Herb Journal #1: Stinging Nettle

A little while ago I told you as part of my herbal medicine apprenticeship that I was to keep a record of at least 30 herbs and my experience working with them. I decided to blog about them as that as an easy way to document and share my work.

First up! Stinging Nettle. By this point I have a bit of experience working with stinging nettle both medicinal and plant spirit wise so it gets first entry.

Stinging Nettles (urtica dioica) in my Pac NW neighborhood

Stinging Nettles (urtica dioica)

Identifying and Harvesting Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle is an upright plant with a hollow, square, ribbed stem. Its long stemmed, jagged, heart-shaped leaves are in opposing pairs. Its stalk and the underside of its leaves are covered in fine hairs containing formic acid that sting if you brush against them. However, drying, pulverizing or steaming the leaves will completely get rid of the sting. It likes sun and can usually be found growing near river or stream banks or on disturbed sites with moist, rich soil. It starts to pop up in early spring. Nettle is quick growing and can get quite tall, sometimes over 6 feet. A plant will have either female or male flowers. Its female flowers are minuscule and green hanging in paired strands from the leaf axils. Its upright male flowers are poised diagonally at the top of the stem. The best time to harvest is early to mid-spring before it flowers.

Always show respect for the plants. Be mindful. Acknowledge they are living beings that are sharing their medicine with you. Only harvest if it feels right and always give something in return, starting with your love and gratitude. Never be reckless by taking too much from one spot. When harvesting you have to avoid the stingers by wearing gloves or snipping with shears and using them as tongs to put them in your harvesting bag.

If you get stung, dab the area clean with cool water if you can. Try not to rub or scratch. Many plants nearby might help. Leaves from plantain, dock or sword fern (spore side down) can help relieve the sting. Jewelweed, commonly known as a poison ivy remedy, also works or nettle stings. Break the stem in half and gently apply the juice to the affected area. Always be 100% confident about your identification of plants. If you aren’t familiar with these or if they aren’t available, aloe or a baking soda and water paste should help.

Stinging Nettle in Flower

Stinging Nettle in Flower from ‘Bilder ur Nordens Flora’ (1917-1926) by: C.C.M. Lindman

The Benefits of Stinging Nettle

Nettle’s very nutritious. Its high minerals like iron, calcium, potassium, and manganese and A, C, D & B-Complex vitamins.  It’s also rich in proteins and amino acids. The whole plant can be cooked like spinach. It is advisable to not harvest nettle for food while it’s in flower, since it contains cystoliths which can be irritating to the kidneys and urinary tract.

The vitamins and minerals in nettle make it a great energizing tonic that’s beneficial to the liver, blood and kidneys. Its sulfer and silica content is great for healthy hair and skin. Recipes abound for nettle hair rinses to encourage hair growth and shine. The iron content in nettle is great for counteracting anemia and fatigue. Nettles are anti-inflammatory and contain antihistamines making them an excellent allergy remedy. Its diuretic, and detoxifying action make it a good treatment for gout, arthritis and various skin disorders. Some people practice urtication, that is purposely stinging themselves with nettle to combat arthritis and joint pain. This works because the nettle sting dilates capillaries and stimulates the nerves and circulation. The use of urtication for healing purposes dates back some 2,000 years or more.

Nettle infusion can be used as a plant food, insecticide and compost activator due to its nitrogen content. The tall, fresh nettle stalks “bark” stripped of leaves and woody center can be separated into strips, dried and used to make a very strong cordage. This cordage can be used to make rope or fabric, stronger than cotton and more environmentally friendly. The leaves yield a beautiful gray-green dye, while dye from the roots is yellow.  Textiles and dye for military uniforms were made from nettles during WWI &II.

Nettle’s safe to use while pregnant and in fact has many benefits to the pregnant and nursing woman. Pregnant women benefit from its nutrition, gentle diuretic and laxative effect, ability to increase mother’s milk and prevent and stop bleeding and hemorrhage. It’s also useful for regrowing hair after pregnancy. Susun Weed has an excellent article on herbs for pregnancy including nettle, here.

The Many Ways to Use Nettle

I use stinging nettle many ways. I make stinging nettle tincture using spring water and everclear in a ratio of 1:3. I take a droppersful a few times a day when I’m experiencing allergy symptoms, when I’m feeling sluggish, and when I want to experience its spiritual properties.

For me, nettle’s plant spirit properties manifested as a male energy. A calm, happy, laid back equanimity. The impression I got wasn’t passive, it was youthful, alert. I could sense sun and water along with this energy. I experienced this through meditation after taking nettle tincture.

