Digging roots

It had been raining on and off for more than a week. Sometimes a cold, driving rain, others a depressing and meek but soak-you-through-anyway drizzle. I had planned to dig roots, but nothing about an unseasonably wet, windy October was calling me out to take on the task.

Finally, the clouds broke, the sun peeked out, and the roots (and leaves, and flowers) called.

We went for it.

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From New England asters and mountain mint to one last abundant round of nettles, to roots of burdock, dandelion, chicory and yellow dock, there was so much to harvest–it was hard to know when to call it a day.

Finally Sage’s voice drifted down to the stand of asters where I was crouched, slowly picking, down in the creek bottom. “Mama, dinner’s ready!” (My kids each cook one dinner per week. This was his night, affording me the time to slip off and forage, since he’s self-contained in the kitchen.)

It was music to my ears. I picked a few more sprigs and headed home through the marsh.

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Lupine’s gigantic burdock root (pictured in her hands above) was the crown jewel of the day, and she carefully scrubbed away the soil, then tucked it into the fridge, researching recipes for her bounty. She’s considering giving it to Sage to use in his next batch of root beer, or perhaps making sweet-and-sour gobo, pickled (live-fermented) burdock root, or chopping and drying for tea. She’ll decide soon, then we’ll work on it together.

And today, I expect, we’ll set out again–this time to the garden for elecampane, marshmallow, and horseradish roots. Destined for homemade elecampane cough syrup, dried marshmallow root for winter colds and tummy aches, and horseradish to add to our fire tonic.

Oh, I do adore this time of year.

What’s happening in your kitchen, garden, or forest this week?

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P.S. For those of you who pre-ordered my book, Herbal Adventures, they’re shipping soon! (Squee!)

Be sure to tag me on any social media posts when your book arrives with #herbaladventuresbook, and let me know which recipes your family is excited to try first.

Big, big news (It’s a book!)

I’ve had a big project tucked away since this time last year, and I’m so thrilled to finally share it with all of you! (It’s been terribly hard to keep under wraps for so long.)

Last spring, shortly after I announced Green Magic Summer Camp, I was contacted by a publisher who wanted me to write and photograph a children’s book about herbs and herbal remedies. A book about wonderful weeds, homemade remedies, edible and medicinal plants, and so much more.

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance!

Herbal Adventures by Rachel Jepson Wolf - Backyard Excursions and Kitchen Creations for Kids and Their Families #herbs #herbal #herbalism

I spent much of last year out and about in the countryside near my home – foraging, dreaming up new recipes, and photographing ten of my favorite common edible and medicinal plants. (And dragging willing friends and family out into the fields and forests for photo shoots all season long.) And what fun we had.

The result was this: my first ever book. Pinch me!

Herbal Adventures by Rachel Jepson Wolf - Backyard Excursions and Kitchen Creations for Kids and Their Families #herbs #herbal #herbalism

Honestly, I couldn’t be more delighted. The concept, the process, the plants, the recipes–everything! This project brought together my lifelong long love of the natural world and passion for photography with my current love affair with herbs, and my my skills as a writer, naturalist, and educator. It’s the book 10 year old me would have done cartwheels over. (And, as it turns out, 45 year old me as well.)

Herbal Adventures begins by providing kids and their families with safe foraging basics. Then we dig deeper, exploring ten safe, common, backyard plants. Many of which you and your kids will already recognize!

Herbal Adventures by Rachel Jepson Wolf - Backyard Excursions and Kitchen Creations for Kids and Their Families #herbs #herbal #herbalism

Children get to know the plants through first-person introductions, then head outside to safely gather their own herbs for the recipes that follow. Or if you prefer, most recipes will accommodate purchased herbs as well if you’d like to skip the foraging and just get making.

Then snacks and drinks, oils and balms, sodas and syrups, and so much more are crafted with easy-to-follow instructions and recipes. I’ve even thrown some whimsical herbal crafts like flower crowns and seed bombs!

Herbal Adventures by Rachel Jepson Wolf - Backyard Excursions and Kitchen Creations for Kids and Their Families #herbs #herbal #herbalism

Herbal Adventures is the perfect first-step for beginners–or next-step for children and parents who have already dabbled in herbs, but want to take their knowledge further using safe, local plants.

In essence: this is the book that I wished I had for my own kids (and myself!) not so long ago.

