“In Scotland, I have eaten nettles, I have slept in nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought nettle cloth more durable than any other linen.”
18th c. poet Thomas Campbell
“Nettle oil preceded paraffin; the juice curdled milk and helped to make Cheshire cheese; nettle juice seals leaky barrels; nettles drives frogs from beehives and flies from larders; nettle compost encourages ailing plants, and fruits packed in nettle leaves retain their bloom and freshness.”
Margaret Baker from Discovering the Folklore of Plants
“Tibetans believe that their sage and poet Milarepa (AD 1052-1135) lived solely on nettle soup for many years until he turned himself green: a literal green man.”
Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal from Hedgerow Medicine
“Nettle magic is steeped in dualities: both fierce and soft, painful and restorative, common as weeds and priceless as jewels. Potent. Tenacious. Humble and often overlooked. Resilient.”
How do I love thee, nettles? Oh, let me count the ways!
You have fed my body and my soul, all the hundreds of hours I have spent with you over the last decades of my life. Harvesting you, singing to you, cooking with you on my woodstoves, both indoors and in my outdoor kitchen, boiling giant pots of you over a live fire in my firepit, with my now not-so little girl. Gazing at your beautiful hairs shining in the sunlight. Crawling under oak trees, cottonwoods and willows to get to your most abundant patches of sprawling life, my hair catching on branches, my bare ankles stinging, singing me awake to step more mindfully. You have been such a mentor to me. Teaching me, over and over again, how to pay attention to, and celebrate the abundances of each and every moment. How to seize the blessings of the day, and how to give back in return. How to nurture, value, and protect my own energy.
Back in my New Mexico canyon home, nettles often grew new leaves all year long, though much more slowly in the winter, and only if our river banks were damp enough. I used to harvest and cook them without any awareness of when they went to seed, but have since learned from Kiva that the leaves can be hard on the kidneys after this time. So now I cut them back after seeding happens, so that the new leaves can be harvested as soon as they begin flourishing again. The seeds themselves can be used as an adrenal tonic, or added to salt for a mineral rich flavor enhancer.
Most of the nettles I’ve used since leaving the canyon have not been harvested by me. My dear friend Vittorio is a dedicated harvester and gleaner, and very generous with his abundances. While I was living in Oregon, he supplied me with at least 100 pounds of fresh nettles. Upon receiving this beautiful delivery, I began processing them in my house and quickly realized that I would have difficulty getting them all taken care of properly. But in those first days of the hundred pounds of nettles living on my front porch some very wonderful things were made: Nettle Vinegar, which I used for a mineral rich base for Fire Cider and for my other herbal vinegars, Nettle Salt Ferment, many bags of boiled and frozen fresh nettles, and many jars of Nettle Fir Pesto, some of which were shared and/or bought by friends.
After a week or so of processing the nettles seemingly nonstop, I called Vittorio for advice, and he offered to dry the rest of them for me on his racks at his little home, which are assisted by a huge (at least 6’ tall!) fan that we moved around together with a skateboard!
Whereas in New Mexico, the dried nettles could not be properly pulverized, the Oregon nettles grind up smoothly after boiling, stems and all. And pesto made with them has an entirely different, much more pleasing texture!
I’m now in Joshua Tree, California. I traveled from Seattle to S Cal last summer sharing and planting nettle seeds all the way down the coast, and making nettle pesto at every house concert and dinner that my partner James and I created together. Vittorio restocked me with more dried nettles when I came back through Ashland, and called me a few weeks ago to check on my supply. I’ve been drinking nettle tea every day for many monthsand lately been starting my day with a variation of a nettle-miso soup I fed so many guests and vision questers with in New Mexico.
I don’t know if they’ll grow here in the desert, but it’s time to get some seeds in the ground and give it a try!
What have your encounters with Stinging Nettle been like?
Any favorite preparations or memories you’d like to share?
Has anyone grown stinging nettles in the desert?