Friday, 8 May 2015

Wonderful Weeds - Nettle

Also published on The Wild Wortwyf


Scientific Name: Urtica dioica
Folk Names: Stinging Nettle, Common Nettle, Burn Weed, Burn Nettle
Actions:  Astringent, Diuretic, Tonic, Nutritive, Circulatory Stimulant, Promotes Milk Flow, Lowers Blood Sugar, Helps with Menstrual Cramping
Parts Used: Leaf, Root, Seed

The stinging nettle is the bane of all gardeners, it’s painful when it comes in contact with your skin and grows wild wherever it takes a foothold. It’s a late autumn/winter herbaceous perennial (flowering) and the best known plant of the Urtica genus. The stinging comes from the hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stem of the nettle injecting histamine and other compounds into the skin which creates the stinging sensation. The stinging nettle grows between 1 to 2 metres and has leaves that range from 3 to 15cm – a yard full of them is quite the impressive sight. In the country, around my home and yard, nettle is left to grow wildly, harvested for many a herbal remedy. I love nettle because it is so incredibly versatile, not to mention the lush green colour. 

Although the nettle has been much maligned, it is a hugely helpful and industrious worker. It has a long history of being used as medicine, food, rope and fibre. It’s an excellent tonic for the hair, helping control dandruff and adding shine. An old remedy for conditioning the hair is nettle leaf steeped in apple cider vinegar and used as a rinse. I love using it in hair products, it does beautifully. It’s also incredibly nourishing with plenty of vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium (it is also got a fair bit of protein) – in fact it is said that nettle is better for you than spinach, I like it sautéed with a bit of garlic and butter, makes a rather lovely soup too. If you’re a lover of the brew, nettle beer could be for you, a favourite in country Britain. In fact, nettle is one of the herbs in the Anglo Saxon Nine Herbs Charm:

This is the herb that is called 'Wergulu'.
A seal sent it across the sea-right,
a vexation to poison, a help to others.
it stands against pain, it dashes against poison,
it has power against three and against thirty,
against the hand of a fiend and against mighty devices,
against the spell of mean creatures.

Nettle is also fantastic for use during allergy season. A tincture can be made up of the herb or a tea of nettle and chamomile drunk prior to and during the season to alleviate allergy symptoms. A powerful antioxidant, a cup of nettle a day is said to flush the system however being that nettle is a diuretic it is drying, so if you suffer from dry skin or other dry conditions, adding a mucilage herb like marshmallow or mullein. I should caution that nettle can taste like grass when drunk in an infusion. It’s not particularly unpleasant but it could do with additional flavouring – I prefer honey most of the time in teas and infusions.

Susun Weed (one of my favourite herbalists) has saidUse Nettle leaves as an everyday nourisher, an energetic changer, a marvelous kidney/adrenal ally, a digestive restorative, a respiratory strengthener, an ally for women, a hair and skin nourisher, and a prompt hemostatic."

For the gardeners out there, nettle is a wonderfully nutritive composting herb. It has quite a lot of nitrogen, as a liquid fertilizer, nettle in low in phosphate but adds much needed magnesium, sulphur and iron to the soil. A solid, healthy patch of nettles tends to lend itself to healthy, fertile soil, so before they get too large (and seed) turn over the patch and create a vegetable or herb garden – incidentally, nettle is also a good companion plant and attracts beneficial insects. All round, nettle is a brilliant herb for the home, health, beauty and the garden. If you’re an enthusiastic textiles makers, nettle is also great for that as well.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Why A Herbalist?

People are often surprised when you tell them you’re a herbalist. Strangely, not that long ago it wouldn’t have seemed odd but now it’s not the most modern career choice, nor is it common so why a Herbalist? It’s hard to articulate the reason because it is such a soul deep connection. There is no absolute clear why of it, it just is and I have found that the herbalist is the inheritor of an old tradition, the tradition of the village Wiseperson, the Healer, the Shaman, the Seer, all areas that sing to my soul and somehow, on this crazy journey we call life; herbs stood up, waved to get my attention and beckoned me over. I was entranced; I had to know more, but how did I get to this rather interesting path? 