Herbal Adventures by Rachel Jepson Wolf - Backyard Excursions and Kitchen Creations for Kids and Their Families #herbs #herbal #herbalism

Herbal Adventures is available for pre-order now!  (Release date in early December.) Or add your name to the email sign-up form below, then I’ll be sure to drop you a note when the book is released.

What a year this has been! And what a joy to put together this book for you and your kids. I can’t wait to hear what you think.

Herbal Adventures by Rachel Jepson Wolf - Backyard Excursions and Kitchen Creations for Kids and Their Families #herbs #herbal #herbalism

Which brings me to one more thing. One very important thing that needs to be said:

Thank you.

Thank you for coming here to read my words, week after week, year after year, some of you since the bumpy beginnings back in 2009. Through your feedback and having someone to write for, I have found my voice and further discovered my passion for sharing these things that I love with the world. Without you this book truly would not exist.

You did that. And I’m profoundly grateful.

Herbal Adventures by Rachel Jepson Wolf - Backyard Excursions and Kitchen Creations for Kids and Their Families #herbs #herbal #herbalism

Herbal Adventures includes:

  • Foraging safety and basics
  • Introduction to plant medicine
  • Field ID and uses for 10 common, safe, and easy-to-recognize backyard plants (chickweed, mullein, bee balm, plantain, nettle, catnip, dandelion, elder, yarrow, and pine)
  • Nearly 50 recipes for herbal snacks, syrups, teas, treats, balms, and more
  • 10 craft projects ranging from herbal seed bombs to fairy houses to natural dyes
  • Basic, adaptable recipes to use with other edible or medicinal herbs of your choosing

Herbal Adventures by Rachel Jepson Wolf - Backyard Excursions and Kitchen Creations for Kids and Their Families #herbs #herbal #herbalism

What fun I have had! And soon, so will you and your kids.

Big love,
Rachel

Spring foraging bounty

Click on any image to see a full-sized version.

As a forager, spring is something of a manic (yet magical) time. Each forage season is so fleeting, that you often have only a weekend–or even a single day–to gather all that you can. And then it’s over, and you must wait until another year has passed for another promising harvest day to come.

And so this weekend, day after day, we set out on one quest or another to gather a bit of spring’s fleeting bounty.

Spruce tips, wild mint, and catnip; nettle, cleavers, and chickweed. Infusing in vinegar or honey; tincturing in brandy; and filling the dehydrators to the brim (and hoping they dry quickly enough in this blanket of humidity that is Wisconsin in summer).

All this foraging (and the unseasonable heat) called us down to the creek again and again, to wander and harvest and escape the humidity by wading or swimming in these cold, spring-fed waters. (And no, we didn’t eat that frog!)

Oh, and the mushrooms!

We’re not much of a mushroom-hunting family (though my dad and sister are). Frankly, I’m too cautious to make it in this foraging sub-genre. But there are a few safe and easy to ID mushrooms that we’re thrilled to pick when we happen upon them: chaga, dryad saddles (pheasant backs), morels, puffballs, and oysters.

So when we came upon this motherlode of almost-oysters-but-not-quite, my naturalist brain kicked in and I had to figure out what they were.

They checked all of the boxes for oyster mushrooms, except the stems were far too long. I needed to solve this mystery. So I consulted with my dad and sister, my field guides, and my nearby mushroom hunting uncle. Still: nothing.

Finally I posted it to a mycology board online and the feedback was unanimous: golden oyster mushrooms! Because they are an escaped (non-native) cultivated mushroom, they don’t appear in any of my field guides, but the oyster mushroom characteristics plus a long stem are characteristic.

Lupine and I hustled back to where we found them, and though after our 24 hours of research they were already past their prime, we harvested three basketfuls (a small fraction of what we found) and headed home to slice, cook, and dehydrate them.

A day later, we have over a gallon of sliced, dried oyster mushrooms for winter soups and stews tucked away in the pantry; another 1/2 gallon of dehydrated stems and slightly overripe mushrooms for soup stocks, and the most delicious gluten-free/dairy-free mushroom stroganoff ever for dinner last night, made by Sage (15).

Today we’ll wander back to our mushroom patch and perhaps pick a few more that may have flushed after the weekend rain, and see if we can make room in the dehydrator for one more go.

Oh, spring. I adore you–and your bounty–so.

