Welcome to Monday. St. Patrick's Day is happening this week, and as I have some Irish roots, I did indeed aim to think green for this week's #mondayhealthbasics blog post.
My week got off to a roaring start with a thoughtful gift from one of my sisters, a book from boreal herbalist wunderkind Beverley Gray called The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North – a Guide to Harvesting, Preserving and Preparing. Oh the joy. Oh the possibilities! (I am so lucky to have two awesome sisters. I love them so!)
See, I am a forager at heart and as I dig a bit deeper into our family's history, I realize I come by this quite honestly. This book has been on my radar for years since a good friend shared the knowledge within and a few recipes and foraging forays with me. But leafing through this new tome to my collection last night got me dreaming of things I want to uncover in places near by. As the book cover suggests, “(this) is an indispensable guide to identifying and using northern plants for food and medicine.” In this book you will find profiles of plants, berries, herbs and trees that will help you identify them in the wild. These profiles will help you figure out how and when to gather and preserve these goodies, with safety tips. You'll find lots of recipes and how-tos with detailed information on how best to gather these medicinal foods and make the most of the plants growing wild in the recesses of your back yard to the more remote spots found in nearby wilder areas.
Leafing through the book last night, I zoned in on the Stinging Nettle, or Urtica dioica. Yes yes yes, the same plant that gives you the very intense zing-like needling you would experience were you to chance upon a patch without knowing it. This perennial plant runs wild in almost every nook and cranny of this planet where there are wetter areas or where the soil has been disturbed. It loves rich damp soil. And seeing as spring seems to be just around the corner, it will be one of the first wild plants that will pop up for early harvesting.
I love nettle for so many reasons: it grows wild and can be found quite easily if you know where to look and what to look for. It's a super green, providing a rich source of iron (we need for energy and oxygen transport in our bodies) and silica (a mineral necessary for our body's structural force so think strong bones, nails, skin and hair). It's a power house of vitamins and nutrients, a good source of vitamin K, magnesium, chlorophyll, vitamins A and C too. My favourite thing in nettles is the high calcium content: 1 cup will supply your body with roughly 40% of this important mineral for the day! All of this to say that nettle is a food that will promote the good health of bones and teeth, my friend. And these things we need strong for this world, yes?
The Boreal Herbal book explores the folklore behind this nutrient-dense herb, stating it is a blood purifier. It's purported to help your kidneys and liver. There are new studies looking into the efficacy of this herb in the treatment of BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia), a non-cancerous growth of the prostate gland. So fellas, this one is for you too!
This herb is a fabulous anti-histamine herb, and as such would be of tremendous support for anyone dealing with allergies or the kinds of reactions we would associate with hayfever like itchy watery eyes. The leaves have also been shown to help combat inflammation, and so this herb would be of great benefit to someone suffering with arthritis or gout, eczema or psoriasis. Any kind of inflammation!
Nettle has a diuretic effect as well, so if you are someone who tends to retain water, this would be a good herb to add to your arsenal. Love your kidneys up, my friend.
Some companies have added it to their hair care products in order to help control dandruff. There are even manufacturers out there who have figured out how to utilize the fibres of the plant to produce textile. Fabric! All because of how easily and prolifically it grows. (Some folks call this a weed. A weed to you is a herbal delight to me.)
WHERE TO FIND THE GOODS
Now not everyone is up for hiking through dense marshy areas in search for this perennial herb. And fair enough. (I am not a super experienced forager, so I will forego sharing any tips or ideas on how or where to find nettle. I don't want to send you in the wrong direction or fail to give you the full and complete information you would need to ensure the plant you have in your hand is indeed the nettle plant. Plus, I don't want you to get hurt. BUY THE BOOK. It's about all I can say.)
So where would one find this amazing herb then, you ask, should one prefer to go the surer route? There are quite a few favourite local haunts where I have seen them on the shelves, or where I have purchased bags of the good stuff. Make sure to check your local favourite health food stores like Amaranth, Community or Blush Lane. You can also pick some up at The Light Cellar next time you're in Bowness.
HOW TO CONSUME THE GOODS
I'd forego trying the stuff raw. Imagine it stings you. While you're chewing. I'm just not that much into extreme food sports, you know? I mean they're called stinging nettles for a reason: there are hairs on the plant's stems and leaves that, when they come into contact with your skin, well they STING! And that feeling is just not pleasant.
But once you cook them, that stinging property disappears and you are left with a wonderfully dense, nourishing green that will provide your body with the good food. One of the easiest ways to consume the benefits of this herb is to steep it in a tea. Just toss the lot in with some water, and simmer for a short time if you prefer a weaker tea, or go ahead and let it simmer for longer for a deeper greener taste. I myself like to throw it in with other herbs in my thermos for the day's tea, depending on what I have in my pantry or what organ I want to support at that time. Nettle is always in the mix, every single day.
If you go digging around the internets, you'll find some wonderful recipes like this Potato, Golden Beet and Nettle Soup that sounds scrumptious. The good folks at The Kitchn have compiled a comprehensive list of recipes for clever ways to consume nettle in things like pestos, pastas, pies and pizzas here. You'll also find a wonderful compendium of recipes featuring this herb at a website solely dedicated to the health properties of Nettle.
I'm not so calculated, I tend to cook from the hip. I throw a handful of dried nettles in lots of things from meatballs to soups and stocks; I've been known to throw some in with the ground beef or bison I'm cooking for a taco salad or add it in to spaghetti sauce or a chili. Anywhere you want a little more green, my friend. It's as easy as that. Toss it in with your morning egg scramble; add it to the shredded sweet potato pancakes you have on tap for dinner tonight; simmer them a bit in a cup of meat stock for snack time; add it to your herbal profile when making a bouillon salt; add it to the greens you're cooking up for a yummy Palak Paneer; throw it in with the vegetables in your next ferment.
Whatever you do my friend, you best
GO PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD.
And happy St. Patty's day!