Well most of my life I’ve had no clear idea of who I was. I left school without any clear direction, got a job at a supermarket on checkout which was a blessing in disguise because it gave me the worst health of my life. Why is then a blessing? Because, while it did cause my immune system to be damaged, it also gave me a reason to leave my soul destroying job and concentrate on other things while I healed. I studied, I reacquainted myself with my spiritual path and from that, I discovered a passion for herbs. Without this dark phase of my life, I don’t know that I would have discovered my purpose or discovered that quietly, I really did have a dream. My dream had no form, no substance, it was a wisp in the mind, a secret on the wind, it lay dormant in my soul until I was ready to receive it. Even now, this dream is only slowly revealing itself as I become ready for the next step on this ever winding journey.

Herbalism is an interesting path; it’s not something you step onto lightly nor with a passing interest. It becomes a large part of your life, if not your life; because herbalism and being a herbalist becomes the way you live, it’s not something you put down at the end of the day. You no longer look at things the same way, herbs become a world of wonder where the possibilities are endless, you see a new place in a flower bud, another universe in a leaf, imagination in a root and the power of the Green in all things. It’s almost a romantic notion, because once you fall in love with herbs you never lose that, but it is also damn hard work. Plants have a large and varied range of uses and applications and it takes a long time to learn even just the basics. Beyond that is a learning journey that never ends and always enlightens. Herbs are teachers and mentors, herbalists – the ever faithful students eager to soak up any knowledge or insights that can be offered. Plant Spirits become your allies, your closest friends. Without meaning to, you find yourself talking to your plants, asking their advice, enquiring into their wellbeing. A day will not pass where you are not communicating or interacting with plants or plant life in some way. Each day brings something new, a different herb discovered, a recipe revelation; it can all happen when herbs are involved.

Every day I use herbs in one form or another, whether it is in a simple of chamomile or St John’s Wort or a seasoning like curry paste. I try to always familiarise myself with the applications of different herbs and challenge myself in what I make or do so that the knowledge is absorbed and utilised. I’m by no means near the end of my herbal journey; I don’t think I will ever be. I have dream gardens to create, a blog to fill, a business to create and so much more learning to do. I’m some one who loves to learn new things and put it into practice; sometimes my kitchen looks like a bomb hit it in my frenetic desire to try just about every recipe that catches my fancy. It’s not unusual for me to be puttering about in the kitchen at 10pm because a recipe caught my eye. I tend to think of it as carefully controlled insanity. 

I think the one important thing I’ve learned so far on this road of herbalism is that dreams are important and dreams can come true. I may never be hugely successful in this field, but I know I will be happy because I am doing what I love. Herbs are my passion and a lifelong pursuit; I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

I'm A Naughty Herbalist

I swear I shall be posting new things soon. This year has not been a great one for me and I've been struggling a bit to even get out of bed in the morning. I've not done much herbal wise but I am soon hoping to remedy that and get fully back into experimenting and trying new things. Watch this space for some new posts soon.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Making Fire Cider

Flu season is upon us and quite frankly, I hate it, I really do. So I’ve been looking for something of an alternative to get rid of flu should it come – for myself and for my family. Fire Cider is a traditional recipe by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, the recipe that she created can be found under ‘Garlic’ in her book “Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use”. I came across another recipe with a little more kick, so I thought I would try it and see how it turned out. The recipe is from Herbal Revolution.

Because I like to fuss a bit and create things around my own spin, I added 3 teaspoons of Elderberry and 2 teaspoons of Rosehips. Added for their flu fighting and vitamin properties, apple cider vinegar is a good overall health tonic, it balances the ph in the body among other things. It is a great way to boost the immune system, ward of symptoms of colds (such as congestion, sinus problems etc) and overall keeps the body nice and warm. The great thing about the recipe is you can adapt it using whatever you have on hand in the kitchen. I didn’t use cayenne peppers because I didn’t have any – cayenne powder however – definitely had that. Didn’t have fresh ginger or garlic so I used minced. I like to think herbalism is flexible, you don’t necessarily need to have everything fresh or whole, using what you have has always been the mantra of herbalism.

