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Stinging Nettle: Our First Spring Food

Spring is officially here and the nettles are in their full glory. When they are small and tender, they make delicious cooked greens. As they mature, they can be dried and used for tea. Here are some of our favorite tips for harvesting, preparing and preserving this amazing food and medicine:

nettlemature

Description:  Stinging nettle (scientific name Urtica) is a perennial herb with opposite deep green leaves with serrated edges and tiny greenish flowers.  Stems are square like a mint.  Nettle grows 3-7 feet tall.  The stalk and underside of leaves are covered with stinging hairs that rise from a gland containing formic acid.  Nettle is common in streambeds and disturbed areas with rich wet soil from the coast into the mountains.  Do not gather nettles in agricultural or industrial areas because they may absorb inorganic nitrites and heavy metals.

How to Harvest: Gloves or scissors are usually used to harvest nettles.  Nettles are most potent when gathered in early spring before flowering, usually from March-May.   To dry nettles, bundle them and hang them upside down in a dark dry place, or place them in a paper bag and rotate them every few days until dry.  Strip the leaves off the stem and store away from sunlight.  Stems are gathered for fiber when the plant is mature (summer to early fall).

nettlehanging

nettleNiswHistoric uses:  Nettles have been revered throughout the ages for food, fiber and medicine.  Many Northwest Coastal People traditionally ate nettles as a spring food.  They were also used as a dye with shades ranging from yellow to deep green.  The fiber makes strong cordage and was used for making strong fishing line and fishnets.  Two thousand-year-old nettle clothing was found in China and still remains intact.

A fascinating use for nettles is urtication, or flogging oneself with this stinging plant. Both in the Pacific Northwest and in Europe, people have stung themselves to cure arthritic joints and to stay awake and alert during battle or hunting.  Traditional knowledge is now validated by scientific research.  Compounds including histamine, acetylcholine and formic acid are injected into tissue causing an awakening of cellular responses, lymph flow, nerve stimulation and capillary stimulation.

FOOD

Nettles are impressively high in chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, protein and amino acids. They are often called a “superfood” and are one of the highest plant sources of digestible iron.  This can be helpful for anemic conditions, menstruation, pregnancy and lactation. Gather nettles to eat or dry before they flower.  There are many ways to prepare nettles for food including:

IMG_2360.JPGBoil – boil nettles for 5-15 minutes.  The water can then be drunk as a tea.
Can – follow general instructions for canning spinach.
Freeze – either steam or boil nettles until just cooked, rinse in cold water, let drain and place in freezer bags for later use.
Sauté – Sauté until they look fully cooked, usually about 5 minutes.
Steam – place nettles in a colander and steam for 5-10 minutes.
Cooked nettles can then be used in quiches, casseroles, meat pies, egg scrambles, etc.

Wild Greens Sauté

This dish will win you over because it is quick, easy and delicious.  You can easily modify it to your taste by adding different spices or toppings.  Chard and kale also work well in this recipe.  They are easy to find in most grocery stores. 

IMG_1160.JPG1 small bag of spring nettles
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
*Optional – ½ cup feta cheese

Gather greens, wash and chop into large pieces.  In a medium-sized sauté pan, sauté garlic and onions in olive oil until onions are translucent.  Add lemon juice and greens.  Sauté until greens are tender.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with fresh feta and serve.

MEDICINE

Nettles can help bring our body back to a state of balance.  If you are feeling debilitated or generally worn down, nettles are a good remedy.  They are tonic to the liver, blood and kidneys.  Herbalists consider nettles a reliable diuretic that balances blood pH and filters waste from the body including uric acid.  This can be especially useful for arthritis, gout, eczema and skin rashes.  Nettles have a solid reputation as a haemostatic, or a remedy to stop bleeding.  A strong decoction is traditionally used to treat wounds and hemorrhage.  They can help build blood after menstruation, birth or other blood loss.

Many people say that nettles help to alleviate allergies.  As a preventative for hay fever, drink 2 cups of nettle tea a day starting early in the spring and continuing into the allergy season.  When nettles are fresh, tinctured or freeze-dried they have anti-histamine qualities that may be effective for acute allergic reactions.  Nettles are both astringent and anti-inflammatory, which helps with the symptoms of allergies and many other complaints.  Rosemary or horsetail with nettle are made into a tea and used as a hair rinse to make the hair glossy and stimulate growth.              

nettleteacropTea:  Use 1 tablespoon of dried nettles per cup of boiled water.  Steep 15 minutes to several hours.  Drink 1-3 cups a day.  You can make a large batch of tea and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  It is fine to drink the tea hot or cold.  Nettle blends well with mint.

Elise Krohn, 2009, revised 2014
Northwest Indian College Cooperative Extension Program

Plant Stories to Light the Way – March 8th

Hello friends,

Please spread the word for our Plant Stories to Light the Way event on March 8th at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.  It features some of our favorite story tellers!  The event is free and visitors will not be charged admission to the museum.  We hope to see you there.
Warm wishes,
Elise
 Devils club

Welcome Jessica Urbanec!

