My fingers sting from the nettles I collected. The nettles grow everywhere here, like the grass and the blackberries and the miscellaneous brambles. My definition of a bramble is:
a combination of berry vines of some kind, nettles, other twisty plants or wild roses with thorns and, of course, mischievous faery folk
There are a lot of brambles hereabouts. I was very careful with the nettles. I know they are good food, really good food. They can be eaten if you cook them or dry them. To get them to that place, first you have to cut and prepare them, which means you will be stung, some, even if you are wearing gloves and long sleeves, at some point the nettle will collect her payment, either when you harvest her or when you prepare her for eating.
This is as it should be.
“The Universe is a Green Dragon,” by Brian Swimme is a book I read that was given to me by a nun, named Dolores, who was a sociology teacher at Humboldt State University. The book is a beginning physics primer. It is physics for those just beginning on the journey of wondering about how the universe dances and how energies move about in that dance. In that lovely tiny, thin, little book is a discourse about how everything has a cost or energy signature.
There is no VOID or something without nothing. All things have a cost so to speak. It is not about how many coins you deposit in the hand of the vendor, but just that even if you do not see the vendor, or the hand, or if you think plants don’t have feelings, or you cannot see the energetic signature of violence; they are all still there, the invisible hand waiting for your coin, the plant saying, okay, you want me, here is the cost.
Now, those nettles were free, kind of. I’m on retreat in Ireland. I paid money that I saved up for ten years to be here for three months in this cabin with electricity, a view of green trees, grass, brambles (replete with Fey Folk), clouds that move across the sky so fast that the words fickle and fey must originate here. This means the weather changes every ten minutes or so. It’s been sunny and glorious about ten times today, but it’s also poured rain, been fiendishly windy and amazingly quiet and calm. Anyway, back to the nettles, which I didn’t pay anyone for with cash.
Eating right, eating what is handy and nearby is a way of life for me. It’s not really optional at this point. I just gravitate towards what is local and at hand, like a magnet. This is, of course, with one very important exception; SPICES! I need them like a plant needs water and sun (see my previous post Hadi the Honeyed One and Lovely Lorena). In my defense, I think spices provide essential nutrients and vitamins, but that’s a stretch. They just make my life better and so besides spices, eating what is at hand or within my bio-region feels best.
Once I gathered the nettles, then I put them in a large bucket of cold water, stems and all, for their first soak. I wasn’t sure when they would stop stinging. I know they don’t sting once they are cooked, but it has been many years since I prepared them and I did so with either Aleta or Jolie Egert Elan of Go Wild Consulting, my herbalist and botanist beloveds, who made it look simple. Maybe they have some kind of agreement with the nettles and never get stung, but I think they actually also have mentioned getting stung. Now the sting of a nettle is a small thing, it’s like a tiny zing. It isn’t terrible, just piquant, sort of like something spicy! It does stay with you for a bit. It will remind you of its presence, the sting, every once in a while, like the feeling you get when your foot falls asleep, just every now and then a little zing.
So, after the first soak, I prepared another container of water. I picked up the nettles with a teaspoon strainer, you know the kind that clips open and shut and you put tea leaves in bulk inside of it. I am in this cabin, named after Clare of Assisi (for the Beloved Companion and Nun who was close with St. Francis of Assisi). In my lovely cabin, there are cooking utensils, but not like my kitchen at home. I couldn’t find any tong-like implements in my drawers, so I used the teaspoon grabbing one stem at a time out of the first bucket and holding it over the second. I then used the scissors with my right hand and clipped the individual leaves into the water for their second rinse. I wasn’t sure if the stems were edible.
I am without the internet in my cabin named after St. Clare. I am so grateful for this fact. I have lots of books here but didn’t think to bring my herb books, a mistake. I sent my Tanakh and my Tikkun and my library of beloved teachers on subjects Jewish and my Hebrew dictionaries and my prayer books. I forgot that I would be living in a wood, where the bible you need is a book about herbs and flowers.
There is a large library at the main house and I can borrow a book about herbs from there, but the morning when I decided to gather the nettles, I hadn’t yet realized I needed that information and so didn’t have the book on hand. So, I experimented with my nettles and I knew the leaves were good to eat, so clip, clip, and clip into the water they went. I did not get stung at all during this improvised tong/teaspoon scissors adventure.
In case you are wondering, which you probably aren’t, why I didn’t just use the gloves I used initially to harvest them with to do this part of the work? Well they were the ugly, dirty, really old gardening gloves that I found in the peat-fuel box and they are definitely OUTSIDE only kind of gloves. So, back to nettle land. Since I could not use the nasty gloves and I needed to cut up the nettles, or thought I did, before cooking them, I strained them by pouring the whole container of water out over the strainer I put in the sink. In this way, I never had to touch those tricky nettles.
Then, since I wasn’t sure if just washing them well would have made them less stingery (a new Nicole word), I put my hand in the pile of clean wet leaves to test their sting factor—now you know why my fingers are pulsing a little from the nettle-bites (kind of like tiny nips or bites from a lover). Oooh, that makes me miss my beloved!
So, having ascertained that a good rinsing and de-stemming does not in fact render nettles mute, I realized I’d need some kind of protection between self and nettles for cutting. What’s the best protection? A condom, or in the kitchen at a Catholic hermitage cabin named after St. Clare; something made of plastic, like a plastic bag. So, I put my hands in double plastic sacks, having clearly resolved that one batch of nettle-bites was quite enough for the day, double protection seemed prudent.
I then chopped up the nettles and put them in the pan with a little water, covered them and cooked them for five minutes. They were a deep dark green, luscious, delicious and no longer venomous. I tested them with my fingers first, before eating them, no sting whatsoever. I put a little olive oil, salt and lemon on them and enjoyed them with the rest of the meal I had prepared, which took one tenth the effort to make. I feasted on the local fare and then took a much deserved-nap. The morning of bramble wrestling (I’m slowly clearing a path down to the stream outside my bedroom window), nettle preparing and even some morning stretches in the field above my cabin when the sun was shining for ten minutes straight made for one tired jubilant me.
I’m now going to go paint and write some letters from my window seat here in Clare where I can see the weather, the fickle and fey, weather whooshing by without getting wet. Later, if it gets too cold, I’ll make a fire with PEAT, just as has been done here for thousands of years. The pictures I’ve put up here were from a different day, when it was Friday afternoon/early evening almost Shabbat. I put them here to give you all an idea of my surroundings. Binding myself to the sun and the weather, not to a clock and a schedule, has been and is tremendous for me. I feel old patterns breaking away and am bonding with this place, the movements of cloud, mist, sun, bird and rain. The flowers and the brambles and everything around me offering lessons and companionship. It is magnificent here!