It’s not truly spring until the nettles awaken from their slumber, the purple tops of Urtica dioica always take me by surprise as they emerge with the crocuses and hyacinths. This year our modest nettle patch has grown significantly which is quite the feat considering it shared a space with our busy animals for an entire year.
Our nettles are descendants from a few mother plants I grabbed from an organic farm that I worked on for several seasons in the Puyallup Valley. During those years I had dreams of tending an herbal garden but found myself bouncing between several apartments in the heart of downtown Tacoma instead. It was a simple commute to the Valley with some affordable places and was also a central location where I could easily meet up with friends after work. So it was ideal for the time. The few months that Brian and I lived together in my 300 square foot apartment we also shared the space with my “farm” of the moment: my glorious houseplants and those mother nettles. I wasn’t much of a photographer then but looking back I wish I had taken some pictures of my frequent guests trying to avoid these unlikely apartment additions.
Nettles are herbs of Mars, protective herbs, and a traditional spring tonic. They are a diuretic, rich in vitamins and minerals, and revered for their soothing qualities after they are harvested and processed. Many know them simply for the stinging hairs and the contact dermatitis that results from brushing against them, but once dried or wilted to get rid of the sting these greens are immensely nutritious.
A multi-talented plant, nettles can be used as fiber, taken internally, or applied topically to benefit the skin, hair, and scalp. I only recently found out that our animal friends can benefit from these plants as well. According to the book Raising Animals by the Moon by Louise Riotte, nettles dried to form a “hay” can be fed to goats and cows to make their milk and droppings nutrient rich. Nettles can also be dried, ground, and mixed with your chicken’s food to increase the nutrient density of their eggs.
For their many uses and the fact that nettles were a bit of an initiation for me into the world of wild foods and herbal healing, they have always held a special place in my garden and in my kitchen. Plus I just find them to be delicious. Last night we enjoyed them as Rosemary Gladstar recommends, sauteed with olive oil, lemon juice, and a little bit of feta cheese.
If the rain would only stop for more than a few hours at a time I would officially call it spring.