I have yet to blog about herbs. And, I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I’m a little intimidated to write about plant medicine. Apparently, it’s time to get over that. The only way to massage stuff like this (blocks and such) out of my system, is to simply begin doing whatever that thing is… So, responding to my own enthusiasm about plants and to the request of friends who have asked me to do so…I will write about plants. Here I go…
I thought I would start with a lovely plant, nettles. Yes, stinging nettles… This plant has been coming up for me for awhile now. I’ve used it in a few different ways. Here is what herbalist, Susan Weed says about the nutritional content of nettles:
Stinging nettle has about 10% protein. It’s a very rapid re-builder of beautiful skin and beautiful hair and is loaded with high quality minerals. A cup of stinging nettle infusion can contain up to 250 mg of calcium. That same cup can have over 1000 IU equivalents of vitamin A and is one of the richest sources of chlorophyll.I don’t take any kind of supplement or pills, any kind of vitamins or minerals. I depend on drinking nourishing herbal infusions which are much stronger than herbal teas. To make an infusion steep one full ounce of the herb or 30 grams by weight in 1 quart or 1 litre of boiling water for four hours. I usually weigh the herb – the dried herb always, never the fresh herb – and put it in my container, fill it to the top with boiling water and let it steep for four hours, tightly covered, or overnight, whichever works.That large amount of herb will yield a large amount of nutrition. If we just make a cup of nettle tea with a teaspoon of herb brewed for 5minutes, we get about 5 mg of calcium. If we used fresh nettle to make our tea we’d get 1 mg of calcium. Using dried herbs (drying concentrates the herbs’ goodness and nutrition), and by using a lavish quantity of herb (30grams or 1 ounce by weight is usually between a cup and a cup and a half)is how we get the most nutrition from it.
Pretty amazing, eh? Susan Weed also says that nettles strengthen the adrenals, allowing you to tolerate stress better. They also nourish the immune system. I put about 1/2-1 cup of dried nettles in a quart jar, pour hot water over it to fill, and let it sit for at least 4 hours; strain and drink. The infusion tastes so hearty and it is a seriously green drink. Don’t get me wrong, it tastes planty and earthy; however, there is a deep sense of nourishment and ease after drinking a glass of this (and, anyway — just get used to the taste…you’ll soon crave it!). The vitamins and minerals in this infusion are super easy to absorb in the body — and you can taste the concentration of good stuff! I like to sweeten mine with a bit of honey.
Near and Plentiful
I remember gardening and farming around nettles while at Esalen in Big Sur. They loved to hang out around the tomato plants for some reason. When I picked tomatoes, I would always get stung by these fellas demanding attention! Sometimes they would sting right through my gloves. It’s not a severe sting; just a good zap that tingles and diminishes in about a minute or so.
This reminds me of another tid-bit from Susan Weed that I read recently. It’s about her philosophy on what plants to use as food and/or medicine. She says that if plants are near humans and plentiful, they are ASKING to be used often in the diet; plants that are further away, need to be used rarely. So, nettles is definitely asking us to use it — often.
They also sprout up on their own in almost every garden and they are plentiful along hiking trails. In the forest, the larger-leaved nettles that you will commonly see are called wood nettles. They can be used interchangeable with stinging nettles. They just get fairly woody as they age, so catch them in early Spring!
I also use nettles as an herbal hair rinse. This was a suggestion I read out of a book on natural body care by Jeanne Rose, an all-star herbalist in San Francisco. I boil water, then I take it off the heat and add dried nettles, calendula, rosemary, and chamomile and let them simmer in water until the water is warm. I then strain out the herb and then take this solution in a stainless steel bowl to the bathtub with me. I also take another stainless steel bowl, so that I can pour the solution over my hair (top of head and with hair flipped over), a few times before letting it all go down the drain. You can chose to not rinse this out or do a partial rinse. Sometimes I add rosemary oil to the solution as well…and sometimes I add some Dr. Bronner’s soap. This all depends on how dirty my hair is. If I’m just going for a conditioning rinse, I won’t add anything to the solution.
The more I experiment with herbal hair rinses, the more those bottles of goo (called Shampoo and Conditioner) look foreign to me. Is THAT really what my hair needs — an endless cycle of stripping my hair of natural oils and then replacing them with artificial ones? Jeanne Rose’s book called the “Herbal Body Book” was a good primer for me to learn about proper hair care. This book is not the easiest to navigate, but it has excellent recipes for almost every part of your body! I’m sure she has published a more recent book on this topic, so search around and see what you find.
Last but not least…there are many ways to serve up nettles as food. The stinging leaves the plant when you cook it and apply heat. Some folks saute them with garlic, butter, olive oil, and some sea salt… Some folks add them to pizza. I love making a pesto with them! Experiment and see what you can come up with!
I also made a whey cooler with nettles and chamomile. I blogged about it here; just scroll down to the bottom half of that entry to get the recipe. It tasted really good to me — tart, a little fizzy, and a little sweet. Whey coolers are just great for the gut as they are packed with lacto-bacilli.
If you decide to grow nettles in your garden, beware. They love you and they will want to take a bit plot of your garden! So, select a spot that will give the room to grow so that they don’t crowd other plants of yours.