Sunday, June 05, 2016

Wild Plant Medicine Workshop 1 - focus on Nettle

I absolutely love nettle.  I think it's one of my favourite "wild" medicinals, with such a versatile range of applications and uses.   And since it is at it's peak right now, we offered our first workshop in the "wild plant medicine (in the city)" series on the topic of Nettle! 

Not only is it delicious, packed with nutrition (iron, calcium, vit A and C, 25% protein by weight), but healing to many aspects of our body (men, women, children, elders alike).  It is an alterative, working to bring our body back into healthy balance, meeting us where we need.  It helps stimulate all systems of elimination in the body, this removing toxins and wastes and realigning our bodies toward healthy wholeness.  It is helpful for allergies, arthritis, rheumatism, recovering from illness, beneficial for nursing mothers, and generally toning to both the male and female reproductive systems.  It does not have counter-indications with other herbs/medicines, and can be used freely and safely.  Primarily the leaves are used, harvested before they start to flower.  It can be tinctured, dried for tea or used fresh for tea and cooking (the drying, steaming or cooking removes the sting from the leaves).  See a few of our favourite nettle recipes below - taking our "medicine" as food is always a great way to go!

Nettle has a long history of co-habitation with humans.  Wherever old human settlements are in the northern boreal regions of the globe (Europe, Asia, North America) likely you will find nettle.  It is said that nettle has often been found growing over old burial grounds, bringing to mind that this special plant is protecting sacred ground - it's stinging properties mean that humans will not easily trample through a nettle patch.

Nettle is also beneficial for many species of animals - several kinds of butterfly larva only eat nettle, and also nettle is a useful food source for ground birds, reptiles and rodents in riparian areas.

So, don't think of this wonderful wild plant as just a "weed" - bring some nettle into your life, ethically harvesting* where it is growing along streams and shady moist riverbanks and wooded areas, or even planting a small patch in a contained area of your back woods/garden (be warned, nettle spreads rapidly by underground roots and rhizomes so do keep it contained by trenching the area or planting in a container).  Remember, it's called "stinging nettle" for a good reason - harvest with caution, wearing long sleeves, pants and gloves as it can cause severe contact dermatitis (red stinging itching welts) from the formic acid it releases into exposed skin through it's stinging hairs. 

* ethical wild harvesting - meaning to harvest carefully and respectfully, leaving no trace that you have been harvesting a wild plant (take no more than 1/4 of a patch, do not harvest entire plants, cover soil back to leave ground undisturbed, and leave healthy plants to go to seed and grow in the coming years)
* and when harvesting in the wild, be sure to know FOR SURE that you have properly identified the plant (use a good ID book with clear photos or sketches of plants in various times of season, or go with an experiences wild harvester who knows how to safely harvest and identify - there are some look-alike plants that can be toxic)

Here is an delicious example where nettle makes a creamy soup in place of any dark leafy green (spinach, chard, kale).  It was paired with sorrel in this lemony green soup above.

And in our workshop we made a nettle-based "medicinal" pesto - deep green, garlic-y, and delicious!

Nettle-Walnut Pesto (cheesy version)

8 cups nettle leaves (top 6 inches, removed from stalk)
2 cups other wild green edibles (we used dandelion and plantain leaves, but you could use traditional pesto garden herbs like basil or parlsey)
1 cup nuts (e.g. walnuts, pine nuts, brazil nuts, almonds)
1 cup seeds (e.g. sunflower, pumpkin, hemp)
2 cups olive oil (more or less, to get consistency you want)
1 cup parmesan, grated
1/2 cup Asiago, grated
10 clove of garlic
3 tsp sea salt

Nettle-Seed Pesto (vegan version)

8 cups nettle leaves
2 cups other wild green edibles
2 cups seeds (e.g. pumpkin, sunflower, hemp or combination of these - add in nuts if you like in place of seeds)
1 cup nutritional yeast
1-2 cups olive oil (to get consistency you want)
10 cloves garlic
3 tsp sea salt

1) Blend greens with seeds and some oil in small batches in a food processor.
2) Then add cheese/nutritional yeast, garlic and sea salt and blend well.
3) Add more olive oil if necessary to get the consistency you want.  Do not thin with water as it will create a paste, not a thick pesto sauce.
4) Taste, adjust flavours - remember the pesto will mellow and blend flavours as it sits.
5) Scoop into jars and store in fridge (for about 2 weeks) or freezer for longer term.
6) Serve with crackers, zucchini chips, as a dip for fresh veggies, mixed into pasta, on bread, mixed into mayo for a delicious veggie burger experience, and so many other great uses for pesto! 

Coming up next month in the "wild plant medicine (in the city)" series: 
Plantain - and making healing oils, salves, and bug lotions with plantain

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