“Undergraduate internships have expanded my indigenous awareness and understanding of the environmental impacts on our culture(s). Each of these internships has reinforced my belief that we need to address our environmental issues with a louder voice and a proactive attitude. I believe that our traditional cultural ways of interacting with our surroundings need to be melded with current pro-environmental practices to work toward a healthier environment for all.” ~ Jessica Urbanec, Institute of Indigenous Foods and Traditions Coordinator

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Western Red Cedar Respiratory Steam

From Elise Krohn, NWIC Traditional Foods Educator

cedartreeOlympiaIn the Pacific Northwest we live in the shadow of Western Red Cedar.  It is the most defining tree of our wet woodlands, and the most culturally significant to Northwest Coastal Indian People.  Cedar has been called Long Life Maker and Rich Woman Makerbecause it provides for people from birth to death.  Grand longhouses, swift and rot-resistant canoes, durable clothing, watertight baskets, cordage, tools, art, medicine and many other things have been, and continue to be, fashioned from cedar.

While every part of cedar is precious, I find the leaves especially useful in wintertime.  One of my favorite remedies for coughs and colds is a cedar steam.  It costs nothing but a walk to a cedar tree, a little time chopping leaves, boiling some water, and using a towel to create a tent over your head.  Think of a mini sauna or sweat lodge.  Breathing in cedar’s aroma can be incredibly relaxing and rewarding – it fights infection, stimulates our immune response and increases lung circulation – perfect for fighting the winter crud!

Identifying Cedar:  Cedar (Thuja plicata) is a distinctive tall evergreen tree with a drooping leader, a wide buttressing base, and a fibrous, fluted trunk with gray to cinnamon-red bark.  Greenish-yellow leaves are flat with opposite scales.  Branches are often J-shaped.  Simple round flowers bloom in late autumn and give the tree a golden appearance.  Cedar seed cones have 8-12 scales, are about ½ inch long, and are shaped like rosebuds.  The largest cedar trees are up to 19 feet in diameter and 200 feet tall.  Some of the oldest trees are thought to be as much as 1,000 years old.

Where it grows:  Cedar thrives in moist soils along bottoms, flats and mountain slopes.  It prefers wet, misty forest and is very common on the west side of the Cascade Mountains from Northern California up into S.E. Alaska.  It grows in wetter areas east of the Cascades toward Western Montana and Idaho.

When and how to harvest:  I prefer to gather cedar leaves in late summer or early fall when the weather is warm and their aromatic oil content is highest.  That being said, you can use their ever-green leaves any time of year.  I carefully prune small fan-like branches here and there so I do not leave a visible impact.  Leaves can be used fresh or they can be dried by bundling several small branches with a rubber band then hanging them, or placing them on baskets in a dry place with good ventilation.  Keep them whole, and then crush them just before you use them to retain the fragrant oils.  Store in a paper bag or glass jar.

CEDAR LEAF MEDICINE

cedar leafCoastal Native Peoples use cedar leaf and bark for a wide array of illnesses.  The leaves were a popular internal and external medicine for rheumatism.  They have also been infused for cough medicine, tuberculosis and fevers.  The pitch was used as chewing gum.  The leaves make wonderful incense and are used in smudging for purification.

Cedar is a powerful antimicrobial.  Reflect on where it lives – cool wet forests where fungi and molds thrive.  When you scratch cedar leaves or cut the wood strong essential oils are released.  Cedar makes these oils to repel insects, molds, fungi, bacteria and viruses.  When we cut up cedar, cover it with boiling water and inhale the steam, we are using cedar’s powerful antimicrobial oils to fight infection in our body.

Cedar promotes immune function through stimulating white blood cell scavenging.   Herbalist Adam Seller compares macrophages (a type of white blood cell) to little Pac-Men (remember that old video game?) because they chew up pathogens and stimulate a specific immune response.  “Macrophages can live 40-50 years and help us to break down our old self and build our new self,” says Seller.  Through stimulating our immune cells to fight infection, clean up debris and denature cancer cells, we are keeping our tissues healthy.

Inhaling cedar steam also stimulates blood flow in our lungs.  With more blood moving through the tissue, we are able to absorb more oxygen into our blood and move more waste products.  Nutrients flow more easily into lung tissue while debris from fighting an infection is carried away.  This helps us to heal faster and feel better.  For best results, steam with cedar 2-5 times a day.

CEDAR RESPIRATORY STEAM

cedarsteamAll you need is a few sprigs of cedar, a bowl, scissors, a towel and hot water for steaming.  Cut the cedar leaf into small pieces until you have ½ to 1 cup in a medium sized bowl (do not use metal since it will get hot).  Pour boiled water over the cedar until the bowl is half full.  Place your face over the steam at a comfortable distance and cover your head with a towel.  Breath deep!  Try to steam for at least 5 minutes.  Pour more hot water in if necessary.  For chronic coughs or sinus congestion, steaming 3-5 times a day may be necessary.

Variations:  Other herbs including fir needle, pine needle, eucalyptus leaf, rosemary, peppermint, yarrow or lavender can also be added.  You can add one to two drops of essential oil if desired.  Eucalyptus helps to thin mucus, peppermint is anti- inflammatory and rosemary stimulates circulation.  Other oils including lavender have antimicrobial or immune stimulating properties.

Caution:  Cedar contains strong volatile oils including thujone, a ketone that is known to be toxic in large quantities.  While steaming with cedar leaf is very safe, exercise caution when using the essential oil.  The dosage for cedar tea or tincture internally is usually low and it is not recommended for prolonged use, during pregnancy, breastfeeding or with kidney weakness.

