Taming the Nettles

Picture of my nettle bed

In the best tradition of the healing herbs, nettles are a force, a high water tide, a plant that has something to say and says it with strength and eloquence. I have a sea of nettles and it occurred to me I should better relate to it rather than argue with it for being where it shouldn’t. While I was awkwardly limping around on my injured knee, I kept wondering how I would ever carve two new beds out of the nettle ocean.  But then  I remembered that I actually wanted this plant, and started it from seed four or five years ago (with seed from Horizon Herbs). Trying to find a way to get extra minerals and vitamins without having to resort to the high prices of inorganic, non-plant based capsules and pills, I thought nettles might be a good substitute.

As Susun Weed describes in her animated and lively book, Healing Wise (Wise Woman Herbal Series), (still in print since 1989), nettles is very high in calcium and magnesium. The amounts are so high, 2900 milligrams of calcium, and 860 milligrams of magnesium in one serving of cooked nettles, that they are very comparable to taking a mineral supplement. Another herbalist (with a strangely similar name), Susan E. Mead, states on her site LINK that one quart of infusion made with one ounce of dried herb (about a cup) has 2,000 milligrams of calcium (and about 700 milligrams of magnesium). Made into a nettle vinegar by filling a quart jar with nettle leaves and pouring apple cider vinegar over it to fill the jar, and letting it sit for six weeks, one tablespoon of this vinegar will have 150-200 milligrams of calcium with about a third less of magnesium (the 3:1 calcium to magnesium ratio is considered excellent by nutritionists). This vinegar making process is explained with recipes in another Susan Weed book, New Menopausal Years, The Wise Woman Way: Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90 (Wise Woman Herbal Series, Book 5) (Wise Woman Ways)
I’m sure I can throw out my calcium/magnesium supplements or at least use them much less often if I have lots of nettle around – which I  do!  I’ve been drying it in my food dryer, an Excaliber , which works great. The leaves, which I remove from the stalk, take only about 2 hours at 100 degrees to get dry, green, and crispy. They make a great tea, especially with some mint added. My husband loves it and it saves money on store teas.  I’ve also started some nettle vinegar and lightly steamed some to freeze. Nettles make a great soup stock, with or without other vegetables. I sometimes just add a piece of Kombu seaweed, simmer it all together for twenty minutes or so and then strain out the vegetables. Vegetable stock can be made quickly, in comparison to stock with bones, which takes a couple of hours to extract the constituents ( I learned this by listening to the NPR radio program, Splendid Table.)

Nettles are also high in protein, having 10.2 %, vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C, silica, and trace minerals such as copper, iron, and sulfur. I was surprised to see it also has vitamin K 1 , an important bone and cardiovascular vitamin. Most people don’t get nearly enough of this vitamin. Read more about the difference between vitamin K1 and K2. I still take Jarrow brand vitamin K2 from Iherb.com, but may cut back a bit if I get plenty of K1 from nettles. To get vitamin K1 from nettles, it is best to use nettles in its raw form, such as the vinegar. One tablespoon of vinegar with a little honey or agave nectar in a glass of water tastes really great. Taken just before eating, the K1 is better absorbed because of the oils in a meal. Details, details, details.

By now, I am starting to wonder if I have enough nettles! But Steven Foster in his book, Herbal Renaissance, Growing, Using & Understanding Herbs in the Modern World, suggests four cuttings a year. I am just snipping off the top five inches or so and letting them grow back, which they do quickly.

I am also using nettles on the garden soil and in compost. It is supposed to be a compost activator and provide excellent rich humus. I’ve been using some as sheet compost around my tomato plants. My tomato plants often (make that always, lately) get the infamous tomato blight. So here is one more potential preventative. Rudolf  Steiner, the founder of Bio dynamic farming, considered nettles to have unique healing qualities for plants as well as humans. I would think the calcium and other minerals would be just as good for the soil and soil microbes as they are for people.

I should mention that nettles have a curious sting – it’s their tiny hairs containing formic acid and histamine. But the stings are actually considered healthy by some. I just wear gloves. The sting is rendered null and void by drying or cooking. It is very expressive after all.  If growing it does not seem in the cards, it can be purchased dried in fine organic form from Pacific Botanicals.

An ancient law of nature states that if nature delivers a malady, nature also must provide a cure. It is very curious that I have been so aware of both clay and nettle since I fell and hurt my knee. Now, two weeks later, my knee is almost normal after clay poultices and nettle tea. Sometimes, the cures are all around us, but are still strangely unseen.

Other Things

Clay with FlowerIts strange how other things can take me away from gardening – and just when I resolved to let few things get off my radar. A call to do contract work.  Difficult, stressful, no clear solutions, black is white and white is black. Unethical behavior – it seems to be pervasive nowadays. Exhausted, I finally extricate myself by bowing out.

Back to the garden. It is still, lonely, quiet, humble – still delicate, gentle, beautiful, – today wet and windswept. But a bit of turmoil has crept in. Dark energy when I am trying to knit things together. Maybe I should move that large potted Japanese Maple into the greenhouse for the night. It hasn’t been hardened off for more than a few days and the predicted 25 mile an hour winds could stress it. At dusk I pick up the heavy, wet five gallon pot. I trip on that small pile of weeds I never took away. The pot, tree, and I tumble forward in a split second. No synapses could even meet to discuss what movements I should make. Knee injured on cement anchoring greenhouse. I hobble to house leaving Japanese Maple pot soil spilled and roots exposed, but at least in greenhouse. Try to figure out if anything is actually broken. Maybe a cracked kneecap, I’m guessing.  Knee stew.