I find that regular use of the tincture helps clear up my skin and complexion. I use the infusion as a facial steam and hair rinse. It makes my hair soft and shiny. I helped make stinging nettle pesto by pulverizing it and adding olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt.  It’s delicious over pasta and as a dip for veggies. The internet abounds with nettle recipes, from simple steamed nettle, to quiches, ale, and even deserts like ice cream! I enjoy it both warm or iced drunk as tea or infusion. It has a grassy, slightly bitter taste. It pairs well with mint and honey.

I am just at the beginning of what I forsee a long, happy relationship with this amazing herb. If you’d like to know more the internet abounds with a wealth of information with recipes, tips and tricks for its use. I recommend my teacher, Becky Lerner at First Ways , “Wildman” Steve Brill, especially his book, Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so Wild Places), and Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise as places to start.

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The Great Cathedral

Horsetail Falls

Horsetail Falls, Cascade Locks, OR

In a cave under a waterfall I recall the poem that begins:

In the immense cathedral of the holy earth,
Whose arches are the heavens and the great vault above
Groined with its myriad stars — what miracles of birth,
What sacraments of death, what rituals of love!
” -John Hall Wheelock

View of Columbia River just NW of Horsetail Falls

View of Columbia River just NW of Horsetail Falls

Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge

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White Bird

“..Love is a little white bird

and the flight of it so fast

you can’t see it

and you know it’s there

only by the faint whirr of its wings

and the hush song coming so low to your ears

you fear it might be silence

and you listen keen and you listen long

and you know it’s more than silence

for you get the hush song so lovely it hurts your heart..”

– Carl Sandburg

(Excerpt from poem Little Word, Little White Bird from his book Honey and Salt)

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Armenian Remembrance Day

Beautiful Armenia  (Image source: www.tufenkianheritage.com)

Beautiful Armenia
(Image source: http://www.tufenkianheritage.com)

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide and is a remembrance day for the victims. I am half Armenian, my other half being mostly a mix of Irish and French ancestry. My grandfather was born on a boat off the coast of Cairo, Egypt while his mother and maternal aunt were displaced in the diaspora. His aunt had survived an ax wound to the back and survived by playing dead, actually enduring being on a cart full of bodies till she had a chance to escape. My great-grandmother was pregnant when she fled, there was never any mention of a father. I know the Turks made it a habit of raping the Armenian women, and believe that both my great-grandmother and aunt bore the tattooed faces of women that had been enslaved.

I remember being haunted by this story and their strength. It left a huge impression on me. Strength and survival in the face of extreme hardship, violation, stigma and loss have been a theme women in my family. Years later, I saw pictures taken during the genocide, and I was horror stricken. They were images of torture, crucifixion, starvation, misery and death. I felt compelled to face what my ancestors went through and tears were just flowing down my face, especially for the children.

I recall the sadness I felt and still feel and it hurts my heart to know this type of thing is still happening in countries all over the world, especially in the Middle East today.

Armenian Dress

Armenian Dress (Ardern Holt 1896)

Later, when I grew up, I learned of what a beautiful country Armenia is. It’s located in the beautiful mountainous country surrounding Mount Ararat, bordered by Turkey to the West and Iran to the South. Armenians have a rich cultural dance tradition as well with beautiful medieval looking native costumes covered in lace, beadwork and embroidery. The Armenian language is complex and rich, and sharing some similarities to Greek. Armenian food is delicious, ripe with the flavors of the Mediterranean. I have fond memories of my mother’s delicious stuffed cabbage leaves (dolmas).

A beautiful example of an Armenian Cross: Unique lasercut pendant by Inmmotion on Etsy ($65) Link: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/163502119/hand-made-armenian-cross-pendant-chain?ref=market

A beautiful example of an Armenian Cross: Unique lasercut pendant by Inmmotion on Etsy ($65) Armenian crosses usually feature flower and vine motifs.

Armenians were the first Catholic country and genocide was declared on them for their faith and they were branded infidels. When my family emigrated they took on Americanized names and they chose the surname “Swords” which they translated to mean “Cross”. I was raised Catholic, my mother from her Armenian side, my father from his Irish one. I no longer consider myself a Catholic, but some things have stuck with me: my fondness for angels, the somber and beautiful religious iconography, and St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and children.

I just wanted to share my family’s story to honor their memory today. Turkish people today object to the term “genocide” used to describe what they did. An estimated 1.5 million people died. Whether or not that’s an accurate number, I don’t know what else you can call that but genocide! I think of the ax in my great-great-aunt’s back, and all the other named and nameless victims and have no patience for their continued denial of it. It happened. Their lives mattered and they deserve to be honored.

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Love and Joy

“Love and Joy” collage, 2015 by: Chrissy Miles

Impromptu collage I made recently with cards from my mother and sister. Will try to post a better picture soon!

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My Little Pigeon

PearlSnuggling with “my little pigeon” Pearl. She doesn’t meow as much as coo like a bird.