 

IMG_1058

Western Red Cedar 
I am the heat of your hearth on the cold winter nights, the friendly shade screening you from summer sun, 
and the dancing bows that capture your imagination.
I am the beam that holds your house, the board of your table, and the roof that shelters you from rain.
I am the handle of your shovel, the bark of your basket, and the hull of your canoe.
I am the medicine that heals you, the incense that carries your prayers, and tea that is used to cleanse your home.
I am the wood of your cradle and the shell of your coffin.
I am the breath of kindness and the bough of beauty.
“Ye who pass by me, listen to my prayer:  Harm me not.”

Adapted by Elise Krohn from “Prayer of the Woods,” a Portuguese forest preservation prayer that has been used for more than 1,000 years.  Author unknown

 

Sources:
Arno, Stephen and Hammerly, Ramona.  Northwest Trees.  2007.
Miller, Bruce.  Sayuyay a ti tuwaduc, Herbal Medicine of the Twana.  1998.
Moore, Michael.  Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West.  1993.
Pojar, Jim and Mackinnon, Andy. Plants of the Pacific NW Coast.  Lone Pine, 1994.
Preston, Richard J.  North American Trees.  Iowa State University Press, 1980.
Seller, Adam.  Clinical Strategies and Herbal Therapeutics Class, 2003.

This post was edited from Elise Krohn’s website at wildfoodsandmedicines.com

Saving Seeds

bean seeds

by Elise Krohn, Traditional Plants Educator

As these cool autumn days take hold in the garden, we watch the plants busily going to seed.  Some are hitchhikers that cling to clothes.  Others fly in the breeze, and some take the form of little fruits that birds eat and deposit elsewhere.  The closer you look, the more fascinating seeds are – tiny packages of potential for next years bounty.  Our NWIC plants program offered seed saving workshops as part of the Nisqually garden classes and at our recent Our Food is Our Medicine Conference.  We are also creating a gardening curriculum that will include a class on seeds.  Here are some of our notes on how to save your own seeds:

Seeds have been carefully selected, saved and traded throughout history.  Some varieties of plants have been passed down from generation to generation as part of family wealth.  Since the early 1900’s we have lost about 95% of the garden seed diversity that was available.  Unfortunately, seeds have become something that private companies can own rights to and make money from.  It is astonishing that companies think they can own a living heritage like a seed or a plant, but this is happening all over the world.  Most farmers and gardeners get their seeds from companies or from government agencies that do not always carry diverse and regional selections.

By saving and sharing seeds, we can help to maintain plant diversity and ensure that we have access to the foods our ancestors thrived on!

calendulaseedWhen is a seed ready to harvest?

Save seeds from the most vital, colorful and delicious plants.  Most seeds are ready when they dry out on the plant, but watch carefully to get them before they fall to the ground or before birds or other animals eat them.  You can cut the seed heads and put them into a bag or basket.  If the seeds fly apart too easily, you can put a bag over the seed head, close it at the bottom and shake vigorously.

Storing Seeds

Seeds need to be completely dried before they are stored.  You can dry them in baskets, on fine mesh screens (an old window screen that is elevated for good air flow works great), cardboard boxes or paper bags.  Store seeds in a cool, dry place in paper envelopes or plastic bags.  If you store them in paper, you may want to keep them in a Tupperware container to keep out moisture.  Make sure to label them with the plant name and the year so they do not become mystery seeds later.  Most seeds are only good for a few years so you will need to keep collecting them over time.

Share your seeds!

Whether you have an abundance of vegetable, medicine or flower seeds, sharing with people can be a fulfilling act.  There is big medicine in giving.  It strengthens us as individuals and communities.  We share these seeds with you so that the medicine of the plants will continue to spread and grow.

 

calendulaseedCalendula (Calendula officinalis).  Gardeners love calendula because it is easy to grow and produces beautiful orange to yellow colored flowers.  The flowers are healing to wounds, skin irritation and ulcers.  They also have antifungal properties and can be effective for diaper rash. Try adding calendula petals to salads, bread and other dishes.  Plant seeds ½ to ½ inch beneath the soil in spring to early summer.  Within a month they will be producing flowers.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum).  These tasty seeds are often used in Mexican and African cooking.  Early plants will have lush green leaves that are called cilantro.  You will recognize this flavor in salsa.  The seeds are called coriander and have a uniquely different flavor.  Cilantro/coriander is known to help with heavy metal detoxification and indigestion.  Sew seeds ½ inch beneath the soil 1-2 inches apart.  Space rows 12 inches apart.  Sew in early spring and continue sewing every month for prolonged seasonal harvest.

Dill (Anethum graveolens).  Dill is a delicious feathery-looking herb that can be used on fish, in potato salad, dressing and in soups.  The seeds and flowers are also tasty and are often used in canning.  Plants will get about 4 feet tall.  Sew seeds ½ inch beneath the soil, then thin plants to 8-12 inches apart.

