’d use spinach (except of course for in a baby leaf salad – ouch).

However nettle soup is still probably my favourite and I have it at least once a week at this time of year. To stop if from getting dull I do a few different variations which you can adjust according to your preferences.

The Classic Nettle Soup:

The classic nettle soup is essentially nettles, onion, garlic, stock, seasoning and a potato. Lightly fry the onion in a little olive oil, add the garlic, then the potato and stock and cook till the potato is tender. Add the nettles and cook for a couple of minutes to break down the stings, blend the whole thing up and voila. The potato makes it creamy and gives it a thicker consistency if you like a more substantial soup. What’s good about this recipe is that you can vary it quite a lot, adding lemon if you want something fresher or, my favourite on an early spring day when it’s still wee bit nippy out, chilli and rosemary. Nutmeg is also nice and you can use a can of cannellini beans to make the soup creamy instead of the potato.

Nettle, Leek and Herb Soup with Lemon Cashew Cream:

Herby Nettle and Leek with Cashew Cream

This is a really tasty soup and very quick and simple to whip up in a hurry. You’ll need:

For the Soup:

  • 2 leeks
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Colander full of nettles
  • Veggie stock
  • Fresh herbs- I use marjoram, sage and thyme, a few sprigs of each
  • Drizzle olive oil
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • Lightly fry the leeks in the oil, add all the other ingredients, cook for just a couple of mins to break down the nettle stings, blend up and enjoy with a swirl of lemon cashew cream.

    For the Cashew Cream:

  • 1 cup cashews
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Pinch salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Blend all the ingredients in a high powered blender adding the water until you reach the desired consistency, it’s better a little thicker than regular cream would be.

    Raw Nettle Soup:

    Being a big fan of my nettles straight from the hedgerow as i wrote about here, I thought I’d try out a raw nettle soup, a bit like a nettle gazpacho, in order to keep all the nutrients in the nettles in their whole and vital state. I love this version, it so vibrant and energising, but it’s not to everyone’s taste… my hubby thinks it’s gross!

    Raw Nettle Soup

    All you have to do is blend together the following ingredients, pour into a bowl and serve. The speed and pressure of the blender will break down the nettle stings but make sure it’s blended completely smooth.

  • 1 avocado
  • 1 spring onion
  • 3 wild garlic leaves
  • About a centimeter ginger
  • Half an apple
  • Sprig of fresh herbs, chives, dill or thyme are nice
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 2 large handfuls of fresh nettle tops with thick central stems removed
  • 1 cup water
  • Nettle Dahl:
    When I fancy something a bit more substantial one of my favourite dinners is a nettle dahl.

    Nettle Dahl


    I just make a simple dahl with red lentils, spices, onion, garlic and ginger and add the nettles for the last couple of minutes of cooking time.
    In fact you can add nettles to many of your favourite curry dishes, it works really well and is just as delicious as spinach, chard or other greens.

    Happy foraging, I’d love to hear your favourite nettle soup recipe if you have one.

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    Cowslips and Primroses are two of the cheeriest and prettiest of our spring wild flowers. They have a rustic charm reminiscent of days gone by when they were used much more commonly in medicine than they are today.

    Cowslip, Primula officinalis, and Primrose, Primula vulgaris, contain similar properties, being of use for soothing the nerves, easing insomnia and improving headaches. An infusion of Cowslip with Wood Betony is said to be of particular use in headache and migraine. They are both anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic, making them useful for muscular pains, rheumatism and gout and an infusion of the flowers of either plant can be used in the bath for soothing these conditions. They have also been recommended for pulmonary problems as both have expectorant properties.

    Cowslips

    Infusions of Primrose or Cowslip flowers have been used to brighten the complexion and reduce wrinkles. Culpepper recommends a Cowslip ointment saying, ‘Our city dames know well enough the ointment or distilled water of it adds to beauty or at least restores it when lost.’

    Both flowers are associated with youth in the Victorian language of flowers, Cowslip also being associated with winning grace and primrose carrying the meaning, ‘I can’t live without you.’ Both have also been associated with faeries in folk tradition and magic.

    The flowers and young leaves can be used in salads, though they are potentially allergenic so always do an allergy test first by rubbing a little of the juice from a leaf on the inside of the lips and seeing how you react.

    Primrose

    Both plants used to be very common but are much rarer now due to changing habitat as well as pesticide and agrochemical use. Therefore it’s important to harvest responsibly, and only in areas where they are abundant, if you wish to use them for food or remedies.

