Foraging Nettles

This week I had an amazing dish at Higgin’s in Portland. It was nettle pesto served with hazelnuts that was so flavorful! It was worth every bloaty minute of the carb coma I had from the pasta. If you are ever in Portland, drop in for an amazing meal.

Which leads to……

As Spring returns to the Pacific Northwest, one of the first signs is Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) coming up in damp areas. On our land, we see them first in the draw that goes into our well head. We get some amazing nettles there. These grow low to the ground and are typically lush and deep green. Nettles are one plant that is hard to misidentify – all it takes is a brush against them, and you know it is that season. Most people react to Nettles with the feeling of a warm stinging sensation, that is itchy. However, a few will have a deeper reaction, and get weepy blisters (Nettle Dermatitis). If you are an unlucky one, get someone else to pick for you. Once cooked, the nettles don’t react this way.

In our upper field, in an area that has been disturbed, the first ones are popping up in sunny patches, where rotting logs and dirt sit.

In summer the plants will grow tall (up to 7 feet high), and become scrawny, with just a few leaves. They lose their deep green color and go to a pale, washed out green, with white-ish tops. They still sting however, and are harder to avoid when tall. In Spring you can step on them, and not worry about your legs.

Learning to pick them is a worthy adventure. Bring a pair of gloves, dipped ones work best. I wear Carhartt gloves when I work the fields, and do foraging of this type. Add in a picking container (sure, a woven basket is what the hippy chicks would use, but a Ziploc tub with lid or a brown paper shopping bag on dry days works even better). Wear long pants, closed toe shoes and long sleeves to avoid getting “warmed up” while picking. Some sexy overalls goes well……

Pick in the cool of the morning. It is easier to see, and the plants are hydrated. This applies to picking of all greens (and herbs) – the earlier in the day, the better the quality. If you must pick later in the day, do it before sunset so the plants have time to cool down a bit from the day.

If you wish to dehydrate nettles for use all year-long (it makes a great tea), place the leaves in a large, clean brown paper bag and stash in an area to dry, shaking every day, to distribute them. You can use a dehydrator on its lowest setting, but I find the brown bag method works better and you preserve all oils, color and texture better without heat. Paper bags compost well afterwards as well.

I have two recipes to enjoy. One for dry leaves, the other for fresh leaves – in a backpacking and camping friendly meal.

Nettle Leaf Tea

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp dried nettles
  • 1 cup hot water
  • Raw honey, if desired

Directions:

Pour water over the nettles leaves, let infuse for 5 minutes. Strain tea, over sip with the leaves at the bottom. Sweeten if desired.

Serves 1.

Nettle Pesto Pasta
Ingredients:
  • 8 ounces pasta of choice, cook time under 7 minutes
  • 1⁄4 cup toasted finely diced pine nuts, walnuts, hemp seeds or hazelnuts
  • 1⁄2 cup shelf stable parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup packed freshly picked stinging nettle leaves (urtica dioica) (discard stems)
  • 1 1⁄4 tsp granulated garlic

Instructions:

Pack the pasta in a sandwich bag, the nuts and garlic in a small bag, the Parmesan cheese in a snack bag and the olive oi in a leak proof container.

In camp:

In your pot bring a ¼ cup water to a boil, add your nettle leaves, cover tightly and let steam a couple of minutes (lower your stove’s flame). Drain off any water left, then chop the leaves as finely as you can. Add the olive oil to the nut bag, then add the nettles. Stir well and put aside.

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in your pot, add the pasta and cook for time on package. Drain carefully. Add pesto to pasta as desired, top liberally with the cheese.

The sauce can also be made at home, process in a blender or food processor till smooth. Feel free to use fresh Parmesan cheese if done this way.

Serves 2.
DISCLAIMER:
WITH ALL WILD FOODS CONSULT A KNOWLEDGEABLE GUIDE FOR PICKING BEFORE CONSUMING. Follow all rules for foraging/picking on public lands. Do not pick where herbicides have been sprayed on or nearby, nor near highways. Use caution serving wild foods to small children, pregnant women and anyone with medical issues.
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Sunday April 28th is the Nettle Festival on Whidbey Island, from 11 to 2, at the opening day of the South Whidbey Tilth Market in Bayview. We are a vendor this year, and would love to see you there. And….yes, we will have dried nettle leaves for sale.

Botany & Wildcrafting Course Review

Have you ever wanted to get into Wildcrafting, but didn’t know where to start? Herbal Academy has just released a new course, that for me is simply amazing. With our new property that the farm & homestead is on, I am out nearly daily trying to ID plants.

As Spring has finally settled in, every afternoon I notice flowers opening, trees blossoming, and new plants shooting up. There is no better time to get into the woods and poke around for the many wild edibles and herbs flourishing in your area than right now. The class was released today, and I am currently immersed in it, downloading the textbook PDF’s, printing them and studying.

