A few weeks ago, in a miserable fit of sneezing and itchy red eyes, I came across a homespun remedy for seasonal allergies I hadn’t heard of before; Stinging Nettle tea. That’s right. It’s that annoying weed your dad warned you about on camping trips in the woods. After some more, ahem… rigorous research (there’s a lot of mommy blogs out there) I decided to give it a shot.
My research maintained that Stinging Nettle was quite common in the Northwest so I skimmed through a few photos and headed to the state park across the street from my Portland neighborhood. I walked about a half mile down to the creek, slowly trying to make out the ubiquitous weed. Eventually I came to a very clear awareness that I had no clue what I was looking for. The handful of photos I’d glanced at beforehand had quickly dissolved in my bear trap of a memory, and now nothing, or maybe everything, looked like the leafy subject of my hunt. I also had no reception so my phone was useless. I walked back home, nose running, eyes puffy with fresh pollen and a bit discouraged with the thought that this plant might be more scarce than I thought.
Determined to make another go at it, I printed out a “vegetation inventory map” of the park (it’s exactly what it sounds like), and carefully circled all the zones that supposedly contained Nettle. Armed with the map, new pics on my phone and a pocket full of tissues, I headed for the wilderness ready to bushwhack my way to the fabled healing herb.
I scurried across the busy road to the same dirt path I’d embarked on before. Adjusting my pack, I gazed ahead into the dark heart of that state park jungle knowing an allergy destroying shrub was waiting to be found. Not two steps down the path, a waist high plant with saw-toothed leaves caught my eye. I quickly compared it to the photos on my phone and gently touched one of the leaves. A slight tingle instantly confirmed that this was indeed the Stinging Nettle I sought. I then turned towards the forest and there in front of me was a whole field of the same, suddenly conspicuous weed literally a stone’s throw from the road. So much for my heroic, scientifically calculated conquest, this stuff really was everywhere!
I finally returned home with a backpack full of Stinging Nettle leaves and a thumb and forefinger with no feeling whatsoever. I’d picked so much with my bare hand that the intense stinging sensation, normally lasting a few hours at most, stayed with me into the next day! Upon further research, I found that gloves are a highly recommended companion to Nettle harvesting. Noted.
Unfortunately I also found out the leaves I’d collected were more mature, being later in the season and needed to dry before I used them so I let them sit in a paper bag for about a week. When they were nice and brittle I steeped a handful of ’em (they lose most their sting when dried) with some dried mint (another useful, although more famous weed) from my yard and at last partook of the herbal potion. Although my allergies weren’t as intense by this time, I can tell you that I felt good and cleared up after draining a mug of the stuff! Apparently Nettle has a natural anti-histamine without the side-effects of most allergy drugs so its magical abilities really aren’t magical at all. In fact there is a lot of evidence out there that Nettle may be good for a long list of things including Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and prostate disease to name a few! It’s a bonafide “superfood” growing in your backyard (Watch your back Kale).
On my journey with Ripelist, I’m always on the lookout for anything that promotes a local and sustainable lifestyle and I think this often overlooked weed deserves some attention. As for me, you can be sure that next year I will be collecting Nettle before the allergy onslaught begins and yes, I will be wearing gloves.