Prequel: An Irreverent Introduction to Weeds and Other Wild Things
Unruly and feral, weeds annoy us with their promiscuous strut and blatant disregard for convention and known boundaries. Many of them are immigrants and gypsies, with a reputation for sneaking into happy domestic scenes with troubling ease and for taking over the garden party with a sensual but insistent tangle of tendrils and roots. Some, like Sacred Datura, Stinging Nettles or Poison Ivy, burn or hurt the human hand who attempts to pull or hack them from their desired home. Others, such as the Asian Elm so common to the Southwest, suck much needed groundwater into themselves and away from the parched surroundings or, like Salt Cedar, create an environment inhospitable to all other plant. Some, such as Horehound, create a veritable monocultures as they rapidly overcome the native ecology. And some, like Dandelion, seem almost benevolent with their cheery smiles and myriad medicinal uses.
Most all of them have little use for human coddling or outside permission for their movement and growth. They will cheerfully crowd out delicate garden specimens, spreading out their roots and settling in comfortably between the petunias and tea roses and sometimes strangling the life right out of weaker, less well adapted (to a particular environs) plants. What they all have in common, is attitude.
Weeds serve as an icon to outcasts and misfits, representing the outlaw nature of all things strong, wild and hellbent on not only surviving, but proliferating. If we cannot find it in our hearts to love them we can at least step back and respect their tenacity and intelligence as inspiration in our own species’ quest to adapt and thrive. Many of our most common weeds seem to love the company of humans and follow us wherever we go, serving as food, medicine, plague, decoration, pest and sometimes all of the above.
What we call weeds tend to grow in disturbed ground where human impact is obvious, whether in vacant lots, tilled farmland or roadsides. These plants are looking a new frontier to colonize, but they’re also often active healers of hurt land. Many weeds restore much needed nutrients to ground often stripped of its topsoil or severely burned. It’s also important to remember that “invasive aliens” act not from a place of malicious intent (a trait primarily constrained to humans, I’m afraid), but are more reacting to their relatively sudden loss of context and ecology they have evolved to. In many cases of invasive species taking over, there is some initial degradation to the original environment that allows for new and different plants to move in and become dominant species. And sorry folks, that patch of dirt you dug up and call a garden? That’s the disturbed ground that a weed calls “easy pickins.’”
It would be foolhardy to attempt to place a value judgment upon these wild creatures, especially the categorical labels of the typical human who sees whatever benefits us as good and whatever hurts or detracts from our goals as bad. In the end, weeds, like everything (and everyone) else, want to live. It’s that simple. They, like us, are designed and adapted to survive, thrive and spread. Whether we or they are beneficial to the larger picture, is a whole different matter (and post).
Truth is, all plants have been around far longer than we, and even the most maddening Bindweed or voracious Japanese Honeysuckle tribes are our elders and teachers. This doesn’t mean that it’s not sometimes appropriate to relocate or pull a plant, but it’s a fine balance between the human arrogance that allows us to believe we are and should be in control and the reality that we are only one tiny piece of the living being we call planet Earth.
So here we are, a bit of writing on one of the planet’s most infamous and cursed weeds — the much maligned Stinging Nettle, often addressed in english expletives even ~I~ won’t publish in my blog.
How a Plant Makes You Like Them, or, More Redeeming Features of Stinging Nettle
Urtica spp. (U. dioica is probably the most common, but I work with U. gracilenta, our local Mountain Nettle)
Usually I like to go for the lesser known bioregional herbs for blogparty topics like this, but there’s such a dearth of information on this particular aspect of a very well known weed, that I wanted to use this opportunity to expand upon my previous writing and clarify about the harvesting and preparation process.
Whenever I say Nettle to anyone remotely interested in herbs, their eyes light right up (the opposite effect it has on your average rancher or landowner). Thanks in part to Susun Weed’s writings as well as the widespread reach of the plant itself, this is one of North America’s most common and well-loved herbs. It’s so familiar in fact, that it’s hard to get past many people’s preconceptions on what part of the plant to work with and how. I usually need to say the words ‘seeds’ at least several times before the person slows down, makes a confused face and starts to stutter about ‘so and so says’ and ‘well, I’ve always…’
Not that there’s anything wrong with the leaf (or the root, for that matter), it’s a fabulous food and medicine and one of my most used remedies without a doubt. We just need to expand our vision a little to include a bigger picture of this vital native remedy. Nettle seed is almost always one of the first herbs I think of when a case of renal failure or deep adrenal depletion comes up. Yes, Nettle leaf is good for the kidneys and adrenals (as well as the rest of the endocrine system) and is certainly a nourishing medicine. However, the seed is far less cooling and drying and has a far deeper nutritive and restorative effect upon the kidneys and adrenals, making it more broadly suitable for deep-seated exhaustion or deficiency.