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea).  This beautiful pink to purple coneflower will attract bees and butterflies to your garden.  The roots, leaves and seeds are used to stimulate white blood cells and may be useful to prevent or shorten colds and the flu.  For best results, plant seeds ½ inch below the surface of the soil in a pot.  Place outside in early spring and keep moist.  Plants will flower in the second  year and can be harvested for medicine in the 3rd year.

echinaceaseedsUntil just a few generations ago, saving seeds was something almost everyone knew how to do.  It was as much a part of life as eating and raising children.  A vast diversity of agricultural seeds were grown and saved again and again, passed from mother to daughter and all around the community, carried in the pockets of travelers and traded for other species…  new kinds of food for next year’s table.

                                                          -H.C. Flores from Grow Food, Not Lawns

For more information on seed saving visit:

Regional classes – http://www.nwicplantsandfoods.com/
Seattle – http://kingcoseed.org/
Olympia – http://www.nwicplantsandfoods.com/
Native seeds for sale in our region – http://www.nwicplantsandfoods.com/

Celebrating Wild Berries of Summer

berry combo-From Elise Krohn, NWIC native foods educator and herbalist

Summer is wild berry season.  As we walk through the woods, our fingers and mouths become stained with deep reds and purples – juicy thimbleberries, wild blackberries, red huckleberries, blackcap raspberries, wild strawberries… they are all ripe and ready for picking.

Wild berries are some of the healthiest foods available.  They are packed with nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin E, fiber and riboflavin.  Berries are high in flavenoids called anthocyanidins, which are responsible for giving them their color.  Scientific research shows that flavenoids in berries have antioxidant powers that protect the body from Alzheimer’s, cataracts, glaucoma and the side effects of diabetes including diabetic retinopathy, kidney damage and vascular degeneration.

raspberry leafBerry leaves are also packed with nutrients and medicinal properties.  This year, members of our Traditional Plants and Foods Team are partnering with the Quinault Wellness Team to serve teas at the Paddle to Quinault.  On August 2nd, we will serve nettle lemonade, Indian tea and you guessed it… Northwest berry tea as part of the native foods dinner!  We have been drying leaves from huckleberry, wild strawberry and raspberry for this special occasion.  The Wellness Team also prepared fruit leather and wild berry jam.  Come see us and taste the delicious flavors that our abundant landscape offers.  Here are some of our favorite summer berries:

 

HUCKLEBERRY

Vaccinium spp.Red Huckleberry

What is better than wandering through the woods and finding a bush covered in ripe huckleberries?  In the Northwest, there are more than 20 species of huckleberries, which range from the coast to the high mountains.  Huckleberries come in many sizes.  Dwarf wartelberry is a mere six inches tall and is covered in tiny red berries that would satisfy a mouse, while the bigger mountain blueberries and huckleberries are large enough for a bear to gorge on and actually get full.  Berry colors range from orange-red to purple to deep blue-black.  The only difference between huckleberries and blueberries is that huckleberries have a stronger flavor.  They are the same genus botanically.

Huckleberries are one of the most important traditional foods and also one of the healthiest.  They may be one of the reasons that many Native elders lived to be over 100 years old.  They are considered an anti-aging food and are even being made into dietary supplements.  Antioxidants in the plant protect body tissue from “free radicals” in cells that cause damage.  They prevent inflammation and increase tissue strength.

Red Huckleberry    Evergreen huckleberry    MountainHuckleberry

Red Huckleberry                                                          Evergreen Huckleberry                                   Mountain Huckleberry

Huckleberry for Diabetics –Blueberries and huckleberries do not raise blood sugar and are an important food for pre-diabetics and diabetics. They are high in antioxidants, which help protect the body from the effects of high blood sugar including diabetic retinopathies, kidney damage and poor tissue healing. Recent research suggests that blueberries (and huckleberries) also lower cholesterol and help to prevent heart disease, cancer and bladder or urinary tract infections.  They are helpful for the heart and for preventing or treating varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

blueberry smoothieHuckleberries and blueberries contain arbutin, a plant compound that helps to fight the bacteria that usually causes urinary tract and bladder infections.  The berry juice or the leaf tea is used as a preventative and a treatment.

One of the easiest ways to make berries a regular part of your diet is by using frozen berries.  If you do not gather enough from your own bushes, you can buy them frozen in most stores throughout the year.  They are relatively inexpensive to buy in bulk at food coops.  You can add them to hot cereal, sprinkle them on cold cereal, make smoothies, or add them to baking recipes.  The recommended daily amount for health benefits is 1/2 cup a day.

 

SALAL

sala’xbupt, Makah.  Gaultheria shallon  

Salal is one of our most common and most overlooked berries.  It grows in lush thickets under open evergreen forests or in sunny areas where there is moisture and good drainage.  The leaves are thick, dark green on top and noticeably waxy.  Spring flowers look like little white bells and the berries are a blue-black when ripe.

salalSalal berries are ready between August and October, depending on elevation and weather conditions.  They vary from delicious to bland and boring, depending on their soil and amount of sun.  Always taste the berries before you gather them, and if they do not suit you, try traveling to a different bush a little ways away.

Salal was a common traditional food.  The berries were traditionally mashed, dried into cakes and then stored and eaten in the winter months.  The cakes were dried on cedar boards or skunk cabbage leaves (also called Indian wax paper).  According to Erna Gunther in Ethnobotany of Western Washington, the Lower Chinook salal loaves weighed as much as 10-15 pounds!  Many people preferred to rehydrate the cakes in water, then dip them into seal, whale or eulachon oil.

