Last summer, when I first moved to the mountains with my husband Greg, I was elated to discover a meadow of Arnica in full bloom, and right behind our little cabin! The bright yellow flowers crowning long, slender stems and heart-shaped leaves last from early June to the first frost (usually late September). Arnica, Mother Nature’s First Aid, is found at high altitudes and its healing properties are associated with injuries commonly experienced in the backcountry – sprains, strains, bruises – blunt physical trauma of any sort. Preparing the fresh roots and leaves are most useful as a poultice on the affected area, but make sure the skin is not broken where you are applying it directly. Arnica should not be taken internally in a material dose, but homeopathic preparations (pillules, creams and tinctures) are indispensable for your First Aid kit.
So, you can imagine my surprise when Greg accidentally reached into a patch of stinging Nettle right outside our front door! The symptoms were unmistakable: bright red splotches of stinging, burning, itchy skin instantly erupted on his arm, followed quickly by welts rising in small clusters where his skin had contacted the plant. Actually, we had no idea that the tall, weed-like foliage spreading abundantly at our doorstep was Urtica Dioica, the famous remedy for everything from water retention to rheumatoid arthritis. The homeopathic preparation is indicated for cases with prominent stinging, swelling and spreading rashes; “urticaria” and it’s component symptoms. Stinging Nettle is equally as potent and safely taken in the material dose. I drank several cups of Nettle tea during my pregnancy for the abundance of nutrients and it’s affinity for the female reproductive organs. It is especially reputed as hemostatic (known to help with hemmorage) and as a galactagog (aids in the production of milk for breastfeeding). What to do when you stumble into a patch of Urtica? After you’ve exhausted your vocabulary of obscenities, remember to thank the plant devas or your guardian angels and take Nettle’s advice to heart: PAY ATTENTION. Susan Weed in her Wise Woman books (Healing Wise and The Childbearing Year) praises Nettle for all its qualities, and emphasizes what this herb has to teach.
Finally, after watching our nettles proliferate and grow ever taller, I was inspired to harvest a few stalks for my own pharmacy. Donning gardening gloves and my best pair of shears, I asked the patch if I could have a few of its stalks; carefully I cut low, singing and thanking the plant for its offering; I gently rinsed and strung up the stalks and after a few hot, dry days I carefully cut the stalks into smaller parts and ground them in a coffee grinder. Now I have a fair supply of Nettle for the months to come for teas, infusions, and poultices (although the fresh plant, boiled for ten minutes to remove the stinging hairs is more effective in certain preparations). The more I paid attention to the Stinging Nettle springing up on our North-facing mountain side retreat, the more I appreciated its abundance and tenacity. Thanks first and foremost to my mom, a master herbalist in her own right, for teaching me about Nettle from a young age; and secondly to the wit and wisdom of Susan Weed to whom I was introduced by my mom – I am basking in the benefits of wildcrafted Nettle: strong and healthy hair and nails; stabilized blood sugar; cured water retention; abundance of milk…the list goes on and on.
Nettle, taken in any form is one of the best tonics I’ve found and I would not hesitate to recommend its use to anyone for any reason. Even the sting from the fresh plant is reputed to cure arthritis (although I haven’t tried this myself…)! Here is a recipe for my favorite Nettle Tonic – I drink this to satisfaction every day for overall strength and joy:
Daily Nettle Tonic
1 cup Nettle Infusion (I use dried nettle, steeped in hot water for several hours)
1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar (I use Bragg’s brand with “the mother”)
Honey to taste (about 1 Tablespoon for my sweet tooth, raw honey and as local as you can find)
Prepare in large batches (multiply proportionately) and store in glass jars in the fridge.
Also, for those of you wishing for a supply of wildcrafted Nettle for your own pharmacy, feel free to write and I would be happy to send some of Mother Nature’s best medicine to you:
Arwen Greer, PO Box 3193 Nederland, CO 80466; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The blessings of living high in the mountains and far from populated areas are infinite, in my book: peace and quiet, the whole Milky Way in the night sky, wild animals on your doorstep (deer, elk, moose, squirrels, chipmunks, foxes, coyotes, rabbits, butterflies and all varieties of birds including a bald eagle who occasions by…), and the abundant nutrition of Mother Earth herself at your fingertips. In addition to arnica and stinging nettle we have milk thistle (reputed to treat all forms of liver disease), mullein (for respiratory complaints), dandelion (salad greens!), white sage (purification), and wild strawberries (for the rabbits unless I get up early enough on the first day of ripe fruit…). I even found Western Pasque flower (perhaps better known as Pulsatilla, a well loved poly-crest in the homeopathic material medica) blooming down on the roadside. There are probably many more sacred and healing herbs that I have failed to mention or to notice right under my feet. The quest continues, and I encourage you to look under your feet and at your doorstep for the abundance that Mother Nature is offering for your health and well being!
PS – The views and opinions expressed in this article and elsewhere on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or disease; they are merely my opinion based on anecdotal and circumstantial experience. Consult your physician before trying any of the herbs or homeopathic remedies mentioned herein.
The texts I used in preparation of this article are Susan Weed’s Healing Wise (1989) and Wise Woman’s Herbal for the Childbearing Year (1986); Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs (2002); and Mirana Catro’s Complete Homeopathy Handbook (1990)…I highly recommend all of these books as invaluable additions to your library, whether you are an avid herbalist, naturalist or enthusiast of alternative healing, or a casual by-passer in the world of wildcrafting and holistic medicine.