Initial infusion

Extra fresh ingredients to add after

The smell was incredibly nasal clearing

Steeping for a few weeks

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Garden & Wild Greens Soup

Lately I’ve been doing my best to actually practice herbalism in more than one or two forms. I chose to make a soup using various greens growing in my garden right now. My burdock is getting lovely new green leaves, the dandelion is going along famously and the stinging nettles are starting to spring up. It’s a green delight in the yard right now as the cooler weather moves in. I’m not a fan of spinach, I do try to use it given its healthful properties but find I must disguise it in other forms. Baby spinach I love and kale is fast becoming a favourite (especially sautéed with butter and garlic). I wanted to put all of these greens together in a soup to try them. We also had a large bunch with dinner, (buttered and garlic of course), they were lovely together, especially when you got an earthy hit of the burdock leaf and stem.

The Soup

Baby Spinach
Chicken Stock

Fry onion and garlic
Add chicken stock
Add greens and allow to slowly steam down
Add parsley and chives, stir
Additional seasoning (salt, pepper etc) if needed
Blend til smooth

It may need a little flavour boosting because, although super healthy it is not hugely flavourful. It is extremely healthy though, and if you prefer not to use chicken stock, some vegetable stock or even just water can be used.

Burdock: Burdock is a great blood purifier, it also helps with skin conditions such as eczema, acne, psoriasis and is used as a herbal remedy for liver and gall bladder. The leaves can be eaten like spinach or other greens.

Dandelion: An old remedy, this little weed is a powerful healing ally. It is a rich source of beta carotene which is turned in to Vitamin A. It is an antioxidant, helps the liver, the root can be used as a coffee substitute, and skin helper. However if you are allergic to chamomile, yarrow or marigold, it may be best to avoid dandelion.

Kale: It is very rich in Vitamin K and is considered a powerhouse vegetable. Aside from the K, it filled with vitamins and minerals and is considered to be one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet.

Nettle: Is a fantastic tonic, full of minerals and vitamins. It is said that nettle is better for you than spinach. It treats hayfever as it has anti inflammatory properties. Nettle is also a great hair tonic, a rinse made with rosemary helps strengthen the hair and clear the scalp.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Shocking Absence

I've been shockingly absent from this blog for I don't know how long. Life has gotten in the way and my herbalism has fallen by the wayside for some time now. It wasn't intentional but once I get a few things out the way that need to be done, I will be concentrating more on my practice of herbalism and building up my as yet empty Etsy store. I've got a few products in mind to start with. I don't think I'll be going overboard for the time being. I'll just be making simple remedies that are lovely and that work. Baby steps on this front, but I plan for it to be more full time as I go along. It has always been my intention that my herbalism be my career, I just haven't managed to figure out how to get there yet. It's a process but over Easter, amongst my plans, I do intend to whip up some new herbal remedies - I love experimenting and trying new things. I think my first order of business will be remedies for the winter months (flu tea, elixirs, sore joint ointments etc), I also bought a big order of herbs in order to do so. Hopefully before long, I'll be writing on this blog more regularly and sharing my mad herbal journey with you.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Relaxation/Sleeping Herbal Capsules

I have trouble getting to sleep, always have. I could be incredibly tired but my mind races, thoughts come and it just won't stop. It makes sleeping an exercise in patience sometimes, aside from the fact that I lucid dream to the point of exhaustion on occasion, I needed something to help me get to sleep earlier or at least relax my mind. I tried straight up Valerian but it didn't work so I began to research other herbs to incorporate. I came up with a combination of Valerian, Passionflower and Hops. I bought myself a nifty little capsule machine (size 0 with vegetarian capsules) in order to make myself something to help me sleep. 

Here are my herbs and my capsule machine.

It is surprisingly easy to use a capsule machine.

Always a coffee grinder for the powdering of herbs.

The herbs all powdered and ready to be put in the capsules.

In go the herbs.

 The final stages of stuffing the capsules full of the powdered herbs.

Very easy to use, this is what they look like.

All filled ready to be jarred.

The end result.

I only made 24 capsules, I thought it best to test them before getting too carried away and making up a huge amount. My formula was 2 parts each of valerian and passionflower to one part hops. They seemed to of worked, I felt more relaxed when I went to bed - I took two capsules about 45 mins prior to - and I felt I slept rather well. Quite tired this morning but health issues have been wearing on me so I can't say for sure whether the formula I used is what is contributing to that. I'm going to continue taking them for about a week to see how they go (rather fortuitously, I made a week's supply).