I forgot how much I love nettle tea!

Nettle HarvestGathering NettlesIt has a full-body flavor like black tea without the tannins. Iron-rich, nettle tea also makes a wonderful addition to any vegetarian soup stock.Why do nettles sting? The fragile, hollow hairs are filled with histamine and acetylcholine. Touch them and the contents spill out. Harvest them with gloves or even heavy plastic bags. In my younger days, I was so enthusiastic to pick this plant that a few times I did it with bare fingers! The tips of my thumb and forefinger remained numb for days. I have since learned if the urge to harvest is irresistible I can pinch the young plant below the soil surface to avoid getting stung.

Needle-like tiny hairs cover the stems and back of leaves.
Needle-like tiny hairs cover the stems and back of leaves.
Illustration from Biology of Plants, Peter Raven, Ray Evert and Helena Curtis, 1976.
Illustration from Biology of Plants, Peter Raven, Ray Evert and Helena Curtis, 1976.

Don’t pick nettles near agricultural fields grown with chemicals because the plants can accumulate the nitrates and heavy metals. The woods around Port Townsend are full of this wickedly wonderful plant.

  • Nettle helps alkalinize the blood, and is high in all kinds of minerals.
  • The most nutritious way to consume it is juiced. Try freezing the juice in ice cube trays and storing in bags.
  • Harvest leafy stems up until flowering in summer.
  • Drying Nettles: Remove the dried stems and store the leaves. While the leaves no longer sting, the rough hairs can still scratch.

Mushroom hunting

During my morning meditation, I heard the wild turkeys for the first time this season. Rosy pink clouds floated in the eastern sky as I got up from the zafu.

A friend came to the house and invited me mushroom hunting. Matsutake hunting, that is. This guy hunts them regularly. The elusive mushroom rarely breaks the surface of the tan oak duff. The mushroom hunter showed me the slight mound of dried leaves that is the telltale sign.  As we hiked and bush-wacked the hillside, we found bits and shreds of white flesh; Matsutake chewed and discarded by deer.  We would do the mushroom crouch, searching for small heaps of leaves.  He showed me how to reach down and pull the stipe from the ground, carefully brushing off the mycelium and with a quick and sure motion replacing the disturbed leaves. Often I would come across colorful gems white, red, gray; other fungi that we didn’t stop to identify. We were on a mission.

He showed me how the young caps with their veils intact look like toasted marshmallows. At first, I thought he was crazy, but then I could imagine the irregular brown markings as looking charred and the swollen mushroom could be a marshmallow bloated from an open fire.

The best thing about learning this art (mind you, I haven’t tasted them yet!) is the smell.  Johnny mentioned it right when we started out, but I was focusing on visual cues.

I could smell something familiar, but elusive. He said it was the mycelium underground, not the mushroom itself.  Then, after finding several and subconsciously taking in the fragrance, I could recognize it.  He described the smell, “like cinnamon and old socks”. Bingo! To me it has the scent notes of drying valerian, (the botanical source of Valium), the cinnamon too subtle for me.

Recognizing scents is like hearing a bird-call and someone identifying the bird. If you are not primarily an auditory learner, it doesn’t lodge in the memory. When the guide translates the call and says listen for the “lee-lee-oh” all of a sudden we have something to remember.