THIMBLEBERRY

thimbleberrytaqa ‘tcitlpat, Quileute.  Rubus parviflorus

These bright red berries are a symbol of summer’s delicacies.  The seeds are tiny and have a little crunch that is pleasing to the senses.  The berries are delicious fresh, and because they are seedy and less water-laden, they dry well as fruit leather.  Large soft maple-like leaves give this plant another common name: “toilet paper plant.”   You can imagine how useful it is when you are far from the bathroom.  Thimbleberry flowers are large and white, resembling a wild rose.

Thimbleberry is a special herb for women’s health.  The astringent qualities of the leaves are said to help tone the uterus in a similar way to raspberry leaf.  The roots and bark are also astringent.

cooksplateThimbleberry Dressing or Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup thimbleberries, mashed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup  rice or white wine vinegar
squeeze of lemon
salt to taste

Put all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously.  Use as a salad dressing or dipping sauce for bread.

TRAILING WILD BLACKBERRY

wisi’kas, Cowlitz.  Rubus ursinus

wild blackberryWild blackberries are low-growing plants with long-running silvery-grey stems that act like trip wires.  They create a ground cover in woods or in clearings.  Male and female blackberry flowers grow on different plants.  They are white with five long petals.  Only the female plants produce the juicy delicious berries.  Sometimes you will see a whole area covered by healthy looking blackberry runners and not a single berry.  This is probably a male plant.

Most coastal people prize wild blackberries as a late summer treat.  They have 10 times the flavor of the non-native Himalayan blackberries that are now taking over so many landscapes here in the northwest.  It is said that the naturalist Audubon introduced the Himalayan blackberry to create habitat for small songbirds.  It just goes to show how hard it is for people to understand the complexity and interrelatedness of our ecosystems, and what happens when a non-native plant or animal disrupts this.

Blackberry leaf is an astringent medicine, and can be made into a pleasant, rose-tasting tea.  It has traditionally been used for stomachaches, burns, wounds, diarrhea and sore throats.  Gather the leaves in spring through winter and dry in paper bags or hang on hooks in a warm place with good airflow.  You can also place the leaves on a cookie sheet in a low-temperature oven until they are crackly, then place the leaves in a large flat-bottom pan and mash them up with a potato masher.  This will prevent you from hurting your hands when you try to break them apart for tea.  Use one small handful per cup and drink several cups a day.  The berries are high in vitamin C and natural sugars.

WILD STRAWBERRY

xadi’tap, Makah.  Fragaria spp.

strawberryWild strawberries are a lot of work to gather, but the results are always worth it.  One of these little berries the size of your smallest digit on your pinky finger has more flavor than the huge hybridized berries they sell in the market now.  I have heard old timers voice their concerns about how the strawberries just do not taste like they used to.  “They bred the flavor right out of them!” one elder said.  In this time where seemingly everyone wants quantity over quality, these little strawberries remind us that some of the most sensational flavors can only be found in the wild.

There are several kinds of wild strawberries in our area including woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca) and Coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis).  You can grow either one of these in your garden as a ground cover.  Strawberries seem to taste better when they are growing in the sun.  They spread quickly and form a carpet on the ground.

Like many rose family plants, strawberry leaves are astringent.  They are helpful for ailments including diarrhea, burns and upset stomach, as well as skin, mouth or throat inflammation.  Strawberry leaves are high in vitamin C and make a tasty tea that is reminiscent of wild berries.  They can be harvested from spring through summer.  Simply pick the leaves and lay them in a basket or paper bag so they are only a couple leaves deep.  Turn them over every day so they get good ventilation.  When they are completely dry, place them in a glass jar or plastic bag.  They will stay potent about one year.

berry teaWild Berry Tea

Two-parts each: huckleberry leaf, strawberry or blackberry leaf, raspberry leaf
One-part each:  rosehips, hibiscus, orange peel
Optional: a tiny bit of licorice root or stevia leaf for sweetness 

Huckleberry helps to lower blood sugar.  Many of these herbs are high in vitamin C and antioxidants that help strengthen tissue in the heart, kidneys and blood vessels.  Steep this tea about 15 minutes.  Drink 2-3 cups a day, either hot or iced.  You can mix the cold tea with juice or even fizzy water to make a refreshing summer drink.  Other dried berry leaves can be substituted including, salmonberry, thimbleberry and salal.  Enjoy!

 

Nettle Tea Time

nettlemature-from Elise Krohn, NWIC herbalist and educator

Nettles are one of our favorite plants because they are so nutritious and so delicious.  Late spring is the perfect time to harvest nettles and dry them for tea.  Later in the summer fibrous stems can be made into strong cordage.

Description:  Stinging nettle (scientific name Urtica) is a perennial herb with opposite deep green leaves with serrated edges and tiny greenish flowers.  Stems are square like mint.  Nettle grows 3-7 feet tall.  The stalk and underside of leaves are covered with stinging hairs that rise from a gland containing formic acid.  Nettle is common in streambeds and disturbed areas with rich wet soil from the coast into the mountains.  Do not gather nettles in agricultural or industrial areas because they may absorb inorganic nitrites and heavy metals.

Nettle contains:  Formic acid in fresh plant, galacturonic acid, vitamin C, histamine, 5-hydroxytryptamine, choline and acetylcholine, vitamins A and D, iron, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, silica, trace minerals and a good amount of protein (more than beans!).