Interested in foraging? Be sure you sign up to receive my emails, as I have something special to share with you in the next few weeks! I’ll be sending a little announcement to those who are signed up for my Herbal Retreats emails list as well as my blog in general. I can’t wait to tell you more! 

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A book and tool list

A few of you have asked for resources for foraging books. A few afflinks follow for what we use and love around here:

My long-time favorite foraging book is Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants (in wild and not-so-wild places) by “Wildman” Steve Brill.

Sam Thayer’s newest book, Incredible Wild Edibles, promises to be a treasure trove for the beginning forager.

For mushrooms, we really like Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois and Surrounding States by Joe McFarland.

We also use our Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms a good amount.

As for other tools we love for foraging? Well, not much, really. We use whatever favorite tight-weave basket is our favorite for the week (nearly all of them picked up at the thrift store for a dollar or two). We bring a sheath knife (this one is our family favorite) or pocket knife if we need it, and that’s about all.

I’ve been contemplating picking up a hori hori but haven’t yet, because it’s more stuff and frankly I’m not certain that I need it. There are certainly times I wish I had brought along a digging tool, but usually I throw in a small shovel or trowel when I’m setting out for roots.

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For drying herbs, I’m full-on smitten by this hanging drying rack. It’s huge and sturdy and I load it with nettle and other leafy herbs to pre-dry before finishing them in my dehydrator or oven. I love that it zips closed so my herbs don’t blow away, and that I can simply unhook it and bring it in at night.

It’s too humid here in Wisconsin to air dry completely, so after the bulk has been reduced I transfer my herbs to my electric dehydrator. I splurged on a fancy one like this when I started hosting herbal retreats, but something so expensive is by no means necessary. Check rummage sales and thrift stores for a basic model like this one and you’ll be good to go for years to come, without blowing your budget.

What about you? What is your choice foraging quarry, or your family’s favorite foraging book or tool? 

Forest magic on our table

Click on any photo for a full-sized image.

We were in the thick of our homeschooling day when Sage asked if we could head out to the woods to look for morels and dryad’s saddles (pheasant backs). We’ve been watching the world turn green through our windows these past few days, and the forest was calling us.

We finished our lessons, packed up our books, and prepared ourselves for the woods. We tucked our pants into our socks, spritzed on the tick spray, and headed out – with foraging bags in hand.

We mushroom hunted for half an hour or so, then gave up on mushrooms (as we often do) and decided to simply enjoy a hike in the woods instead.

We revisited an old fairy house that Lupine built a year or two ago, and found the roof partially collapsed but covered with spring ephemerals: may apples, dutchman’s breeches, hepatica. So magical!

Before I knew it we were filling our bags with all manner of forage spring fare, and clearing a few patches of invasive garlic mustard while we were there.

Back home, Lupine made a 100% foraged salad (violet flowers and greens, dandelion flowers and greens, cherry blossoms, Virginia waterleaf, cattail shoots, watercress, wild ramps, and more). She was over the moon, and we all enjoyed the wild flavors and textures.

Our dinner was completed with a mushroom stroganoff made with garlic mustard and ramps (alas, no morels or dryad’s saddles, but not for lack of trying!) and homemade einkorn noodles, made by Sage; and a trout caught and cooked by Pete.

Sitting outside in the cool evening air, enjoying our dinner, was such a simple but deeply felt pleasure. This meal, made by our hands (and largely harvested from our land) filled us with gratitude.

Nature provides, if we only pull on our boots and set off to explore.

Spring foraging

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When the kids were little we had a favorite park not far out in the country that we loved to visit. We usually had it to ourselves, and it was full of wild ramps and ephemeral wildflowers each spring.

After a long winter in town, this place was my bliss.

Having our own 40-some acres to explore, we no longer visit as often as we once did. But the underbrush is thick in our woods, and the ramps are not, so each spring this park calls me back again.

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With the fleeting ramp season in mind, Lupine and I met up here with some of our dearest friends.

To make time to forage and have a long-overdue visit with our friends? We managed to feed body and soul in one swoop.

None of us were in a hurry and had plenty of time to savor wandering the spring woods and talking while we picked, our kids doing the same on some far off trail.

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Though most people dig the ramps, crisp and flavorful bulb and all, we harvest just one leaf from each plant and leave the bulb and second leaf to grow and set seed in the forest.

I’m not sure who taught me this, but it’s how we have done for years, and what feels right in my heart.

