Growing up in Ruby, our backyard led to the state game area of Beard Hills. Mom used to take my brother and I (and neighborhood kids, cousins and relatives) on walks throughout the nature trails, pointing out plants that we could eat and plants that we shouldn’t. I remember one winter snowy walk when Mom stopped, delighted to point out wintergreen plants and their red berries. How pretty the dark waxy leaves with red berries looked among the light dusting of snow! Mom assured us it was alright to eat the berries, so we tried them. Their minty taste sweetened the crisp winter air. I thought the plant was properly named, as despite the winter snow, the leaves were green.
Dad also taught about foraging in nature. Each Spring, he would take our family to find wild asparagus and morel mushrooms. It was so exciting to find a young shoot bursting from the earth with out one of my parents first pointing it out! Even better, was eating our finds later for dinner. Inside of Dad’s head is a map of every asparagus patch he has visited. He easily finds each patch again the next spring.
I am grateful to Mom and Dad for taking time to walk and teach about finding wild edibles in nature. I have found that people can be fearful of things in nature and really it gets down to fearing the unknown and lack of knowledge of what is safe and what may be harmful.
And I understand.
A plant I quickly learned to fear at a young age was stinging nettle. After a couple experiences of rubbing against stinging nettle leaves and the irritating stinging bumps it brought, I learned to keep a respectful distance to ‘nettles’. I didn’t learn until many years later, about the many health benefits of eating nettles. The sting of the nettle leaf can be neutralized through blending, boiling, cooking and making it into tea. It is said to help control blood sugar, aid the kidneys and bladder and increase energy among many other benefits.
Once, while gathering stinging nettle leaves, my arm brushed against the plant. My arm started to sting and itch. Remembering plantain leaf was a remedy for stopping the burning sting, I located a plantain leaf growing under my foot. I had been standing on the remedy! I quickly prepared the plantain and applied it to my inflamed arm. Within seconds, the stinging and burning went away.
Plantain is an herb (not the banana) that is probably growing in your yard, too! It has been shown to have antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti toxic properties. The leaves, shredded or chewed, are a traditional treatment for rash, cuts, insect and animal bites. Its antibacterial action helps prevent infection while the anti-inflammatory helps to relieve pain, burning and itching.
Plantain leaves are rich in minerals and vitamins. Tender leaves can be eaten fresh in salads or cooked. Leaves can also be made into a tea or tincture, and this is said to help with indigestion, heartburn and ulcers when taking internally.
If your interested in learning more about identifying, harvesting, and preparing stinging nettle and plantain to eat come to the Earth Edibles class on May 11th from 2-3:30p.m. For more information on Earth Edibles Class 2, follow this link and click on ‘Events’ at NightinGayle Gardens!
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