One of the many, many wondrous things about springtime, is that it makes me incredibly nostalgic and delighted about living where I live. I first came here in spring, and this season always takes me back to when I was first falling in love with the Island.
Spring to me, is different from all the other seasons, cathartic and potent. All seasons, of course denote change and have their specific character and effect, but spring is different to me. Maybe it's the years of living in the frozen North, but there's a emotional intensity to this season. It always seems to come in with a crash and a bang, a great relief, but with its own special set of challenges.
When I was very small, we lived in the basement floor, the "stone foot", a hundred-and-fifty-year-old cherry blossom-pink wooden villa in what was then a rather rundown, sketchy neighborhood. Apparently often in the spring one of the neighbors would interrupt someone tossing gasoline onto one of the outside walls, because it was the season when the pyromaniacs would come out in the spring and try to torch the house. The local police attributed this phenomena to "spring madness", a bona fide folk belief that if you're already a little (or very) unstable spring is the season you go off the rails.
You may have colloquially heard of being "mad as a march hare", and the Roman "Ides of March", was celebrated with revelry and wild parties. The Ides of March (made infamous by the murder of Caesar) may have been celebrated on a full moon, which, again according to folk belief and backed up by crime statistics is another time when lunacy (right?) runs high. There's been studies linking the correlation of rise in suicide in the spring, as well. I wonder if there's statistics for how many affairs, reckless declarations of love and happy accident babies are conceived in these wild months?
It's my gut belief it's the sudden abundance of light and life that sets our emotions reeling, whether they be positive, or negative. The hustle and bustle of spring chores tied to the suddenly luminous skies calling us to wander into the wilderness, certainly makes me personally feel a little reckless.
Which is why it's all the more important to me that I consume much of the spring's first medicines, the grounding dandelions, chickweeds, cleavers and, of course, my plant helper, Urtica Dioica. The simple act of walking in the woods, harvesting wild foods, has a decidedly calming effect on anyone's mood. I like to take these timeouts from chores and work and still feel the productive push that spring inevitable brings. It's good to have a focus, because sometimes I feel like I'm just going to wander off, keep walking and think wild thoughts, drift further from the homestead and the tidy side of life that also demands my attention this season.
Last year, I wrote about how one of the lasting traditions of this blog are my yearly posts on nettles and so instead of repeating how redundant they must be at this point, I'm instead going to assume that y'all are wholly interested in this sanity-preserving tradition and do a little refresher course for those of you who've joined us in the last twelve months.
Urtica Dioica, the common nettle, or sometimes stinging nettle, grows wild and free both in the Northern Americas and Northern Europe. Look for it on the edges of the forests, or in disturbed soils (when doing this, pay heed to where you are and make sure you don't gather food or medicine in compromised places) in open, but moist and shady places. The harvest time is early spring.
Most people know stinging nettles from childhood, as in that they sting. The stingers are small hairs mostly on the stems and the sting is fairly mild. Chewed-up plantain aids in mollifying it, especially for kids who can experience it more intensely. I find that I don't really get stung anymore collecting, have never really worn gloves, simply taking the occasional sting, as my friend Sarah likes to say "an arthritis treatment". However if that's what's keeping you from gathering, get some gloves.
An easy way to collect is to clip the very tops of the plants into a vessel with scissors. Typically you'll find conflicting information on whether you can only use the tips, so here's my take on it: medicinal nettle can just be the top 2-4 leaves of young nettle plants, in food use leaves 6-8 are also totally acceptable and not bitter. Nettles do not become toxic until they go to seed, they lower leaves are simply less potent, stringier and acidic. The toxicity
The benefits of nettle are many: they're rich in calcium, good for preventing UTIs, alleviating allergies, help repair compromised immune systems and of course they're anti-inflammatory, hence the arthritis stinging remedy.
If you're using them for tincturing, make sure you dry them first. They're great as a fresh tea, but dried works good too. My favorite food uses, which of course are also medicinal, are pesto, pancakes and as greens in place of kale or spinach. Oil, chopping and cooking have a mollifying effect on their sting and therefor you don't need to blanch them to make pesto.
I get asked for recipes sometimes, and while I'm not wild about posting them, as my cooking is somewhat cursory and off-the-cuff, there is a Finnish classic that I thought I'd share with you guys.
This soup is typically made with spinach, but in the spring my mother would sometimes use nettles instead and my favorite childhood cookbook also has a recipe for it. I use this book a lot still actually, it has a lot of classic Scandinavian recipes and a lovely hippie-bent.
This recipe is wholly adapted and bears almost no resemblance to the original. Go figure.
Get some nettles. About a quart.
Simmer some garlic and onions in oil.
When they've browned add the nettles. If you don't have a food processor, chop em up fine first.
Add water, about 2-3 cups. I don't know, so that it looks like a fairly thick soup. You can replace this with broth, or add stock, or whatever.
Add 2-3 tsp of cornmeal, or if you don't care about gluten, any ol' flour will do. Bring to a boil.
Stir. Add milk, if you'd like, maybe 1/2 a cup. I used goat milk. Turn down, or off.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Soft boil one egg per eater.
If you haven't chopped up your nettles yet, run through food processor. Watch out. Hot.
Serve with eggs, salt, pepper and crackers. Eat all at once, or freeze. This soup is rather perishable .
Keeping the madness of spring at bay is tricky business. The right balance of work and play, dreams and grounded-ness. I hope this soup will help you get there.
Happy Wild Life! Go wildcrafting, frolicking and read this amazing offering from Mary at nightfall.
And remember: If you're planning to poison yourself by eating the wrong stuff, I'll be so sad, but I won't be held accountable. Okay? Good. You're a grown-up. Whee!