Slowly, slowly we worked our way through the woods and along the trail: picking leaves, soaking in the dappled sun, and talking about the things that friends do when they finally have the space in which to connect.

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Back home we’ll be making nettle and ramp pesto, infused oil, fermented herbs, and so much more. And, of course, we’ll stock the freezer with bags of sliced ramps for winter soups, pizzas, and omelets.

Spring and friendship and foraging and the forest: these are among life’s finest gifts.

What is calling you out into the woods this season? Do you have a favorite spring plant that you forage?

 

Autumn retreat update

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Just five beds remain for the Autumn Women's Retreat! I don't know if or when I'll host another, so do jump in this October. I'd love to spend the weekend making remedies with you!

Details about the retreat follow. A complete description including arrival and departure, location, and cost can be found here

Autumn Women's Herbal Retreat 2017 : : October 26 – 29

Included in your retreat:

  • 3 nights lodging at the beautiful Lake Superior Barn, all linens provided
  • Home-cooked, organic meals and snacks
  • Guided plant walk
  • Hiking trails through 300 acres of private forest and the Lake Superior shoreline
  • Outdoor wood-fired hot tub and campfire circle (weather permitting)
  • Relaxed, casual classes to learn about and handcraft herbal medicines
  • Herbs, ingredients, and packaging for the remedies you will create and bring home
  • Recipes and instructions to make the remedies again

Read more here, then drop me an email to reserve your spot. 

I can hardly wait!
Rachel

 

Foraging

Lupine went to work with me on Tuesday. It rained all day. And not the sweet, late spring sort of rain that makes you want to wander out in it, picking irises and lilacs. No, it was a cold, grey sky hanging over us all day, with rain slapping the windows and making us chilled through, no matter what the thermostat read.

The day dragged.

At some point in the mid-afternoon I threw in the towel. We were both spinning our wheels and it was time to cut our losses and go home. 

Lupine had been reading an Herb Fairies book (afflink) while I worked, this one about the Chickweed Fairy. We have read and reread this entire book series together since she was six years old, and this one is among her favorites. 

"Mama, when we get home will you go foraging with me?" 

Honestly, there are few words sweeter to my ears than those. But then, like so often, my practical mind piped up about dinner needing to be on time and also about the rain and the cold and the eternal to-do list. 

I stalled.

As we drove through the valleys toward home, here eyes sparkled. She had already convinced me to stop at the coop for a loaf of store-bought bread and a container of goat cheese for the chickweed sandwich recipe that lay on her her lap. And though we had chickweed growing close to the house, it wasn't the same as slipping into our rain clothes and muck boots and splashing across the creek and into the forest to find some more.

She was determined that tonight we were foraging chickweed and she was making dinner. 

I caved.

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Of course I caved.

Who was I kidding, really? We both knew we were headed to the creek the first moment she asked. (I recon you had a hunch, too.) Because dinner-on-time be damned, it was chickweed season. 

It was also enthusiastic 10 year old who wants to hang out with me and forage season. 

And I'm certain neither of these seasons was meant to last. 

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And so we set off. (Even Sage and Charlie couldn't resist coming along.) We headed across the creek and into the woods, to the secret chickweed patch that I found last week. To the fairy spring, beneath the towering cow parsnips, to the lush green wonderland that is Wisconsin only at the cusp of summer and after a rain.

Would dinner be late? It would. But it would be a dinner cooked by her ten-year-old hands, from the wild things that we foraged from our land. It would be a meal made – both figuratively and literally – of sunshine and rain and these hills.

And what could be more delicious than that?

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On the walk home there were cow parsnip instruments to make, birds to watch, and hands to hold. She paused to pick violets and cattail shoots to nibble as we walked. We talked like parents and kids so often do when they've misplaced their agendas and distractions, and step out under the big sky and just wander.

And I realized then that perhaps more important than the forage in our basket is the quiet conversations that we share whenever we go.

Isn't life like that? The stuff and substance of it all is happening in these ordinary moments.

When we least expect it, there it is. Everything we wanted and more.

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Back home she generously buttered the bread, then spread each piece with soft goat cheese. Copious amounts of fresh, succulent chickweed (still damp from rain) was layered inside, then the sandwiches were grilled and served. 

I daresay it may have been the best grilled cheese I've ever had. 

Because they were delicious, yes. But for reasons beyond that as well.

