on potting nettles

To the amazement of many a guest, one of my most exuberant potted plants was a beautiful and sometimes enormous nettle. The past tense is because I don’t have potted plants at the moment… what I do have is access to clean and organic nettle to harvest as much as I want.

a very permaculture plant in my former balcony… good for teas, to wake up, as greens, medicinal, and to fend off unwanted guests!

And there seems to be some chemistry explaining why I intuitively like my daily dose of this nutty-flavoured, filling and pleasant green:

“Both raw and cooked leaves of nettles were found to be rich sources of macronutrients and essential elements and may be used as alternatives to commercially available nutrient supplements.”

There you have it. Instead of paying good money for some highly-processed, who-knows-how-polluting, dietary scam, you can simply get out, harvest some leaves of this very abundant plant (or some of its relatives, if outside of Europe, Asia, or North America), and get your health-booster. After some training, it is very easy to harvest and eat your nettle leaves as you go. They’ve been indeed incredibly nourishing for me on trips where I ran out of bourbon biscuits.  Of course, scissors and gloves are a perfectly good option (for the harvesting, not as a biscuit substitute).

I like them raw the best—mmm nettle pesto!—, but they’re also delicious cooked—stir-fried, added last-minute to rice or pasta, in soups, stews…  Mature nettle leaves have up to 25% protein, which is very high for a leaf, hence their hunger-stilling properties. They are also very rich in iron, making them all the better for those with low or no intake of animal-based foods. However, most sources warn that only young leaves—that is, of plants that are not yet flowering or setting seed—should be used because older leaves develop cystoliths which act as an irritant to the kidneys. In my experience, if you frequently harvest the tops, you can keep the plants—or at least the stems that are being harvested—producing young leaves. You can see this in the picture above, which was taken late September.

And beside being simply good food, they have a very long history as a medicinal herb. I mainly use the leaf tea—fresh or dried—as a general tonic and blood purifier, and to counter chronic anemia. It stimulates the metabolism, and has been extensively used as an antiasthmatic and to strengthen the respiratory system. Also very soothing for the stomach and gut, delicious first thing in the morning. It’s one of the favoured plants for de-toxifying, and it’s believed to improve the function of the liver, the gallbladder and the pancreas. Likewise, it’s good against mouth- and throat infections, for which one can simply use the tea as a mouthwash.

free nettle in the wild… at Leewood Gardens

It also makes a superb hair tonic—it’s recommended to apply it several times per week, masage it deep into the scalp and leave it unrinsed, at least for a few hours. It’s even said it prevents hair loss!

Of course, nettle is a powerful anti-oxidant. But hey, most things nowadays seem to be. In that vein—ha!—, it’s been suggested that it lowers blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and may help prevent and treat diabetes.

All in all—the list goes on—a powerful all-rounder. I carry a bag of dried leaves with me, especially in my nomadic forays into cities, where one is never sure if there is going to be any wild nettle. Or any potted one, for that matter. And why, you may ask, did I pot a nettle? Well, the closest place to harvest was a park, criss-crossed by train- and highway-bridges. And teeming with dog-owners. To be sure that I wasn’t taking an extra dose of heavy metals from the vehicles, or pharmaceuticals from the dogs—or from any human pisser—I transplanted a good-looking plant to a pot, and kept it with me for almost a decade. We had a great relationship, and it was a fabulous conversation piece.

And, again, this is only pertaining the leaves! I only recently discovered the amazing properties of seeds and roots. But that’ll be in the nextle installement…

A very extensive resource on nettle.

PFAF‘s nettle page.

Another nettle resource with lots of studies, some of which confirm some of the benefits listed above.

And another very informative nettle page—with even more studies—from the very nicely named UMM.

