It’s hard to say what my favorite part of being an herbalist is. It’s empowering to know that we all have the ability to heal and nourish ourselves with simple little plants that grow all around us as weeds. Being an herbalist opens your eyes to the world around you in a different way. You can’t walk down your block without scanning the edges of lawns and overgrown areas looking for those little friends you know so well.
Helpful plants grow everywhere. Like these nettles. I was talking to my dad on the phone last night, telling him about the nettles harvest I had just done with my friend. He asked where people get nettles who don’t live on the edge of the Appalachian woods, assuming it was a delicate and precious woodland herbal only found to those who know exactly where to hunt it down.
But that’s the wonderful part- it’s probably growing in your backyard, or in your neighborhood, or at the edge of the parking lot where you work.
It grows in an empty lot covered in Kudzu vines right in my neighborhood. A huge patch covering a hillside that I drive by everyday. When it’s at its peak, the sharp smell wafts into my open windows on my drive home (many people compare it to cat pee!).
So yesterday, my herbalist friend Heidi and I did our second harvest of the spring there.
No, I didn’t wear gloves. If you snip and grab with the scissors just right, you can get it into your bag without too many stings (unless you want the stings which was an old timey remedy for arthritis). I like that behind me you can see an old car. Maybe it’s not scenic- but that’s the beauty of nettles. It’s scrappy and tough and doesn’t need to grow in a pristine flower filled meadow.
Harvesting in the afternoon sun with kindred spirits is another beautiful part of herbalism. Once our bags were full, we headed home. I like to tie little bundles with yarn and hang them to dry in my house near my windows and along my walls. Once dry, I crumble it into jars and use all year as tea.
Nettles is rich in iron and minerals so it’s very nourishing, especially wonderful for pregnant women. Some people use it to help treat allergies. It helps nourish our entire systems, making us stronger and better able to cope with the stress we live with and help battle exhaustion. Some people prefer to steep it or gently boil as a ‘tea’, and some prefer cold infusion- then strain and drink. I usually start with hot nettles and then cool it in the fridge which makes for a nearly black liquid. If you’re not a huge fan of the flavor, you can add any other herbs you like- I have really been enjoying adding fresh mint leaves and rosemary flowers to my prepared nettles tea. Harvest before it blooms to be gentler on kidneys.
You can even make a delicious soup with it! Or use it as the stuffing to your spanikopita. I can’t wait to try Maria’s Recipe for soup.