 

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A note about affiliate links: I inquired with you all about how you felt about afflinks a month or so ago and the response was overwhelmingly positive. If you are unfamiliar with affiliate links or how they work, here's the scoop: When you follow an affiliate link in a post I write, if you choose to make a purchase for that items (or anything else in the next 24 hours) I get a small commission on your purchase. Your price is the same, but a bit goes to us. (It's not much, but it's something!) Thank you for supporting my writing here any way you can. Every little bit helps.

The link above was to the Herb Fairies book series. I can't speak highly enough of how much Lupine has learned from these books! The same family creates Lupine's and my favorite board game, Wildcraft

Love,
Rachel

 

 

Five reasons to make nettle soup right now

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1. If you can make dinner from burning garden weeds, you'll do just fine in the zombie apocalypse.

Seriously. With this skill you'll be totally fine if things turn crazy. (Or crazier, as it may be.)

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2. After you learn to pick bare-handed you'll feel pretty badass. (Pardon the language.)

And then everyone will want to try. And it won't always go so well. Instant street cred and/or superhero status.

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3. Nettle has what your body needs. 

Nettle is a nutritional powerhouse. It's loaded with what your body needs – especially in spring after the long, slow sluggish liver months of winter. You might not know you need it, but your body will after just a few tastes.

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4. It's neon green.

Who doesn't love neon green food? It's a sure sign of either being loaded with food coloring ( boo!) or loaded with nutrition (yay!). This soup, of course, is the latter. 

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5. Two words: free food.  

What's more frugal than free? You are literally eating weeds for dinner. This levels up your old coupon-clipping game by miles. 

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Convinced? If so, skip down to the recipe below, and get cooking. If you're still unsure, what if I told you all you need are a few other basic ingredients that you already have on hand, and from garden to table this soup will take less than 20 minutes to make and cost you just a couple of onions and potatoes? 

Also: this version of nettle soup is downright addictive.

We've made other nettle soups that were "meh". But this one? It's addictively good. The key here is the potatoes. If you are paleo or on a nightshade-free diet, this should work beautifully if made with a slightly lesser amount of white sweet potatoes. I haven't tried it yet, but often make that substitution for potato-free meals. If you try it do let me know how it works! 

If you need still more convincing, then let's try this route:

a few of nettle's many benefits include:

  • t's a nutritional powerhouse! Think of it as a green multivitamin. Iron, magnesium, zinc, calcium… the list goes on and on.
  • It's a natural, gentle energizer. Perfect for days you feel rung-out and run-down.
  • Helpful for muscle aches and growing pains
  • Natural treatment for PMS
  • Helpful for treating seasonal allergies (freeze-dried capsules are best)
  • Liver and kidney tonic
  • Fabulous nervous system soother
  • Great for hair and scalp care

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Now then. Are you ready to make some neon green, nutritious, almost-free, badass nettle soup? 

Of course you are. 

You won't regret it. I promise.

You can even wear gloves when you pick. (I won't judge.)

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 Ingredients

  • 6 to 8 oz. nettle tips (if you don't have a scale, a plastic shopping bag loosely filled 1/2 to 3/4 full should suffice)
  • 1 medium onion
  • olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 large potatoes
  • 1 1/2 quarts chicken broth or veggie stock
  • lemon wedges
  • salt and pepper

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Step 1. Harvest your nettles. 

When picking nettles for eating, you want only the most tender tops. The earlier in spring you pick them the nicer the texture of your soup will be. (Summer nettles develop a 'sandy' texture that makes them less palatable.)

Using scissors or garden-gloved hands, pinch off just below the top two or three pairs of leaves (as shown above). Gather your harvest in a shopping bag. 

Nettle Foraging Tips:

  • If you only pinch off the tender tips they will reshoot and continue to grow, offering you a continuing supply of tender nettle to eat!
  • Never harvest nettle that has gone to flower or to seed (in midsummer through late fall) as it is no longer safe for consumption.
  • When nettles become to sandy in texture to be palatable they can be dried for tea. My nettle chai recipe is totally worth your time. You can find it here.

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Step 2: Prepare your veggies

Peel and smash or crush garlic, and dice onions and potatoes.

~No need to peel the potatoes. There is a good deal of nutrition lost to peeling, so the lazy way – dicing with peels still on – really is better!