    Maria Treben rates Cowslip highly as a remedy for insomnia. Here is her recipe for a sleep inducing tea:

    50g Cowslip flowers
    25g Lavender
    10g St John’s Wort
    15g Hops
    5g Valerian

    Pour 1/4 litre boiling water over a heaped teaspoon of the herbal mix, allow to infuse, add honey if desired and drink in sips before bed. She says, ‘This tea should be preferred to all chemical sleep inducing remedies. Sleeping pills destroy the nervous system whereas this tea removes nervous complaints.’

    Cowslip was also commonly made into wine. For a modern day approach to this, loosely fill a bottle with fresh cowslip flowers, pour white wine over them, bottle and leave in the sunlight for fourteen days. Take 3 tablespoons a day for nervous system and heart complaints.

    Primrose flowers also make a lovely infused vinegar which can be used in cooking or salad dressings.

    Enjoy these sweet spring soothers and remember to harvest them with care and gratitude, never taking too much from one area.

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    Spring comes, even to a concrete garden.

    People are always surprised when I tell them I have more than 60 plants growing in our one bed rented flat and little patio garden. It’s not the same as being able to work and live close to the soil but it’s still a great joy to surround oneself with green friends, even in the midst of the city. All those whose blood runs green will take nature with them to the unlikeliest of places.

    Pot gardening is fairly easy, light work and a great opportunity to get to know plants when you don’t have access to a garden or allotment. I have come to see it as a metaphor for my own situation right now. My plants and I are still wild and free yet we are all constrained within limits; a pot, four walls, a sea of concrete. When we sleep we all dream together of forests, deep and dark, and the smell of the earth in the early morning after a fine rain. I have promised them, as I promise myself, that we shall all spread roots down into our sweet mother earth someday soon.

    These are a few of the beautiful things appearing now in my patio.

    Young Valerian Leaves

    Pussy Willow

    Lovely New Angelica

    Mint Shooting Up

    Fresh Young Parsley

    Rosemary in Flower

    New Growth of Hyssop

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    This month’s herbal bog party, hosted by the inspiring Brigitte of My Herb Corner, is on the topic of My Herbal Treasures in March. Its so exciting to be thinking about all the new life beginning to stir at the moment as I’ve just started my first Spring harvests.

    Its kind of an obvious one, but my favourite March herb is probably the dear and wonderfully weedy Cleavers. Galium aparine

    Also known as Goosegrass or Sticky Willy, Cleavers is one of the first of our spring allies to appear, though it was perhaps a little later this year than I remember as I only managed my first harvest last weekend. It’s found mainly in woods and hedgerows and, along with its good friend stinging nettle, is one of the first wild herbs many people learn about.

    Cleavers is a herb of the moon and is governed by the element of water and this is key to my understanding of how it works in the body. As a medicinal herb it is most commonly used to treat the lymphatic system, a network of vessels which runs alongside the blood circulation carrying waste materials in lymph fluid ready for processing in the lymph nodes and organs such as the tonsils, thymus and spleen. The lymph has no pump of its own so is reliant on the movement of blood and muscles to aid its journey, so exercise is vital for a healthy lymphatic system. It’s functions are primarily to aid cleansing of the tissues and assist the immune system by transporting white blood cells and antibodies.

    To me, the lymph relates very closely to the water element in us and, as we know, the moon affects fluids in all of nature by governing flows and tides. The nature of water is to be fluid, we can easily see how polluted stagnant water becomes, and the lymph must also be flowing in order to perform its functions within the body. In the winter we can become more stagnant and accumulations tend to build up, stressing the lymphatic system and resulting in lowered immunity, swollen glands and sluggishness.

    Cleavers is all about getting things moving and flowing again. I see it as an initiator and indeed it is meant to be auspicious to drink it before a journey. It doesn’t force change, just gently encourages the body to wake and clear itself, helping to remove excess fluids through its diuretic action. This quality means it is also a good urinary tonic, especially in inflammatory conditions of the urinary tract as it is also anti-inflammatory. Its useful for clearing the skin, partly due to its general alterative properties, and it has been used to treat cancers, both internally and externally as a poultice.

    The water element also governs the emotions and Cleavers can help us to gently let go of the past and be ready to embrace the new growth and change that Spring awakens.

    Cleavers is covered in tiny little hooked bristles which you can see in the close up below which I took last year, later in the season when the plant was more mature.