How to Harvest: Gloves or scissors are usually used to harvest nettles.  Nettles are most potent when gathered in early spring before flowering, usually from March-May.   To dry nettles, bundle them and hang them upside down in a dark dry place, or place them in a paper bag and rotate them every few days until dry.  Strip the leaves off the stem and store away from sunlight.  Stems are gathered for fiber when the plant is mature in summer to early fall.

nettledrying  nettlehanging

HISTORIC USES

Nettles have been revered worldwide throughout the ages for food, fiber and medicine.  Many Northwest Coastal People traditionally ate nettles as a nutritious spring food.  They were also used as a dye with shades ranging from yellow to deep green.  The fiber makes strong cordage and was used for making strong fishing line and fishnets.  Two thousand-year-old nettle clothing was found in China and still remains intact.

A fascinating use for nettles is urtication, or flogging oneself with this stinging plant. Both in the Pacific Northwest and in Europe, people have stung themselves to cure arthritic joints and to stay awake and alert during battle or hunting.  Traditional knowledge is now validated by scientific research.  Compounds including histamine, acetylcholine and formic acid are injected into tissue causing an awakening of cellular responses, lymph flow, nerve stimulation and capillary stimulation.

 

FOOD

Nettles are impressively high in chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, protein and amino acids. They are often called a “superfood” and are one of the highest plant sources of digestible iron.  This can be helpful for anemic conditions, menstruation, pregnancy and lactation. Gather nettles to eat fresh before they flower as old leaves contain cystoliths that may irritate the kidneys.  This compound is destroyed when the plant is dried, so gathering nettles after flowering is fine to prepare dried herb tea or powder, although leaves are most potent before flowering.  There are many ways to prepare nettles for food including:

Boil – boil nettles for 5-15 minutes.  The water can then be drunk as a tea.
Can – follow general instructions for canning spinach.
Freeze – either steam or boil nettles until just cooked, rinse in cold water, let drain and place in freezer bags for later use.
Sauté – Sauté until they look fully cooked, usually about 5 minutes.
Steam – place nettles in a colander and steam for 5-10 minutes.

Stringing nettle soupCooked nettles can then be used in quiches, casseroles, meat pies, egg scrambles, etc.  Dried nettles can also be added to soups and other foods in the same way dried herb and spices would be.  They are a delicious addition to clam chowder

Wash nettles, cut finely with scissors and set aside.  In a large soup pot, sauté onions and garlic in olive oil or 3-5 minutes.  Add water, potatoes, corn and nettles, then bring to a boil.   Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.  Blend all ingredients in a blender or a food processor (optional).  Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

 

Nettle Pesto

Try tossing this with pasta, potatoes or cooked vegetables.  It can also be spread on crackers or fresh vegetables as a snack.

1 small bag (about 6 cups) of young fresh nettles, rinsed
1 bunch basil, stems removed, washed and drained (about 2 cups leaves)
½  cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
1/3 cup walnuts or pine nuts
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
I clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil nettles in water (blanch) for one minute to remove the sting.  Drain well, let cool and roughly chop.  Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Place the pesto in a clean jar and pour a little extra olive oil over the top.  Cover with a lid.  This will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator.

 

Green Sesame Salt

1 cup sesame seeds
¼ cup powdered nettles
2 teaspoons salt

Toast sesame seeds over medium heat in a dry pan.  They will pop, brown, and when done, will have a toasted aroma and deep golden appearance.  Grind with salt in a coffee grinder or blender.  Add nettle powder (this can also be ground in a coffee grinder).  Blend all ingredients and store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.   This condiment can be sprinkled on rice, sautés or soups.

 

MEDICINE

Nettles can help bring the body back to a state of balance.  If someone is feeling debilitated or generally worn down, nettles are a good remedy.  They are tonic to the liver, blood and kidneys.  Herbalists consider nettles a reliable diuretic that balances blood pH and filters waste from the body including uric acid.  This can be especially useful for arthritis, gout, eczema and skin rashes.  Nettles have a solid reputation as a haemostatic, or a remedy to stop bleeding.  A strong decoction is traditionally used to treat wounds and hemorrhage.  They can help build blood after menstruation, birth or other blood loss.

Many people say that nettles help to alleviate allergies.  As a preventative for hay fever, drink 2 cups of nettle tea a day starting early in the spring and continuing into the allergy season.  When nettles are fresh, tinctured or freeze-dried they have anti-histamine qualities that may be effective for acute allergic reactions.  Nettles are both astringent and anti-inflammatory, which helps with the symptoms of allergies and many other complaints.  Rosemary or horsetail with nettle are made into a tea and used as a hair rinse to make the hair glossy and stimulate growth.

nettleteacropTea:  Use 1 tablespoon of dried nettles per cup of boiled water.  Steep 15 minutes to several hours.  Drink 1-3 cups a day.  You can make a large batch of tea and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  It is fine to drink the tea hot or cold.  Nettle blends well with mint.

