The chilling cold seems to have left my small corner of the Northwest for now. I can’t say that it won’t return before winter has its last hurrah, but we are back to our typically cloudy, mostly-wet days. There are some signs, however, that spring may be stretching her mint-green arms and yawning.
Just a couple of days ago, as we were taking Mazel for a run along the Washougal River, our dog jumped into the bushes after his ball and suddenly let out a sharp “yike!” I thought he might have hurt is paw on a blackberry sticker, but Carter pointed to some new, sprouting greenery and said, “Is that nettles?”
I bent down low, admiring the crinkly patches of leaves popping out of the ground in small bunches, like fresh nosegays, and stroked my finger along one of the leaves.
Instantly, my finger reacted with an intense burning, as though I’d pricked it with a hundred acupuncture needles. If Mazel had put his nose to this stuff, I could understand where the “yike” came from. And in that moment of burning, I was absolutely delighted…
You see, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen nettles in the wild. I know they are rampant, but they’ve never “ramped” near me before. Or I simply never had eyes open enough to see them. But these green, tender beauties, I saw, and I inwardly rejoiced. A few years ago, when I was so sick with depression, thyroid problems, and terrible fatigue that I spent most of my days in bed, I decided that I would begin treating my food as though it were medicine. I was drawn to nutritional and medicinal herbs and plants, exploring with eagerness Susun Weed’s remarkable website, and her many books on green healing.
I began healing myself by drinking herbal infusions—very strong teas steeped overnight. I began with comfrey leaf, for bone health and clear thinking, drinking nearly a quart of this brew daily, most days of the week. I drank oat straw infusion, too, and plantain. I drank these particular infusions because I was drawn to them, and my body seemed to crave them. When I poured myself a full quart jar full each morning, I could scarcely guzzle it down fast enough.
After a year, my thirst for comfrey seemed to wane, and nettles began drawing my attention. Here is a bit of what Susan Weed has to say about nettles in her book, “Wise Woman Herbal Healing Wise:”
Frequent use of nourishing sister stinging nettle (as an infusion or a cooked green) along with Wise Woman ways, is recommended for those wanting to stabilize blood sugar, reset metabolic circuits to normalize weight, reduce fatigue and exhaustion, restore adrenal potency to lessen allergic and menopausal problems, and eliminate chronic headaches…Nettle is an ally which…can help the gradual healing of a person with a chronic condition, such as Epstein-Barr virus, hay fever, allergies, lymphatic swellings…nerve inflammations…inexplicable lethargy and exhaustion…and loss of nerve sensitivity.
Soon, I was sending away for five pounds of dried stinging nettle leaf. I have been drinking her ever since, buy the cup and by the quart.
Over the course of two years, my health very gradually returned, and I credit my healing to several things, one of them being the comfrey—and most especially—the nettle infusions. Nettle has also helped me a great deal with seasonal allergies, which trouble me far less than they used to. My asthma, my energy, and my mental clarity all suffer if I go off of nettles for more than a month.
And to think we call this energizing lady a weed!
So imagine my great joy in meeting my medicine plant in her living glory! Now, when I walk by the river or the creek near our home, I am suddenly seeing her everywhere. Sometimes, I will touch her just so that I can take her invigorating sting home with me, and keep her presence close in my mind. She reminds me to be careful where I put my attention. And she reminds me to stay present. I can’t imagine what blundering into a patch of stinging nettles would feel like, but the thought if brings up in me a sensation of how it is to blunder blindly into anything in life. Pay Attention—this is the wisdom-teaching of stinging nettle, according to Susun Weed, and this feels true in my own personal four-year relationship with this sacred plant.
This week, I searched online to find the identity of a plant that grows everywhere in my yard. I’ve been told by three gardeners that this is a weed, but no one could tell me what it was. I finally identified the fern-like, red and green foliage as Herb Robert, sometimes called cranesbill. This plant has a funny smell, and the slugs and bugs want nothing to do with it. I read that deer avoid it, too. And I suspected that it might just be a medicinal or nutritional powerhouse, as many “weeds” are.
Turns out, this is exactly the case. Herb Robert is a very old healing herb, well known in Europe. It makes a mild and healing tea, and is a great salad green, and is a plant rich in germanium—a well-known antioxidant and blood oxygenator. Looking up the herb online I found this:
Germanium’s remarkable effects on the immune system are well known in medical fields. It has a good reputation as an energy giver, immune builder, and as a powerful therapeutic and preventative, and also as a vigorous adaptogen, acting to rebalance minor or major health imbalances in the body. (therapy book.wordpress.com)
For many years, I have worked with the energy of animal helping spirits and allies. In the past few years, I realize I have been opening my consciousness to include plant allies. I find little difference between the two. Both plants and animals have personalities, strengths, gifts, and mysteries. Both make powerful friends and mentors. Both have their biological reality as well as their spiritual and symbolic reality. I find myself treating the plants in my yard as I do my animal companions and visitors. I talk to them all, I provide water and food for all. I treasure the company of them all. And I pray each day for them all. Building community—something very important to me in my new home—is not just about meeting people. Some days, I just want to sit with the hostas for awhile and breathe.
So far, I have not figured out a good place in my yard to propagate a nice patch of nettles. She likes her feet wet, I know that. And, of course, she needs to be somewhere off of our regularly traveled paths. But I will find a place for her, just as I have found a place for the raccoons and squirrels and bees.