~Also, for nutrition sake, always smash, slice, or crush your garlic five to ten minutes before heating. This allows the medicinal powers of the garlic to take effect (something that requires breaking of the clove) so that you get the good stuff in your recipe. If you chop and heat immediately these benefits are lost.

Place nettle in a mixing bowl of cold water in the kitchen sink. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. This will remove most of the stinging hairs and make the nettle much easier to handle.

Drain nettles, then coarsely chop, removing any debris that snuck into your foraging bag as well as any long or tough stems.

Note: If you will be blending your soup with a stick blender – see my tips in step 4 - chop nettles more finely.

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Step 3: get cookin'! 

Sauté onions in 2 tbsp olive oil until translucent. Add optional garlic, Stir for just a few seconds, then add potatoes, broth, salt, and pepper.

Simmer until potatoes are tender.

Add nettle tips and stir. The nettle should wilt immediately, resembling cooked spinach. As soon as the nettle is wilted remove from heat. 

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Step 4: Puree

Allow soup to cool somewhat, then carefully puree in batches using your blender.

Puree until soup is silky smooth, then return to the pot to gently reheat. 

Tip: I find that nettle clogs the openings in a submersible (or stick) blender, even when I chop them quite fine. Therefore I prefer using a regular blender for this recipe. Experiment and find the method that you prefer!

Never puree hot liquids, and always start slowly with the vent open on your blender lid. To do otherwise can cause a blender volcano, which is not only dangerous but a waste of good nettle soup. 

 

 

Step 5: Enjoy!

Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon and eat.

 

There was no soup left by morning for me to photograph. Why? Because my teenager (one time self-proclaimed nettle soup hater) ate all the leftovers before I had a chance.  

Yup, it's really that good.

 

 

You can read more about my love affair with nettles here

Wonderfully Wild: Nettle

First, thank you for your kindness in response to Monday's post. You are a lovely lot. Truly. Thank you.

Second, as you might expect, minerals are high on our must-consume list over here at the moment, all things considered. And just in time, the nettle is up! We probably should have named our farm Nettle Acres instead of Running Fox Farm, because this favorite weed of mine grows here in abundance. If you, too, have a favorite picking place, here are some ideas to get you started. 

If nettle makes you nervous, try picking while wearing a pair of heavier garden gloves and long-sleeves. Before long their sting will worry you less and you might find yourself picking bare-handed. (Ask me how I know.) 

Oh, and last year we discovered that nettle soup made with potato is pretty much the best thing ever. It's on the menu tonight. We're making something similar to this, bot with unpeeled potatoes. Edited to add: my recipe is here! (Because why bother peeling potatoes if you're pureeing anyway? So we won't.) Yum.

Wonderfully wild - nettle: minerals and magic

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

        - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Welcome to the third post in the Wonderfully Wild series! If you missed the first two plants you can find them here.

The Wonderfully Wild series is designed to share with you some thoughts on using wild, foraged plants in your family's meals and medicines. Plants that offer us so much more than their cultivated counterparts!

A series written in real-time as the season unfolds. Nothing overwhelming or too technical, but just some simple herbs and roots and fruits you can enjoy to get your feet wet (sometimes literally!) with wild edibles and medicinals.

Today we're moving on to one of my favorite plants my favorite of all time: nettle.

I know what you're thinking. But it's true! I adore this plant. Once you get past nettle's, um, sharper side she's all minerals and magic.

Wonderfully wild nettle: minerals and magic

Wonderfully wild nettle: minerals and magic

Wonderfully wild nettle: minerals and magic

Wonderfully wild nettle: minerals and magic

Wonderfully wild nettle: minerals and magic

Nettle (Urtica dioica)

If I could only forage one food for the rest of my days I think I would choose nettle. Yes, nettle! That stinging plant you despise when you stumble into a patch of it in woods? It's my favorite wild plant of all time. Here is why.

Uses

What's so great about nettle? According to Rosemary Gladstar, a quart of nettle tea contains more than 1000 milligrams of calcium, 15000 IU of vitamin A, 760 milligrams of vitamin K, 10% protein, and "lavish amounts" of most B vitamins.

Nettle ain't messin' around.