 

FIBER

Nettle fiber is renowned for it’s durability and has been used for making fishnets, ropes, clothing, and even bed linens.  Cut stems at the base and strip the leaves from the stem (wear thick gloves).  If you are working with fresh nettles, split the stems in half, cutting length-wise with a sharp knife.  Take a rolling pin or round stick to flatten the half-stems.  You can even beat them with a stick or a flat rock to help separate the outer fiber from the inner woody stem.  Carefully separate the outer fibers, trying to keep them long.  Let these fibers dry in a basket or a paper bag.  If you are working with dry nettle stems you can soak them to make them easier to work with.  Continue as above by splitting the stems, flattening them and carefully removing the fiber.  The fiber can then be braided or twisted and made into strong cordage.

Brennnessel / Stinging nettle

 

 

Native Plants for Heart Health

From Elise Krohn, NWIC herbalist and educator

hawthorn-berriesClose your eyes and listen – you will feel the rhythmic drum of your heart.  It is easy to forget how hard it works for us every moment of our life.  An adult heart can pump over 7,000 liters of blood per day, delivering vital nutrients to cells throughout our body and carrying away waste products.  What we eat and drink, and how we live has a profound effect on our heart health.  Heart disease is the number one killer in our society – an epidemic that has been linked to modern foods and a modern sedentary lifestyle.   Many nutrients in native foods including flavonoids and good quality fats are known to reduce the risk of heart disease.  As we return to a traditional foods diet and get outside to gather the bounty of each season, we are giving our heart vitality and strength.

We celebrated American Heart Health Month this February through having a hands-on class at the Northwest Indian College at Lummi.  The class was supported by a grant from DHHS, NIH, and the National Libary of Medicine.  Visit the Native Voices website at http://www.nwicplantsandfoods.com/nativevoices/  Here are some of the highlights from the class:

BERRY MEDICINE

Native berries are among the most prized native foods – both for flavor and for the powerful nutrients they contain.  Wild berries in Western Washington include black cap raspberry, cranberry, currant, elderberry, gooseberry, hawthorn, huckleberry, salal, salmonberry, serviceberry, soapberry, thimbleberry, wild blackberry, and wild strawberry!  Rosehips are not really a berry but they are nutritionally and medicinally similar.  Some nutrients in berry plants that help to keep our bodies healthy include:

berry mixAntioxidants – Cells are the tiniest structures in our bodies- the building blocks of life.  They are constantly being attacked by molecules called oxidants and free radicals.  These can tear cell membranes and damage cell components, leading to poor health or “aging” of cells.  Some oxidative damage is a normal part of being alive.  Yet, pollution including cigarette smoke and unhealthy food including refined food and fried food exposes us to excessive amounts.  This is a contributing factor to developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and other chronic diseases.  Antioxidants, which are found in many fruits and vegetables, stabilize free radicals, limiting the damage they can do to our bodies.  They are said to slow down aging, reduce inflammation, and increase immune health.  Berries are among the most potent antioxidant foods, so eat them to your hearts content!

Flavenoids – These plant pigments give berries and other fruits and vegetables their color.  They protect the body in many ways including acting as antioxidants, protecting and strengthening blood vessel walls, and healing tissue.  Scientific research has shown that flavenoids help protect the body from cardiovascular disease, varicose veins, Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, glaucoma and the side effects of diabetes including diabetic retinopathy, kidney damage, and vascular degeneration.

Vitamin C – This helps our body absorb Iron, heal cuts, and keep teeth and gums healthy.  Our bodies do not make Vitamin C so we need to eat foods that contain it.

Fiber – Fiber helps to prevent constipation and normalizes gut health.  It also lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Most adults only eat half the amount of fiber recommended by the USDA for optimum health.

 

hawthornmedHAWTHORN BERRY

Crataegus douglasii (Native Black Hawthorn)
Crataegus laevigata (European Hawthorn)

Hawthorn is a large shrub or deciduous tree with branches covered in black thorns.  The leaves are serrated and lobed with a medium to dark green color.  Fragrant flowers are small and pinkish-white.  They bloom in thick clusters.  Fruits are blue black for our native variety or bright red for the European variety.  They have large woody seeds.  Hawthorn is in the rose family.

Hawthorn grows throughout the temperate North.  There are several less common species that grow in our area.  Flowers are pollinated by flies that are drawn to its’ sweet, fishy aroma.  Birds and small mammals prize the fruit for food. Domesticated varieties of hawthorn that have pink flowers are not medicinal.

PreparationThe berry, leaf, and flower of hawthorn are all high in nutrients and medicinal properties.  In the spring, hawthorn leaves and flowers are gathered and dried.  The red fruits are gathered in the fall and are carefully dried in baskets or in a food dehydrator.  Tea– Steep leaves and flowers in boiled water for 15 minutes.  The berries are steeped for 15-30 minutes or boiled for ten minutes.  Drink up to three cups a day.

Traditional uses:  Here in the Northwest, hawthorn has a variety of uses.  The large black thorns were used to make fish hooks, sewing awls and lances for probing blisters, boils and for piercing ears.  The wood is unusually hard and has been fashioned into tools.  The berries are considered a health food and were mixed with fat and used as medicine for diarrhea.  A decoction of the bark was taken for stomach problems, diarrhea, venereal disease, and to thin the blood and strengthen the heart.

              hawthorn berry    hawthorn process    hawthornblack

Hawthorn is a tonic for the heart.  It is used for a wide range of cardiovascular disorders and actually strengthens heart and blood vessel tone.  Hawthorn increases the hearts ability to contract and gently relaxes outer blood vessels so the heart has less resistance to pump against.  Hawthorn also relaxes smooth muscles of the coronary artery walls and allows more blood to flow into the cells of the heart.  This is one of the main reasons hawthorn is said to nurture the heart.  It can help balance blood pressure and alleviate acute conditions like angina or pain due to a lack of oxygen reaching the heart.  Hawthorn is helpful in treating or preventing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which contributes to angina and heart attacks.  Compounds called flavenoids in hawthorn help to protect and strengthen cardiovascular tissue.  They are found in high quantities in the leaf, flower, and berry.  Hawthorn should be used with cardio-active pharmaceuticals like digoxin with close doctor supervision.