I was given a chance to review this new course in exchange for my thoughts on it – and like all of the courses I have taken through Herbal Academy, I am always pleased with the quality of the content and the presentation. You can take the course at a slow or fast pace, and it comes with a full color printable textbook in PDF, for later use (I print all mine off and put them by class into 3 ring binders). One of the biggest parts is they cover the ethics of wildcrafting/picking and stress the importance of being careful with endangered plants.

While foraging and wildcrafting are hot topics now a days, the idea of trekking into the woods to forage for your own food and herbs may have you feeling intimidated. Or you may even be a little scared, which is to be expected if you don’t know what you are doing, especially when trying your hand at it for the first time. Even for myself, as both a hiker and a farmer, there is so much I don’t know! I was excited when the class was announced, as a goal of mine for our hiking trips has been being better at plant ID. Sure, I can identify most wildflowers, but greens? Not so much. And knowing plants that are also medicinal? Even better.

The Herbal Academy has just released Botany & Wildcrafting Course, a well-layed out course that will guide you through the art of wildcrafting, teach you the science of plant identification, and answer your many getting started questions, all while build your confidence along the way. Curated by an expert team of herbalists and botanists, this program explores plants as living beings, their fascinating ecological relationships, and the ways that our own ecosystem can shape your relationship with plants.

By the end of this class, you will have the information to safely wild harvest and use at least 25 common wild plants, and have the tools and know-how to independently wildcraft the plants in your region. You will be able to:

  • Name all the parts of a plant, including the parts that make up flowers, leaves, fruits, and stems.
  • Identify new plants anywhere in the world using a dichotomous key.
  • Understand how to decipher plant part differences such as leaves, flowers, and fruits of separate plant species.
  • Decode patterns in nature and gain insight into plant relationships and herbal and edible use by understanding these patterns.
  • Sense of the vast number of relationships that exist between plants and other organisms that are required for pollination, seed dispersal, and survival.
  • Understand how and when to use a plant’s binomial name and discover why a plant might have more than one name.
  • Dry plants in a way that maintains their vitality, aroma, color, and flavor.
  • Create your very own herbarium of pressed plant specimens.
  • Get to know plants on a deeper level through keying, drawing, coloring, and identification.

Like most Herbal Academy courses, you have the option to upgrade with a Botanical Illustrations Workbook, including 25 botanically accurate illustrations from the class ready for your coloring skills, summary monographs from class to complete your learning experience, and blank pages for additional sketches and note-taking. You don’t have to get it, but I can tell you from other classes, it is worth the small extra cost. 

The Botany & Wildcrafting Course is now enrolling students with a great introductory price through May 7th, and class begins May 7th! Through the 7th, the class is $50 off.

FTC Disclaimer: We received the course to review, those thoughts are ours. 

Creating A Living Winter Food Tree For The Animals

When our younger boys were preschool age, they attended a forest school, that was all outdoors. The first year we decorated the forest and made living winter food trees for the birds and squirrels that call the area home year-round. It’s a really fun project for the long Thanksgiving weekend, when the children are bored by Friday.

Evergreen trees show the treats well (the color popping against the deep green), however empty deciduous trees also work well. And if you live in a rainy area, consider decorating a covered porch as well. The animals will still visit, and your home will be beautifully decorated for the Winter Solstice (or Christmas).

A popular one was orange slices:

While we hung fresh cut ones, as we had a covered area, dehydrating them first makes it a lot less messy. And less likely the children eat all the supplies (hah).

Dried oranges are incredibly easy to prep, and can be done with lower quality fruit, than if you were eating the citrus fresh. I buy 3 pound bags of navel oranges at our local discount shop (Grocery Outlet), and wash them oranges well, then dry off. Trim the ends, slice and separate.

You have two choices, one is more gentle, the other is faster – a great option if you decide in the morning to wildcraft.

Dry on a dehydrator, at 135 to 155°, till dry. This may take 12 to 24 hours, depending on temperature in machine, in the house and the home’s humidity.

Heat your oven to 200°. Lay out the orange slices on cooling racks, over baking sheets. It will take about 2 to 3 hours till dry.

You can use grapefruit, lemons, limes, whatever you have on hand.

For hanging the dried slices, use a plastic or metal blunt end needle (for knitting). Hemp twine works well, or any similar biodegradable gardening twine. Avoid using fishing line as it is plastic, and can harm animals. Once strung as you like (you can make knots between each slice to keep from sliding), hang or drape as you like.

Cranberry garland:

If you missed this classic in school, I say it’s never too late to do it! One bag of fresh cranberries (which like the oranges need not be the best in shape, so if it’s marked down, grab it). Using a thinner needle (metal works better here), thread the needle with twine. If the twine is thin you will want to make a loop and knot. If thick, just knot one end. Simple sewing here. Thread on the cranberries, length-wise. You can knot between if they are slipping at all. Wind the garland around trees or bushes as desired.

Popcorn:

I only suggest popcorn if your winter is on the arid side. I don’t do it here, as it rains too much. Air pop organic popcorn, and use a sewing needle with a double section of cotton thread (knotted). Once a section is done, arrange on trees.