The medical people. I  don’t usually go there. Longer sentences would mean my breathing is normal which it is not yet. But using a clay poultice on my knee seems a form of gardening – gentle, delicate, beautiful. Thanks Raymond Detreit  for writing one of my oldest and most revered books, Our Earth Our Cure (A Swan House Book).  I believe it is almost out of print, but there is another which provides similar insights:  The Healing Power Of Clay: The Natural Remedy for Dozens of Common Ailments by Michel Abehsera.  Clay has gotten me out of close scrapes before.

The wind made it all the way here,

Out of breath

With so much to tell.

Where To Find It – Detroit Garden Works, Wavecrest Nursery

The entropy grows. Two more stops were meant to be added to the last post but I ran out of room – a likely excuse in cyberspace! But I did run into a wall in my head – it’s hard to encompass this expanding universe sometimes. But to keep tabs, here are two garden stops we recently visited which are both garden visions.

I always gasp when I first walk up the aisle of the large hall-like gated entrance Detroit Garden Works - Entrance aisle of Detroit Garden Works . That is, after drinking in the exquisitely designed and impeccably kept front-scape. Detroit Garden Works - front When we were there on April 21, the tulips were as perfect as a still life painting. Walking on amounts to adding layer upon layer of delights in forms, textures, colors, and shapes. Detroit Garden Works - old lawn roller

Since the manager, Rob Yedinak and founder Deborah Silver, always find the most unusual and sometimes far-flung (as in Europe) places to purchase their stock, the store looks refreshingly different season to season.  Last year there was a rustic, hand-made terracotta collection from Italy- which made me instantly decide to start such a collection. Last year's purchase I thought I would come back the next year (which is now now) and add to my collection. While there was other charming terracotta, Latest purchase that particular type was long ago sold. Being an inveterate enthusiast of one-of-a-kinds from used to antique stores, I should not have been surprised. Their latest foray was to Chicago where they discovered a mother-lode of garden fascinations and came home with their truck brimming. One great find was a set of old faux bois planters with the sort of naive patina that gardeners love.

Another surprise there was an espalier theme – two tall rows of Linden trees perfectly trained to dramatic flat tiers, and scattered apple trees trained as fans against walls, pink buds about to burst. Detroit Garden Works - espalier

Inside, I always look forward to again seeing the moss fountain wall  Detroit Garden Works - magical moss wall – with its living music of water trickling over moss and shells – the perfect reminiscence of the affinities that moss and music share. There is another moss wall adjacent to this one with an eclectic table scape beneath it.  Detroit Garden Works - moss wall with table scapeThere was no note saying “Don’t try this at home.” I’m taking that as a green light.

If you go, don’t forget to admire the shell encrusted cabinets  where thousands of delicate shell details combine into one grand whole. These seem to carry on the overall subtle grotto theme – the coolness and moisture, surprises, fantasies and the romantic air of long forgotten renaissances.

Wavecrest Nursery

Wavecrest Nursery, so aptly named –  being within feel of the negative ion mists of Lake Michigan, is only a good hour’s drive for us. Lucky us. For it is in the genre of Detroit Garden Works, having that similar sense of place rather than being a tiresome trail of unrelated bits and pieces that commonly pass for plant nurseries.

The nursery itself is laid out like a garden, with well scaled uniquely shaped islands containing large specimens of conifers, shrubs, and trees, all artfully arranged. Grassy pathways guide the visitor in a meandering course throughout the plant islands, with surprises at every turn. Some of the sudden delights are stone or cast sculptures and one of a kind fountains.  Wavecrest fountain Above all this is a sylvan canopy of seemingly ancient trees, like the Dawn Redwood, all limbed up and providing a shade canopy that closely holds in those negative ion filled mists. The whole scene is breathable, see-able, and thoroughly enjoyable.

The rustic Barn Owl Gift Shop The Barn Owl Shop holds nature oriented objects like birdhouses, bird feeders, bonsai containers, and bamboo screens. Outside the back door is a terrace filled with smaller potted versions of conifers, shrubs, grasses, and perennials. Aside from the price differences, I like to take home these smaller versions because I can grow them on in Rootmaker Pots to develop a root system with many more feeder roots that adapt and grow into the landscape quickly. (More about these pots coming up.)

Azalea - Herbert

I have always admired Chamaecyparis Nootkatentsis ‘Pendula’ and decided on a little “Noot” as I fondly call it. I repotted it in a Rootmaker pot and plan to grow it on till next spring.  Noot I also fell for the lovely blossoms of Azalea x (Kurume) ‘Herbert’.  There was actually some higher cerebral activity going on with this decision – I plan to intersperse some azaleas with Japanese Maples –  on a terrace I am building by hand. (Really??? (remark to self)).

Lastly, a purely heartfelt purchase of two Primula Japonicas. Primula Japonica They were on my mind after reading the delightful article accompanied by lush photos, on Primula auriculas in the April issue of Garden Design Magazine . See “Plant Palette”  by Tovah Martin. These aren’t auriculas – Arrowhead Alpines is the place for those, but I have a spill-over appreciation for almost all primroses now. They seem underused. Later I passed by an 18″ Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ which is now occupying my thoughts.

If you visit Lake Michigan at such rewarding destinations as Saugatuck and Douglas, be sure to look up this hidden gem nearby. My visits to these two destinations confirmed my cosmological belief that entropic forces can be stopped cold with the tightly woven threads of living art.