I have already written much about my experiences (both personal and clinical) with Nettle seeds which you can find at my website or in the blog archives as well as on the Herbwifery forums. As a quick summary though, I have seen several clients go from near renal failure to normal levels within a few months and I have also observed much improvement in mood, energy and general endocrine/nervous system health in clients with adrenal burnout.
Below are instruction based on my experience of harvesting, processing and using Nettle Seed.
When to Harvest
- When the little flower threads (covered in fluffy green pompoms) droops heavily towards the stem, it is ready to be harvested. The seeds will be fat, fluffy and vivid green (note that the seeds in the pic above are not yet ready to harvest). Here’s a very clear pic from Henriette of the exact moment in which to harvest.
When NOT to Harvest
- When you can still see little flowers on the threads.
- When the threads are still sticking straight out.
- When the seeds are brown.
HOW To Harvest
Remarkably easy, (Henriette has a post on this as well). Two methods:
- Just take your gloved fingers (bare handed if you prefer, but you can get stung) and either remove the whole string and place in basket or bag.
- Cut the whole top half or third of the Nettle off, place in basket or bag.
If your Nettles are annuals like ours, be extra careful to leave enough seeds to for the patch to reseed itself.
How to Process
- If you cut the whole tops off, you can bundle and hang to dry over a newspaper or in a paper bag (don’t want any runaway seeds). If you just pulled the seeds off (my preferred method), just place in a thin layer on a finely woven drying basket, rack or on newspaper and turn regularly until dry.
- Once the seeds are dry and removed from the plant, you need to put them through a sieve or something similar to get out any leaf or bug bits. Some people are very sensitive to Nettle dust, so do consider wearing a face mask to keep from breathing silica and Nettle particles into your lungs. Many people also recommend wearing gloves for this part, but I have generally found it unnecessary.
- Now that you have a nice pile of bright green Nettle seeds, you need to jar them up and keep them in a dark, cool place. They can last at least several years this way.
How To Partake in Nettle Seed Magic
- Eat ‘em (my preferred method), I just take anywhere from a pinch to a tsp. of seeds and chew them up very well, then swallow. Nice and simple and comes complete with trace minerals and other goodies. Dosage runs anywhere from a small pinch to a heaping TBS several times a day. Start small and build up. Too much is indicated by feeling overstimulated or unable to sleep or rest. Some people never get this at all, some people even from a tiny bit.
- Tincture ‘em. Works very well as a kidney trophorestorative this way and moderately well as an adaptogen. You miss out on the extra mineral goodies though. Dosage starts at 2 drops and usually goes up to about a dropperful depending on the person and what exactly is going on in the body.
- Use ‘em in food. In theory, this is a great idea and it does work well for small doses, especially in salt or gomasio blends, but it does often make it hard to actually get ENOUGH Nettle seeds into a very depleted person. AND, I don’t think heat does the medicine any favors, the fresh, non-cooked seeds seems the most potent to me.
What to Use ‘em For, or, Human-centric Reasons for Alliance (or at least tolerance).
- Kidney Trophorestorative. Works shockingly well for many MANY cases of renal failure (even in latter stages) for people and other animals, even in cases of chronic or terminal disease. David Winston first gave us this use (direct from the Nettle, too) and it works on a miraculous level sometimes. My clinical experience with this has several times left me open-mouthed and speechless (a fairly difficult task to accomplish).
- Adrenal Adaptogen. Utter magic for the adrenally depleted, especially if accompanied by exhaustion, nervousness and inability to concentrate. If you have adrenal burnout you’ve probably noticed how chronic fatigue can take the sparkle out of things, and make your thinking cloudy and muddled. Everything takes on a dull, grayish cast and you feel like you’re carrying a piano on your back just walking to the front door. So, Nettle seed is fairy dust for your adrenals, and brings back sparkle, clarity and spring to the step for many people with adrenal deficiency, even if there’s thyroid or other endocrine involvement. I’ve written extensively about Nettle seeds as an adaptogen, and so has Henriette, so please read more before using yourself.
Please Note: You cannot heal Adrenal burnout with JUST herbs (although you can sure as hell suppress it for a while). Stress reduction, lifestyle change and nutrition must also be a part of the package or there will be deeper burnout and a larger price to pay in the end. Please don’t use adaptogens as a crutch to burn yourself further out ( or as jim says, get out of the damned frying pan).
Warning: Fresh Nettle seeds can be extremely stimulating, enough to keep you up all night, so please use caution in their use. I suggest using only the dried for those with adrenal exhaustion.
All Pics (c)2009 Kiva Rose