  • It's a nutritional powerhouse! Think of it as a green multivitamin. Iron, magnesium, zinc, calcium… the list goes on and on.
  • It's a natural, gentle energizer. Perfect for days you feel rung-out and run-down.
  • Helpful for muscle aches and growing pains
  • Natural treatment for PMS
  • Helpful for treating seasonal allergies (freeze-dried capsules are best)
  • Liver and kidney tonic
  • Fabulous nervous system soother
  • Great for hair and scalp care

Field ID

To identify nettle in the field we'll look for it's key distinguishing characteristics. Use the photographs below as a guide.

Unless you're a sucker for pain, always identify nettle without touching, as the hairs covering the stem and leaves will release formic acid when touched! Ouch.

To make nettle ID slightly more challenging there are two types: stinging nettle and wood nettle. One or the other is likely more common where you live, depending on soil type and climate. I'll address each separately, beginning with stinging nettle.

See the hairs along the leaf stems?

Wonderfully wild nettle: minerals and magic

Wonderfully wild nettle: minerals and magic

Stinging Nettle

Stem: Like the catnip we recently identified, nettle has a square stem. Unlike catnip and other mints, the stem is covered in small prickly hairs. Look closely to see them.

Leaves: The leaves pack less punch (sting-wise) than the stem but the hairs that cover them will still sting. Leaves emerge opposite along the stem (in pairs, one on one side and one on the other) and are elongated and pointed.

The leaf margin (edge) is toothed, teeth are more pointed than those we saw in catnip.

Leaf texture: The leaves are coarse and slightly scratchy, with obvious veining.

Growth: Stinging nettle will often grow in great clumps in full sun to partial shade, spreading readily.

Look-alikes: Once you identify the sharp hairs along nettle's leaves and stem you'll find no convincing look-alikes.

Also the sting is a great way to be sure you have the right plant, if you're self-sacrificing.

Wonderfully wild nettle: minerals and magic

Look at those hairs. Ouch.

Wonderfully wild nettle: minerals and magic

Wood Nettle

Stem: Wood nettle (like stinging nettle) has a square stem covered in prickly hairs.

Leaves: Wood nettle leaves are a pointed round to oval shape. The leaf margin (edge) is toothed with smaller teeth than common stinging nettle.

Lower portions of the plant will show leaves branching alternate (one leaf on one side, and another single leaf emerging further up the plant) while upper parts are opposite.

Leaf texture: Leaves are softer and thinner than stinging nettle and a more delicate, lighter green. Veining is not as deep as stinging nettle but still visible.

Growth: Wood nettle is found in great patches of same-height plants in shady forest areas, often knee- to waist-high. Don't wander in without long pants!

Look-alikes: Wood nettle somewhat resembles catnip, though the leaf and stem texture are different and the toothed leaf margins are more pointed on nettle. I find wood nettle's sting to be much worse that stinging nettle, so pick with care!

Wonderfully wild nettle: minerals and magic

How to Harvest

Nettle harvest requires a bit of special care.

While some of us crazy foragers pick nettle bare-handed, it's a good idea to pick while wearing garden or work gloves, long sleeves and long pants.

In a pinch I often pick with plastic bags slipped over my hands as makeshift gloves. A kitchen towel also works for holding stems while you harvest or prepare to cook.

Always pick nettle before it begins to flower or set seed. (The flowers and seeds are little crumbly clusters between the leaves near the top of the plant. You'll see them.)

The topmost leaves are the most tender and nutritious and have the best texture and flavor. However for tea I'm a bit less discriminating and take larger lower leaves as well.

Break the stem off below the top three to four leaf pairs and place in your harvesting bag. When you get home, vigorously rinse in cold water to remove most of the stingers.

Uses

Tea: Nettle makes an outstanding tea. I add it to most of my tea blends simply for the minerals and nutrients it provides.

We love to drink nettle tea when we're feeling worn down or stressed. Just last week I made Lupine a tea blend with nettle, catnip, wild mint, and a few other foraged plants to ease her through a rocky morning. It worked like magic.

Try my nettle chai to be truly wowed by this nourishing wild plant.

To dry nettle for tea, tie together small bundles of nettle by the stems and hang to dry from your ceiling or rafters out of the sun in a dry place.

Alternately you can place the leaves in a paper bag, fold over, and set in a warm dry place. (Or, quickest of all, use your food dehydrator!)

Be sure your leaves are completely dry, crisp, and crumbly before jarring up for winter teas or you'll find mold and have a wasted harvest.

