Spring Nettles by Linda Hoffman

The following by Linda Hoffman was originally posted on her own blog, Welcome to Apples, Art, and Spirit!, and is reposted here with Linda’s permission.

Linda Hoffman, photo by Ariel Matisse

Spring Nettles: Gifts from the Great Mother

By Linda Hoffman

Squatting in a patch of stinging nettles with my foraging basket, and rubber gloves, I was snipping young stalks to sauté for dinner. Some people react with alarm when I mention stinging nettles, but the truth is nettles are beloved by wild foragers and herbalists. Mother Earth offers this gift packed with vitamins, minerals, and protein. In Making Plant Medicine, Richio Cech writes: “Practical Uses: Legion.” The Greeks and Romans cultivated fields of nettles more than any other crop.

Nettles sting because they have hairs on the stems and undersides of leaves that break off when touched, exposing the tiniest sharp needles that pierce the skin and inject a toxin that causes a burning rash. Fierce protection! For nettles are so nutritious, animals would devour them before they grew large enough to flower and bear seeds, the driving force in a plant’s life.

An old adage says, “When in doubt, use nettles!” Their beneficial uses include: a natural detoxifier, an anti-inflammatory, a treatment for gout, anemia, joint pain, diabetes, hay fever, urinary tract issues, and prostate issues. Flogging with stinging nettles for arthritis, joint pain, and to increase blood circulation is the one recommendation I am nervous about trying. But when I am without energy and need a dose of friendliness, I reach for the jar of dry nettles and make a cup of tea. It’s magical how this plant restores my balance.

Arrangement with Nettles, watercolor, Linda Hoffman 2020

And, of course, what’s good for me is good for the orchard. Part of being a good orchardist is learning how to take care of the trees with kindness. In late spring, when I want to boost the trees’ immune systems and help provide an extra boost of minerals, I turn towards nettles. When the plants are about eighteen inches tall, I cut a wheelbarrow-full, enough to fill a 50-gallon barrel. Then I add water and let the nettles sit for a few days. Sometimes, I add comfrey leaves for added minerals, horsetail for its silica, and garlicscapes, if I feel the trees need insect protection. After a few hot days, I drain out the liquid and fill my 300-gallon sprayer. The gooey remains of the nettle plants go onto the compost pile, and I set out for my tractor tour of the orchard pulling the airblast sprayer with its peacock’s tail of spray fanning out to touch every leaf.

Nettles reduce heavy metals in soils, in fact I remember hearing that if you plant a rusty agricultural tool, it will attract nettles to grow there. Mostly I find nettles pop up where they choose. At the farm, they don’t seem to care whether it’s a dry berm in full sun, against the peeling paint of the old chicken coop, or in the dappled light of the streambed. When Nettles have finished what they came to do, they pack up and move on. Wild plants are like that.

Now is the season to gather and cook young nettles (they will regrow for fall harvesting.) Try steaming them and adding a little lemon juice and olive oil, and some parmesan or other favorite cheese. Or sauté them with onions or shallots, add some garlic powder, and a bit of cream. For nettle pesto, most people suggest you boil the nettles and dry them with a towel. Then fill your food processor with the nettles, walnuts, pecans or other nut, lemon juice, salt, a couple of peeled garlic cloves, and some hard cheese like asiago or parmesan. Once it becomes the consistency of a paste dribble in olive oil till it is smooth and the consistency you’d like. If you make a lot, freeze some for the middle of next winter to serve over fresh linguine and bring spring back into your life. Don’t be alarmed: nettle pesto is iridescent green.

In midsummer, I cut some of the tall nettles, tie them bundles, and hang them in my studio. Once they are dry, I take a cardboard box or large paper bag, and with gloves on, run my hands along the stem to remove the leaves. The dry leaves can be stored whole, but I put them all through the food processor and store them in a couple of gallon jars. We sell small packs of dried nettles at the farm stand along with bags of freshly picked. And because some readers have asked, I also sell small watercolors unframed for $40.

Out of the soil of friendliness grows the beautiful bloom of compassion,

Watered by the tears of joy,

Sheltered beneath the cool shade of the tree of equanimity.

                                    —Longchenpa, 14th century Tibetan Buddhist teacher

 Nettles are a curious teacher. They sting! But when we appreciate them, we receive nothing but gifts.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Nettle Bouquet, watercolor and pencil, LH 2020


5 Responses to Spring Nettles by Linda Hoffman

  1. Chris O’Connor says:

    Love the painting. I’ve been stung more than once by the nettles. (Soothed by dock leaf). Great to read about all the good they bring as well. Didn’t realize all their mighty uses, and pesto no less!! A really enjoyable read!

  2. Linda Hoffman says:

    Thanks, for writing, Chris!

    I just made a batch of nettle pesto with baby kale. I parboiled the nettles first before putting them into the food processor. It was delicious! Added oil, lemon juice, garlic, pecans, and salt.

    The nettles I brought into my studio to paint, now ten days ago, are still bright and green. I’m amazed at how long they are lasting as cut flowers. That alone says something about their nutrional value.

    And glad you enjoyed the painting!

    Best, Linda Hoffman

  3. Margaret O'Brien says:

    This is a beautifully written piece – I knew nettles were good, but not this good. I have yet to do anything with them and this is the time of year to try as far as I know. And those watercolours are so lovely.

  4. Linda Hoffman says:

    Thanks, Margaret!

    I think you might still have time to gather some fresh nettles. But if not, wait til they are tall, and you can gather a bunch, hang them to try, and make tea to drink all winter. That was my introduction to using nettles.

    And I read through your website! How wonderful that you were introduced to the work of Pat Schneider. By the way, Amherst is only about 40 minutes from our farm.

    It looks like you are doing wonderful work, yourself!

    All best, Linda