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.

Building A Home Apothecary

Many homesteaders are drawn to natural methods and for many, being able to make natural first aid, herbal remedies and more is a big part of their self-sufficient life. Building a well-stocked apothecary is a first step, so that you can easily create what you need. Dried herbs? Oils? Jars and tins? Essential oils? All ready to go.

What do we have in ours? Quite a bit! Our ‘pantry’ runs from building blocks of raw ingredients, to storage containers, to even incorporating things like scales and measuring spoons.

While the list might look long, it isn’t too terrible and you can slowly add to it. You might even have a number of items already on hand in your kitchen and can use them.

Storage –

Mason Jars: You will want 4-ounce and 8-ounce jars for storing salves, scrubs, oil combos and more. Pint (16-ounce) and quart (32-ounce) for storing dried herbs, salts and more. It is hard to ever have too many mason jars. I use clear as I store my items out of direct light, however you can now get amber jars.

Metal Tins: Lip balm and hand balm sizes to ones big enough for shaving balms. We use these 2-ounce ones.

Plastic Lip Pots: Perfect for lip balm or travel/trial sizes of hand salves and balms. If you like push-up style, we have used these.

Lip Balm Stickers: We use these for our beeswax balm.

Glass Rollerballs: Both 2 ML and 10 ML, for roll on applications. Look for stainless steel or glass roller balls if possible.

Glass Spray Bottles: In 2-ounce, 4-ounce and 8-ounce sizes. Glass is best, as essential oils can cloud plastic over time.

Deodorant and stick balm applicators: Both oval and circle ones are sold, they are handy for recipes needing a push container.

Wooden boxes: For storing mason jars and more in. If you keep your sections tidy, you will know where everything is.

Storage Container for Essential Oils: We use this chest as our main one (though we also use two more wooden ones that are smaller)

Essential Oil Cap Stickers: There are many to choose from, I love the designs on these. Stickers might seem silly, but when you have multiple chests of small containers, it really helps you pick them out quickly.

Prep Items –

Small Digital Scale: Weighs up to 5 pounds.

Measuring Cups and Spoons: Preferably stainless steel for easy cleanup.

Thermometers: While not 100% necessary, a candle thermometer is very helpful for keeping delicate waxes and oils from scorching. If you get into soap making you will want multiples, that are used just for it. As well for candle making.

Empty metal cans or a melting pot: A dedicated melting pot is worth the investment, especially if you melt a considerable amount of beeswax or candle waxes. In apinch use BPA liner free metal cans (such as tomato ones, well scrubbed out).

Bamboo Chopsticks/Compostable Spoons: They are very helpful for stirring, and ladling out recipes. When done, just toss in your compost pile or yard waste bin.

Candle wicking: You can buy rolls of dipped wicking, that you cut to size, but the easiest is to buy an ample stock of ready to use wicks, with bottoms already attached.

Parchment Paper: Great for lining counters with when pouring salves or beeswax (or candles), for easy cleanup.

Paper Towels: You can never have enough on hand for cleanups.

Pipette: These clear flexible plastic pipettes make transferring fluids like fractionated coconut oil a breeze, with almost no mess.

The Raw Ingredients –

Herbs: Buy from a reputable source your dried herbs/spices, such as Mountain Rose Herbs or Frontier Co-Op, or from local farms. Best choice? Grown and air dry your own.

Oils: Depending on projects starting oils might be avocado, coconut, olive oil and so on. Buy organic and cold-pressed/unrefined if at all possible.

Fractionated Coconut Oil: This form of coconut oil is designed to stay liquid all the time. Use it in roller balls and similar.

Shea Butter: Used in balms, salves and more.

Essential Oils: A loaded question on what to buy? See here for a discussion.

Salts: Celtic Sea, Dead Sea and Himalayan are all good choices. Buy as large as possible in grain size.

Clays: There are various forms, personally I only buy as needed.

Wax: Beeswax is the first choice and locally sourced is utterly important. If you cannot find a local source, make sure it isn’t from China, as it is most likely not pure beeswax, if at all.

Enjoy and have fun creating!

~Sarah

Disclaimer: This is a personal opinion post and is not meant to be used as medical advice.

Wildcrafting Douglas Fir Essential Oil

Years ago, when I found my love of hiking and the outdoors, it opened up my eyes to the plants and trees around me. But, overall while I could identify wildflowers and native trees, I knew nothing about why they might be valuable to use in other ways. Starting our homestead has led me to wanting to know more. More about the native plants, and also how to use them in beneficial ways. But I know that for me, wildcrafting is an amazing way – only take what I need, and do no harm to the plants.

I am taking the Intermediate Herbal Course currently from Herbal Academy, and my wildcrafting has become stronger as I work on my Herbalist education.

Online Intermediate Herbal Course

And if there is a tree, an evergreen, that makes one think of the Pacific Northwest, the mighty Coast Douglas Fir comes to mind. It grows along the coast, from BC, Canada to into California, and runs all the way up to subalpine in the Cascade mountains, on the Western side of the mountains. If you have ever looked down at the vast forests of green trees here, you are looking often at them. They are long-lived and can tower up to 300 feet tall. It is considered the second-tallest conifer in the world, Redwood is the tallest. The Coast Salish name was lá:yelhp. The tree itself is not an actual Fir tree, but is an evergreen, as Firs are as well.

The best way to identify this tree? Their unusual pinecones. Maybe you have heard the tale of the tree that protected the mice from the mighty forest fire? Do you see the tiny mice feet and tails hanging out of the cones?

And in my back yard, I pick up thousands of these pinecones every winter. The winter storms shake them loose and they rain down. I chuck them back over to the county line – since the trees live on their side. Hah. The only time I get really nervous is when we have winds over 50 mph. I tend to stay in the front of the house those days!

However, there is plenty to do with parts of the these ancient trees. Branches are plentiful in winter through spring, to collect. Find fresh ones (or trim a few carefully), then strip the needles off, rubbing backwards (like stripping thyme leaves). It works best if you do this over a piece of fabric or a sheet. You will need about 2½ cups needles.

Coastal Douglas Fir Essential Oil

Ingredients:

  • 2½ cups foraged Coastal Douglas Fir needles
  • ½ cup fractionated coconut oil
  • Pint mason jar, cleaned and dry
  • 2-ounce colored glass bottle. Cleaned and dry

Directions:

Fill a large washing basin with warm water and tiny bit of natural dishwashing soap. Add in needles and soak, stirring to circulate. Drain carefully, rinse with warm water. Shake off the water, then lay out to dry on new paper towels. Make sure the needles are fully dry, overnight is best.

Add the dried needles to the mason jar, pressing in with a wooden spoon, so they all fit. Pour the oil over slowly. Put on the lid and band, seal tightly. Shake well and set aside.

For seven days store the jar in your kitchen, out of direct sunlight. Once a day, shake or turn over the jar to let the oil flow through.

Transfer the jar to a cool, dry and dark area, let ferment for 14 more days. Do not shake or move.

Using a fine mesh strainer, placed over a large glass measuring cup, pour in the needles and oil, scraping the jar out with a small spatula. Let drain, gently pressing and stirring the needles, until all the oil has come out. Discard needles into compost.

Transfer the oil into a colored glass bottle and cap. Label. Store in a cool, dry and dark environment for up to 12 months.

FOR USE ONLY EXTERNALLY. KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN AND PETS.

Disclaimer:

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These recipes are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. They are not medical advice. This recipe contains essential oils. If any of the products cause skin irritation, discontinue use immediately. Do not ingest! If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using these recipes.