Sauteed: Nettle leaves are delicious sauteed and used in place of other cooked greens in any recipe. The texture is more grainy however, and it it can take some folks a while to warm up to it.

Tincture: If you aren't' crazy about herbal tea or cooked greens you can still benefit from nettle's medicinal properties with a tincture. Instructions to make your own are below.

Wonderfully wild nettle: minerals and magic

Recipes

Want nettle recipes? Of course you do. Because sometimes it feels insane to punt when you're standing in your kitchen with a bundle of leaves burning your arms. Why reinvent the wheel?

I shared a round-up of recipes here, and so did Huffington Post.

And be sure to try my nettle chai to be truly wowed by this nourishing wild plant.

Edited in 2017 to note: I now believe that nettle tincture is fine but a strong nettle infusion is best. Make a quart, let it steep overnight, then strain and drink throughout the next day. The wise and wonderful Susan Weed tells you how to do it here. If you're still set on a nettle tincture, here's how:

Nettle Tincture

Ingredients:

Freshly harvested nettle leaves

Menstruum (extracting liquid) of your choice (see below)

Wearing gloves, finely chop fresh nettle leaves. Make certain the leaves are not damp or wet.

Fill a 1/2 pint mason jar 2/3 full with loosely packed leaves, then cover with the menstruum of your choice.

The menstruum is the liquid into which the plant medicine will be infused. Your choices are many. I normally prefer brandy as my menstruum of choice, but for nettle apple cider vinegar is best. Of course there are other options as well.

Brandy

80-proof. Produces a potent tincture with a milder flavor. One dose of tincture made with brandy contains less alcohol than a ripe banana!

Vodka

100-proof. Also effective to extract plant medicines, but makes for a harsher tincture.

Vinegar

Raw, apple-cider variety. Effective menstruum but makes for a weaker tincture. Increase tincture dosage by 1/2 if exacting in vinegar. Gently warm vinegar before pouring over herbs.

Glycerin

A by-product of the commercial soap-making industry, glycerin is my last choice for tincture making, but many herbalists love it for remedies for children because it is alcohol-free and sweet-tasting. If using mix 1 part glycerin with 1 part water before pouring over herbs. Increase tincture dosage by 1/2 if exacting in glycerin.

 

After the leaves are covered with liquid, continue filling the jar until full (there should be approximately 2" of liquid above the leaf layer.) Ensure that the herbs are not sticking out of the liquid or they will mold. (My mom suggests adding a well-washed rock to the top to hold the leaves below the surface of the liquid. Perfect. Thanks, Mom!)

Cover with a tight lid. Place the jar in a dark cupboard and allow it to steep (or macerate) for up to two months. Shake the jar gently whenever you think of it, daily is best.

Strain your tincture through cheesecloth, being sure to squeeze out any excess medicine from the leaves. Transfer the strained liquid to a clean, dry jar or dropper bottle, label, and store in a dark cupboard when not in use. Keeps almost forever!

 

Originally posted in 2015.

An herbal retreat

November 2017: an herbal women's retreat
 
November 2017: an herbal women's retreat
 
November 2017: an herbal women's retreat
 
November 2017: an herbal women's retreat
 
November 2017: an herbal women's retreat
 
November 2017: an herbal women's retreat
 
November 2017: an herbal women's retreat
 
Winter 2017: an herbal women's retreat
 
I am in the planning stages of an intimate gathering of women to be held in Northern Wisconsin in the coming season.
 
It will be a small group of kindred spirits coming together to create community and learn about plants, remedies, and how to care for our family's health with the bounty of the earth. 
 
Though our primary focus will be on making medicines and discovering the power of herbs, there will be ample time to explore the Lake Superior shoreline, relax in the sauna or hot tub, and visit with new friends beside the fire.
 
Each participant will learn about herbs as we work together making a variety of remedies – from teas and tinctures to salves and syrups. These remedies will go home with you, along with the knowledge (and written recipes and instructions) for making them again and again.
 
We will enjoy home-cooked nourishing meals, the beauty of the Northwoods, and the magic that happens when women gather.
 
If you're interested in learning more please send me an email at retreat@lusaorganics.com with the subject line of "women's herbal retreat" and I will send you a personal invitation with additional details today!
 
Oh, my. I can hardly wait.
 
Love,
Rachel
 
Herb and medicine-making photos above from the Homemade Medicine Making article I have in the current issue of Taproot: WANDER.