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Windshield Penates


Hanging from the top of the windshield were the penates: a baby’s shoe- that’s for protection, for the stumbling feet of a baby require the constant caution and aid of God; and a tiny boxing glove- and that’s for power, the power of the fist on the driving forearm, the drive of the piston pushing its connecting rod, the power of person as responsible and proud individual. There hung also on the windshield a little plastic kewpie doll with a cerise and green ostrich-feather headdress and provocative sarong. And this was for the pleasures of the flesh and of the eye, of the nose, of the ear.” -John Steinbeck, The Wayward Bus

I love Talismans.

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Jodorowsky’s Dune

This was amazing! Jodorowsky was the godfather of science fiction in film. His Dune was the best film that never got made. He had the most amazing vision and actually got David Carradine, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and H R. Giger to work on it. Each planet had their own band! Including Pink Floyd!

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Magnolia Garden and Wildwood Trail in Forest Park

Magnolia Garden in Hoyt Arboretum, Portland, OR

Magnolia Garden in Hoyt Arboretum, Portland, OR

It was a sunny spring day here in Portland so I went for a hike in Forest Park. I passed through the Magnolia Garden and onto Wildwood Trail. The magnolias were breathtaking. Several kinds of magnolia are nestled in a hilly grove and they were all in bloom and smelled so sweet. I found a beautiful red cedar tree and laid my back against it for several minutes, just breathing in its scent. Cedar has a really maternal energy I find comforting. I wish I could visit with cedar all the time. The off of Wildwood Trail I got a picture of me getting cozy with a big oak tree someone had carved “God” into.

Beautiful magnolia

Beautiful magnolia

Oak tree

Oak tree

I found God in Forest Park..



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House of Earth

House of Earth

I’m reading Woody Guthrie’s novel, House of Earth and I’m actually on edge because I love it so much. Guthrie was fetishistic about adobe. He wanted an adobe house built with his own hands. Having lived through dust storms he felt adobe was the answer for rural folk. It’a about this couple dreaming of their “house of earth” and is a call to arms against big agribusiness and for class warfare at the time.

Woody Guthrie by: R. Crumb

“Life’s pretty tough.. you’re lucky to live through it.” -Woody Guthrie

It’s one of my new favorites-not surprising since most of my favorite books feature impoverished people in the 30’s and are written in vernacular. It also has one of the longest and earthiest sex scenes ever. I’m not kidding. It was definitely ahead of its time. Guthrie waited to publish it, hoping it would be picked up for a movie, but it never was.  It was only discovered recently. Where Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath revolved around a family fleeing the dust and seeking a land of milk and honey, Guthrie’s book is for and about the people who stayed behind. It was his land and his people. He lived it.

I gleaned some interesting facts about him from the introduction (by: Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp no less!) In addition to performing around town for money, he painted signs, voraciously read and drew pictures.“He joined the Baptist Church, studied faith healing and fortune telling, read Rosicrucian tracts, and dabbled in Eastern Philosophy. He opened a business as a psychic in hopes of helping people with their personal problems. He wanted to be a fufliller of dreams.

It was while busking around New Mexico that Guthrie’s “gospel of adobe” took root. He saw that adobe houses could last ages, as opposed to the rotted out wood shacks the people back home were living in. For five cents he bought USDA Bulletin No. 1720 The Uses of Adobe or Sun-Dried Brick for Farm Building which taught rural folk how to build an adobe house from the cellar up and promoted it for decades.

Vintage NM Postcard

“If I was aiming to preach you a sermon on the subject, I would get a big lungful of air and say man himself is an adobe house, some sort of old streamlined temple.” -Woody Guthrie

It’s not surprising Guthrie studied philosophy. Reading it, I found passages reminiscent of Hesse’s Siddhartha and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer: All of the things around him-house, barn, the iron water tank, the windmill, the little hen house, the old Ryckzyck shack, the whole farm, the whole ranch- they were a part of him, the same as an egg from the farm went into his mouth and down his throat was a part of him.

"IA feeling came over him.. when he saw her look this way. It was a feeling of love, yet a feeling of fight. A love that was made out of fight" Painting and words by: Woody Guthrie

“A feeling came over him.. when he saw her look this way. It was a feeling of love, yet a feeling of fight. A love that was made out of fight.” Painting and words by: Woody Guthrie

“Ella May would laugh. She always laughed in way that was easy for her. She laughed best, most times, when the crops, the winds, the debts, the worries, splashed their highest.. Other ones said, ‘Things must be pretty tough over at her house, she’s laughing again.'”

I physically can’t stop playing and singing this Guthrie song Lucinda Williams performed and wrote the music to. “I’ll kiss you in such odd and natural ways, your wife will find out that kissing pays.. I’ll love you once to teach you all your life, the things to do when you are with your wife.” It’s worth a listen. Hauntingly beautiful.

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