And my beloved small herbals:

Unsere Heilkräuter, by Ursula Stump

Hausapotheke, by Pater Simon


the nettle’s healing kiss

I’ve always been puzzled by the “what’s your favourite” question. How can one choose? That said, the Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica, could well be my favourite plant. It is probably the one I eat the most, at least in leaf count: some tree-cabbage and kale leaves around here are big enough to cover several hundreds of nettle leaves. Read more

docking the burrs

Ah, thistles…  such beautiful plants.  Stubborn, humble and loud.  Their punk-like flowers come in all sizes, and remind me of that most coveted of lands…

I came across burdock—specifically the “Greater Burdock”, Arctium lappa—very soon after arriving in Europe, when I looked into my first european herbal in search of a natural hair tonic.  Unfortunately, the book had a very poor picture, and it took me a long time to recognise it live.  This is also due to its ability to change quite drastically from teenage- to adulthood.

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from the wood to the moors and back again…

After a convolutedly wonderful, if unfinished and rather exhausting, walk from one corner of Dartmoor to the other, and quite a number of weeks spent immersed in an amazing garden, in grounding myself and finding a path forward, we found out that the straight way between Leewood and High Heathercombe is actually quite beautiful and much easier. Especially since a bus runs from Yelverton–a mere half hour walk away–to Postbridge, shortening the way to roughly half. That still leaves around three hours of walking through moors and forests. The overall trip only takes about half a day, so it has already happened twice in a bit more than a fortnight.

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Leewood, a paradise built on details.

Some people go diving to see sharks, turtles, barracudas, dolphins… In short, big fish. Well, probably the majority of people. Me, I like the little gems, shining all around, making every corner a treasure cove. Those small crabs, the tiny blennies, brittle stars… The “details”, so to speak.

Same with a story. Who cares about the plot (especially since, apparently, most stories follow the same plot), when there are all those interesting scenes, thoughts, twists and turns? I guess it is like with life itself. One wants to see the bigger picture–and that’s certainly something good–but lives are lived on the moment. In any instant there is no future, and the past is just a memory. Of course, a lot of details together make a big picture, just like a lot of scenes make a plot. And it is that lot of little sea critters what makes a reef. And individuals, their own selves, can produce a supra-organism, with superpowers beyond each one’s capabilities. But that is certainly food for another post.

Leewood is like a coral reef. Magnificent, yes, impressive in its size and splendour. But, just like a reef, it is made of a miriad of details. And, just like for a good story, the details have been thought- and heartfully put together, so that they are in their natural place. In every corner there is something to find, which, after a smile of surprise, simply makes sense. As if it could not live anywhere else but there. I like to get lost in the details (self-irony intended), so what better place to be?

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before the jump…

When does a dream start? Do we need to be asleep, far away from our life? Or at least wishing to be so? Do we need to float in that space, akin to limbo, where we melt into our surroundings, eyes glassy and absent, experiencing some unmade future?

How do we become aware that our life needs a profound change? I guess for some it is a lightning moment, a flash of recognition, a sudden vision. Perhaps fueled by dramatic circumstances, such as the birth or the death of a loved one, being witness of a striking event, a tragedy or a moment of extreme joy. Or so we are often told…

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on the posession of freedom…

My choice of lifestyle is often associated with freedom. I can supposedly freely move around, have no ties to any particular place, no long-term commitments, no debts, no attachments… Although nothing of the above is entirely true or entirely false, one thing is certain: a homeless person gets to think and talk about freedom a lot.

A couple of months ago a dear friend wrote in a letter about all the material possesions I had shed—many of which he kindly took the challenge of further distributing. He wrote that “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose“, promptly asking himself whether that is actually true. In a sense, that may be the only real freedom, at least the way we define it in our culture. And thus we probably only achieve it seconds before we die. Because, don’t we, until then, always have at least something left to lose? Read more

grounding on the move…

In my view, most long journeys we take—maybe also the short ones?—are but a journey towards ourselves. Something is missing, there is a hunger, a wanderlust, something needs to change in order for our selves to be acknowledged. I guess the evident thing, at least nowadays, is to go someplace, “change the tapestry”, look around—outside ourselves—for whatever is missing.

As many philosophers, thinkers, wise people or whatever, already have said: what is missing is inside ourselves. Simply going somewhere is not going to fill the gap or still the hunger. It requires introspection, literally to look inwards, to “journey towards our inside”.
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