ROSEHIPS

Rosa sp.

rosehipRose is one of the most important medicines in the Northwest.   All parts of the plant are used for physical and spiritual medicine.  In spring the fragrance of the pink flowers fills the air.  By late summer and fall pollinated flowers transform into orange to bright red fruits called rose hips.

Rosehips are edible, but the hairy inner seeds are not eaten because they irritate the digestive system.  You can nibble on the sweet apple-flavored outer flesh.  Seeds can be removed by hand (a labor of love) to make jam or to dry for tea, or you can use a jam mill to prepare rosehip jelly.

A tea from rosehips is prepared for sore throats, colds, diarrhea and other conditions when an astringent is helpful.  Rose hips are high in vitamins C, B, E, K and A plus calcium, silica, iron, phosphorous and pectin.

Easy Rosehip Jam

rosehip jamYou will need de-seeded rosehips for this style of jam.  They can be purchased in most natural foods stores or herb stores in the bulk tea section.  Remove any sticks or dark brown rosehip tops that might be hard.  Grind finely in a coffee grinder.  Add apple cider or apple juice to the powder until it forms a jam consistency.  Add honey to taste.  Place in a jar and refrigerate.  Use as a spread on fruit or bread.  This will only last 2 weeks when refrigerated, but you can freeze it.  This spread is a tasty way to get vitamin C into kids during the cold season.  You can modify the recipe by adding cinnamon powder, vanilla and other spices.

PREPARING HERBAL TEAS

The making of herbal teas for enjoyment, nourishment and wellness is a creative art.  There is a bit of science to it as well, but brewing teas is a flexible and forgiving process.  Dried herbs are usually used for making tea.  During the drying process, plant cell walls break open and dehydrate.  When hot water is poured over plant material it easily rehydrates and extracts the taste, scent, nutritive and medicinal properties.  Fresh herbs are fine for making tea if you want a light and aromatic brew, but it will not be as strong tasting and medicinal as dried herbal teas.

Having good quality herbs makes all the difference in the flavor and medicinal effectiveness.  Harvesting your own herbs is always best.  You know exactly where they come from and can connect with the plants directly.  If you buy herbal teas at the store, try to purchase loose-leaf tea that has not been ground into a fine powder (these teas are not in bags).  The more ground up herbs are, the more they lose their medicinal value over time.  Dried herbs should look and smell something like when they were fresh.  Loose-leaf teas can be put directly into a teapot, canning jar or non-aluminum pan with a lid.  You can buy a strainer that fits over your teacup to catch the herbs.

tea cupPreparing Tea:  Feel free to experiment with a proportion of herb to water that suits your taste.  If you are using the tea as medicine, the ratio of herb to water should be enough to produce a fairly strong and medicinally active tea.  A general ratio is:  1 ounce of dried herb per 1 quart of wateror 1 tablespoon per cup of water.

Place the herbs in a container and cover with boiling water.  Cover with a lid to keep the aromatic compounds in your tea.  Let steep for 10 to 20 minutes, then pour through a strainer.  Tannin-rich herbs such as green tea should steep for less time because they will turn bitter if steeped too long.  Mineral-rich herbs including horsetail, red clover and nettle are best when steeped several hours to overnight.

Storing Tea:  Teas are best consumed fresh, but when necessary, you can prepare larger batches and store them in the refrigerator in a tightly closed container for up to three days.  Teas may also be stored in the freezer for a few weeks.

 

rose hip teaHeart Happy Tea

Two parts each hawthorn leaf and flower, lemon balm.  One part each hawthorn berry, rosehips, rose petals.  A sprinkle of lavender flower

Rose hips and hawthorn are high in antioxidants that help to strengthen tissues in the heart, kidneys, and blood vessels.   Lemon balm, lavender and rose ease stress and add wonderful flavors to this tea.  Steep 10- 15 minutes.

Rose Hip Tea

Just rose hips, both local Wild Rose and market Rose

Rose hips are high in Vitamin C and bioflavenoids, making them excellent for immunity and for protecting heart and the blood vessels health.  Use 1 heaping teaspoon per cup.  Steep 20 minutes.

           

2012 Our Food is Our Medicine Conference

The first annual Our Food is Our Medicine gathering was a great success, attracting over 130 tribal food sovereignty leaders from the Pacific Northwest region and beyond.  Northwest Indian College’s Institute of Indigenous Foods and Traditions hosted this two and a half day gathering at Islandwood, an educational facility located on Bainbridge Island, WA.  This unique gathering included interactive workshops, panel discussions, skill sharing, nature walks, fireside storytelling, medicine making, traditional foods feast, and many other valuable experiences.   The gathering served as a platform where everyone could share their gifts, knowledge, and resources.

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