Finishing The Intermediate Herbal Course by Herbal Academy

This past week I finished and got my certificate in the Intermediate Herbal Course from Herbal Academy. Finishing it meant I had completed the Family Herbalist Path.

Online Intermediate Herbal Course

It was a long course, and taking it over the spring and summer months didn’t help it go fast. I worked on it at night, when I had chances, and farming wasn’t overwhelming me. Fall gave me a lot more free time with the children back in school (and no farm chores to eat up my days!). This isn’t a light reading class, and I’d say it really pushed me mentally. It was hard. When I was young, and in school, I wasn’t a very good student. My mind tended to wander. Honestly, I’d say it was because the studies didn’t hold me. Education I want to learn at, I do well with.

I took the Introductory Herbal Course in the start of the year, to see how I liked it.

Online Introductory Herbal Course

The course stuck a harmony in me, and left me wanting to take more. I learned more how my body works, than I had thought I might know in my life. It also opened up my eyes to why our youngest son’s body works the way it is, and ways I can help him with his issues. If anything, I took the schooling to learn ways to help the family.

I am continuing to learn, and am taking the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course currently. Stress is always something I can work in, with 3 children and a farm to run. It’s a short course, and a great way to see if one likes Herbal Academy’s methods and presentation.

Enroll in the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course

After that? I don’t know yet, but I am leaning towards finishing my courses and taking the third course in the entrepreneur path. It would complement my work in handcrafted body products, one of the main reasons I started my herbalist training.

Online Entrepreneur Herbal Course

The learning has been amazing though. I have gained more confidence in what herbs to choose, and how to use them and when. If anything, I make amazing herbal teas now.

During the summer, when I was having studying burnout, I took the short course, Herbal Materia Medica, and picked up the paper journal to go with it. It gave me time to force myself to sit down outside and study the herb plants our farm. My drawing might have a long way before I’d show it to anyone, but well, at least I am trying!

Enroll in the Materia Medica Course!

Each course they offer comes with PDF printouts, which I print and put in binders for future research. The many recipes shared in the courses I have in their own binder. From teas, tinctures, salves, and even food/drink recipes, I have so many I have been using.

Someday, I will have a working apocathary area on our farm for our use, where I can store my course binders and books for easy use. It’s a life goal. I’d love to have a small shop where my products are featured, with a work area for me, for doing research. A girl can dream.

But for now, back to my studies.

Building an Herb Pantry

Over the years, every summer and early fall I always harvest both herbs I grow, and local ones I can sustainably harvest (for example Nettles), and I dry them to preserve for use all year, to build a herb pantry. For example, I always stock up on Thyme, Rosemary, Sage and so on. Nothing from a store competes with home-grown dried herbs in the middle of January! They are light in texture, fresh and you know exactly what was used to raise them (in most cases nothing more than water and sunshine). To dry? Cut in the morning, and stash the cut herbs in new paper lunch bags, in a cool/dry area. The herbs will air dry, preserving the oils. Once dry, pull of the stems, and place in glass mason jars, marked. You can use a food dehydrator as well, however, use the coolest setting. You want to avoid cooking the delicate oils.

However, as I started studying herbalism, I found I needed more herbs so I could make medicinal teas and tinctures. This led to more plants being grown, especially for lesser common things like marshmallow and feverfew. This summer I started building a herb pantry for medicinal use (that is separate from our eating herbs, though I do use them as well in my medicinal work), that I keep in an easy to access, yet cool/dark/dry area, so I can work easily.

However, if you don’t or can’t grow them yourself, it is easy to source. My suggestions are to buy from Frontier Co-op (their products are used in many herb bulk bins in stores, always well-marked) or Mt. Rose Herbs, both of which are highly regarded. Only buy from sources that are trusted however. Avoid herbs and spices from discount stores, and in bulk bins where no brand is marked. You have no idea what was used on them, or if it is even the actual product. (Frontier sells in large quantities, Mt. Rose sells in smaller amounts)

Culinary herbs such as:

  • Basil
  • Bay Leaf
  • Cilantro
  • Dill seed, Dill Weed
  • Ginger
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Sage

Medicinal herbs & flowers:

  • Calendula
  • Chamomile
  • Comfrey
  • Dandelion Root
  • Hibiscus Flowers
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Marshmallow Root
  • Patchouli
  • Peppermint
  • Red Raspberry Leaves
  • Rose Flowers
  • Strawberry Leaves

There of course is so much more out there, including spices, and even more flowers and roots. Buy what you need, no more than an ounce or so at a time, unless you have a project in mind, and try to use up within a few months if you can, but make it a policy that once a year you clean out any unused herbs and spices, and send them to the compost pile.

For best results, don’t crush any larger leaves until time to use (such as red raspberry, or sage). Crumble, or finely pound, as needed. This keeps the essential oils fresher, for longer.

For best storage, invest in various glass mason jars, and seal tightly. Store out of direct light.