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All the greens of springtime

by Emma Patsey

My spring had been an ongoing beautiful mess of feeling sleep deprived, emotionally drained and overwhelmed by confronting all of the newness in my life—but somehow, I woke up feeling (mostly) sturdy—hard stemmed. Like I knew somewhere deeply in myself that I was so capable even in my weakest moments. I mostly lost my relationship with wild foraged food after being introduced to it through a community that radicalized the idea in a way that (literally) left a bad taste. After being inspired by an emerging row of stinging nettles in the Churchtown Medicinal Gardens, the first true green of spring—I started inviting nettle and other wild foraged plants to heal me through daily foraging, medicine making, and nourishment. Everyday, pulling unwanted wanderers from pathways, hedgerows, and pastures to find their way on my plate. Gently cleansing and nutritious, I will turn my attention to nettle (Urtica dioica) for the sake of focused discussion. Mainly because among all of the nutritive wild plants I was eating during this time that felt highly diuretic, draining, and cleansing when eaten in large and consistent quantities, I learned quickly that nettles are about fortification, not detoxification alone. Nettles provide you more than what they allow you to release. Nettles are about breaking down and rebuilding stronger. 

A patch of nettles (Urtica dioica)
A young spring nettle patch at Churchtown Dairy.

Nettles are both food and medicine and food as medicine. The leaves contains iron, protein, vitamin c, silica acid, potassium and dietary fiber. It strengthens connective tissues, assisting in protein metabolism and overall nourishes deeply. These nutrients lend themselves to nettles’ alterative actions that support the body’s channels of elimination and detoxification. Nettles are known for their diuretic action that have a draining effect on damp tissue states, like my own—that is particularly provoked in a cold, damp spring. As an alterative, nettles have a strong affiliation with the kidney/urinary tract as well as blood and skin. Rich mineral content helps both build and detoxify blood, and these nutrients also aid in strengthening connective tissues, assist in protein metabolism, and build the blood in iron deficiency. 

In my foraging forays, I tried to integrate these foods in a way that was truly appealing to not just my palate, but to those of the people around me so that I could share. Amazingly, most dishes were well received and eventually even requested. I also realized that I was so bored with the taste and flavors we become accustomed to and continually enamored by the complexity and variety of flavors that made cooking feel like discovery and play. 

Nettles (and many other spring greens) can be used as a substitute for nearly any recipe that calls for more traditional culinary greens (spinach, collards, etc.). While I’m not necessarily one to adhere to a recipe, the following served as inspiration as I played in the kitchen: along with fresh nettle tea, other favorites included spring green pestos (nettle, dandelion, and chickweed); wild greens quiche; infused vinegars (nettle with ramp leaves, as well as yellow dock and dandelion root); fresh nettle smoothies; nettle soup; pickled dandelion buds; a dandelion green salad with garlic mustard, sweet cicely, and wild violet; even dandelion shortbread cookies and nettle-lemon cake

~A word of caution: If you drink too much fresh nettle tea and nettle peso within a short period, you will experience a burning sensation when urinating. Speaking from experience. The plants that I was harvesting are flowering early, so perhaps contained more cystolith crystals than expected. Or perhaps just too much formic acid.~ 

A dandelion flower surrounded by green grass
A dandelion flower pokes its head above the grass.

I cannot tell you how cleansing integrating this much wild food into my life felt. I was surprised that I felt more clear than any restrictive juice cleanse or fast. Just making sure there was just a bit in every fork to the mouth, every lip to the cup. My elimination was consistent, digestion impeccable, and bloating: not even a thought. Winter left my body, a heavy weight lifted. I felt as different as the life I now find myself in. I needed that. I’m grateful for that. 

I wish foraging forays could continue all season, and in a way they do—but even now, the spring greens are turning tough, the garlic mustard flowers and I turned to other medicine making projects as the hawthorn and rose began to bloom. I truly feel like I unknowingly, somewhat unintentionally did a powerful liver cleanse. It has been a very long time since my digestive tract has felt “awake” and my liver is not sensitive to the slightest irritant. I feel a welcome hollowness in my liver space and a soothing, temperate chill that keeps in check hot inflammation and modulates emotional reactivity. I’m astonished that this was free. This was aaaallll freely given and accessible. It felt as emotionally nutritive as it did physically. Plants again showed me that we are given everything we need to heal ourselves. With every meal, I had to touch the earth, tell it thanks, snap a stem - taste, chew slowly. Maybe sit outside. My plate turned into a bouquet of vibrant, soft greens, petaled white and blues, striped soft pink, and pollen dusted yellows. 

I felt so full. 


A second-year student at ArborVitae, Emma is a clinical herbalist, medicinal gardener, and occasional writer, and lifelong resident of the beautiful Hudson Valley, New York. Her work is largely a love letter to the cycles and patterns of this life that so intimately tie us together. Find her on Substack


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