Monday, June 6, 2011

Sustainable Living in June - Drying Herbs for Tea

Quite a famous plant, the Stinging Nettle, known for its wonderful medicinal properties, for its strong sting, and invasive behavior in gardens. It is indeed quite a plant to have around! It thrives in dry hot weather just as much as it does in cool shady setting, and its sting seems to be heightened as temperatures climb.
Nettles yield at least two cuttings per year, if harvested in mid to late May and then again in late June. Stems are simply cut at the ground level and air dried in cool shady spot, spread in a thin layer to avoid mold issues. In dry summer weather they are ready to be put for storage in a matter of few days. Leaves are simply rubbed off the stems while wearing gloves, as dry nettle still sings though less than the fresh plant. Stems are removed and the leaf matter is ready to be put in glass jars. Nettle's famous leaves are source of much nourishment when consumed as teas. Young nettle shoots can be consumed in soups and stir fry, though in hot dry conditions they seem way too prickly even when young.

Nettle tea has very pleasant flavor and color, and is healing and nourishing to human body. In a permaculture garden nettle can be grown as a plant of many uses as it also makes excellent compost tea and can be used for spraying ailing plants in greenhouses and cold frames. One spray of nettle tea can be sufficient to knock out aphids for good, whether by killing the aphids or by fortifying the plant to fight them off, it is unclear. Nettle is also useful to pets and farm animals as health tonic and a source of life force. Nettle helps with seasonal allergies and it purifies blood and organs; it is the reaches source of chlorophyll (and as such can be used not only for your own health but to even dye Easter eggs green color!) . Home grown and home-harvested nettle is surely more helpful in all regard than store-bought old herbs shipped from other countries and climates. Nettle is an important plant for animals and people used for "treatment of wasting diseases, poor appetite, heart diseases, lung disorders, blood impurities, worms. Externally: rheumatism, arthritis, loss of muscular power. Nettle juice mixed with nettle seed is a valuable hair tonic" (from Juliette de Bairacli Levy)  

Dry plants on a cookie sheet/ newspaper/ tray of some kind. Keep it away from dust if drying outside. Brown bags are often recommended, though I find using them cumbersome, but  they definitely have their use in this process.

Plant nettle where it is not going to get in the way, as it spreads and clumps. It likes sun, and it thrives in poor soils. Nettle will spread via underground runners, which break off easily making it impossible to eradicate this plant once it got going. At our farm with 9" or less of annual precipitation we are able to control nettle (and many other plants) with water - i.e. planting it where not much extra water is available, which keeps it in check. 

Since it is used for compost teas, a good location is where you can get to it and cut a large heap for the compost tea barrel.  Compost tea is made by mixing water and compost, or certain herbs or animal manure. After it "brews" naturally for 2 weeks, it is used for watering and spraying edible plants, though manure tea is only suitable for direct watering, not spraying.

Alfalfa's purple-flowered cuttings next to wheat seed heads, and raspberry cuttings in the background - a 3-minute trip to the early summer garden yields some good harvest of tea!

Nettle tastes great when mixed with alfalfa's purple flowers (alfalfa is another plant that is easy to grow in most environments, though make sure your plant does not come from Genetically Modified Seed!!!). Alfalfa is a good companion plant for fruit trees, and just a few plants will produce more than enough for tea harvest! 

Consider using leaves of raspberries and strawberries for making teas as well - these are such ubiquitous garden plants yet they have another use that is frequently overlooked. Now it is the time to harvest these gifts of good nourishment. Strawberry clover blossoms will be coming out next, great woman's tonic and a very mild tasting tea, and another great companion plant for gardens, pastures and orchards of all scales.

Brewing home-grown teas is done differently than with commercial teas. Of course your own tea will be loose (leaf tea) and you will need either large strainer or cheese cloth for brewing it. Fill it up with leaves, mix and match plants mentioned above as you wish. Tie the cheese cloth and place in the large tea pot, and pour boiling hot water over them. Let steep for 10 minutes or so, and enjoy plain without milk or sugar which will alter the taste without contributing anything of value. (Raw milk is fabulous, but why pour it in herbal tea?)

Happy tea time in the summer, fall and winter - for your tea will make a very lovely winter food to be enjoyed in the darkest and coldest days of the year. A list of plants to add to the garden now: stinging nettle, raspberry, strawberry, non-GMO alfalfa, oats, lemon balm, mint, and strawberry clover.


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ONNO said...

Thanks for all the information. I knew the value of nettles, but not the specifics. There are nettles growing up close to my home, however since they are considered an invasive species the government recommends removal. I will use them to make tea and have passed on the tidbit about aphids to my sister who has been battling them for years.

Dani @ ONNO hemp clothing

Arina said...

Nettle is definitely a plant that follows disturbance, I can imagine it growing on an abandoned urban lot, or on the roadside. As such it is also a healing plant to the soil, so government-recommended removal will only make the problem worse and will invite something else to move in! Harvest it, use it for tea if the setting is clean enough as far as pollution goes - add other plants to shade it if you wish to see it go away. In our dry climate nettle stays put!