    I see Cleavers as a plant of youth, not only because of it’s appearance early in the spring but due to it ability to entertain the child in us all when, on long walks, we can engage in the game I never grow tired of, how many cleavers can you stick on someone’s back before they notice :)

    I think the real reason Cleavers grab on to us as we go by is because, in a damp climate like the UK, we could all do with a bit of lymphatic support and she is generously reminding us of the great service she can offer.

    The plant itself is strong yet supple. It is flexible enough to be twisted round itself and apparently, country folk used to use it in this way to make a sieve for straining milk. It uses its little hooks to grow up other plants to get to the light, yet its strong enough to support them too when needed.

    Here are a few ways to incorporate Cleavers into your life, they are always better used fresh than dried:

    Cleavers Green Juice
    Juice is my favourite way to take them and also the most potent as we are ingesting the life blood of the plant which is an incredible gift. It does require the use of a juicer but if you don’t have one you could whizz it in the blender with some water and then strain, though I haven’t tried it this way. I juice a big handful of cleavers with some apple, fennel, lemon, ginger and celery. This makes a delicious cleansing and revitalising drink for bright Spring mornings.

    Cleavers Vinegar
    Make your Cleavers into a delicious green vinegar by lightly packing a jar with them then covering in unpasteurised apple cider vinegar. Cap with a plastic not metal lid (vinegar corrodes metal) and allow to infuse for three weeks before straining and rebottling. This makes a lovely spring salad dressing with a drizzle of olive oil.

    Cleavers Salad
    At this time of year you can finely chop the young cleavers and add to salads, though later in the Spring they become too tough and stringy. Enjoy them now while they’re tender!

    Cleavers Cold Infusion
    Many people prepare their cleavers as a cold infusion by popping a handful in a glass, covering in cold water and leaving overnight to infuse. Strain and drink in the morning for a refreshing start to the day.

    Cleavers Succus
    This one comes from Matthew and Julie Bruton-Seal’s wonderful book Hedgerow Medicine which I would recommend to anyone interested in wildcrafting herbs. I haven’t actually tried it yet but will be doing so soon and as it sounded so delicious I thought I’d include it here. Juice fresh cleavers, measure it and add an equal amount of runny honey. Bottle and label. It will last much longer this way and would be a lovely soothing and effective remedy for tonsilitis.


    In early Spring the Cleavers Moon
    Draws up from depths of wintery slumber
    Our waking tides.
    From ripple to wave she speaks of cycles
    Of change, of flow,
    Of newest growth already held in visions.
    She invites us too to grow, along with her,
    Weedy and wild,
    Supple yet unyielding as the waters she guides
    She helps to carry us all.

    Some other things to be happy about in March:
    My first dandelion.
    Young Comfrey leaves appearing.
    Fresh, young nettles.

    Also Lesser Celandine (or pilewort), Viola and other lovelies are out and about.

    Spring love and loveliness to all.

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    Hooray! Nettle season is upon us once more and I managed my first harvest yesterday. This is my favourite time for nettle foraging as they are so young and fresh.

     

    The thing I love most about fresh nettles is their smell. Somehow it evokes the exact combination of the greenness of their leaves and the earthiness of their roots and it makes me feel more alive just to inhale it.

    I have long suspected that the green sludge in Popeye’s can that turned him from simple sailor to superhero was actually nettle, mistakenly labelled as spinach. Nettle is such a powerhouse of nutrition that it is one of my favourite foods as well as one of my favourite medicinal herbs. Including some in your daily diet is better than many a multi vitamin. They are high in iron which is easily absorbed due to the fact they also contain Vitamin C. They help the circulation as well as balancing blood sugar and energy levels. They are great at this time of year as they are both cleansing and building, so not only do they help rid us of accumulations and activate the kidneys but they also make sure we are strengthened and nourished after the hard winter months. They are, in my book, the perfect spring food and best of all, they are everywhere!

    You can use nettle instead of spinach in any cooked dishes such as bakes, lasagnes and everyone’s favourite, nettle soup. The way I really love to eat them however is raw, and straight from the hedgerow.

    There’s a special knack to picking and eating nettles without getting stung but its very easy really as long as you are careful. Just pluck the top off the plant, just the first few leaves, taking them from underneath by pinching the stem with your nails. Then roll them into a very tight ball, squidging them as you go to break down the fine hairs that contain the sting. Then pop them in your mouth and eat… yum.

    There are so many ways to enjoy nettles, I’ll be sure to post on them again before the spring is out as I make my year’s supply of tincture, vinegar and other nettle delights. Until then, happy foraging :)

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    Spring Comes

    Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, grass grows.

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