Nuisance Or Awesomely Nutritious? What To Do With Nettles

We live in timg_4072he woods where nettles grow everywhere. My kids have become pretty adept at spotting them but that does not mean we don’t have regular run-ins with these stinging weeds while tromping around. I know they are not everyone’s favorite plant, but I want to make a pitch for nettles because I have come to love them over the years! Now I look forward to spotting them as one of the first signs that spring has really arrived and sunshine is (hopefully) not far behind.

So every year when the nettles are perfect I have a dear friend who comes to visit and we make a spring weekend of harvesting and cooking with nettles. I love that now the kids remember and look forward to it. Maybe this will become your new family tradition too!

Nettles are so delicious! Another friend who used to live in the mountains but has since moved to the city recently confess to me that he bought nettles at the local food coop last week because he loves them so much and couldn’t find them growing near his house. That made me laugh because there are some things that it kills me to pay for at the grocery store – zucchini, rhubarb, nettles. If you find yourself tempted to pay for these delicious greens just come visit me and I’ll hook you up.

Health Benefits

One of my favorite health benefits of nettles is that they help relieve hay fever symptoms. I just think it’s so magical that at a time of year when the pollen count is high and allergies are prevalent nature also provides this great remedy! Nettles are also an anti inflammatory and have been found to help reduce joint pain and the effects of osteoporosis. It is also used as a diuretic and to reduce eczema.

Nettles are also high in iron (I swear I feel stronger after drinking nettle tea) and a great source of bone strengthening calcium! A warning though – nettles are not considered safe for women who are pregnant as they can lead to uterine contractions.

Harvesting Nettles

The first thing you have to do when working with nettles is to find them! This can be a great spring treasure hunt to do with the kids – plus it helps them learn what they look like so they can avoid getting stung. Nettles often grow in the woods on the edges of disturbed areas like clear cuts or roads. If you are uncertain if what you are img_4062looking at is a nettle you can always ask for a volunteer to touch one and find out (just kidding. Don’t do that. Try looking it up in a plant book. This is my favorite one).

It is best to harvest nettles within the first couple weeks of seeing them come up. This is when they are most tender and scrumptious. Use gloves and scissors and maybe tongs if that’s helpful. Bring a bag to collect them in. Nettles will cook down a lot so you will probably want to gather more than you think you’ll need.

Preparing Nettles

The first thing to do when working with nettles is to take the sting out of them so that you can work with them and eat them without getting hurt. There are two easy ways to to this – blanching or drying.

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The first thing I like to do is give them a good soak in sink of cold water. This will wash off any dirt and soak off any little bugs that might have decided to journey home with you.

If drying nettles for tea at this point you can put them on your dehydrator in a single layer and just let them dry out overnight. In the morning put them in a container and you’ve got nettles for delicious nutritious nettle tea – just use them like you would loose leaf tea.

If blanching put a large spaghetti pot on the stove and bring the water to boiling. Next (remembering to use your tongs!) transfer the nettles into the spaghetti pot. They only need to be in the hot water for a minute or so to take the sting out. After that you can lift them out with the spaghetti strainer and place them in another bowl. I like to do it this way for a couple of reasons 1) because they will cook way down once their in the water so you’ll want to process more than one batch in the boiling water 2) the water that you blanch them in is extremely yummy and nutritious. You’ll see it changes to a deep brown color – don’t throw it out! Drink it like you would hot or cold tea.

What To Do With Them

At this point the options are endless. You can use the blanched nettles any way that you would use spinach. If you have more than you can use right away it freezes beautifully.

One of my favorite ways to use it is to make nettle pesto. My homesteading friend Corina has this delicious and simple recipe. Other ideas are to use it in place of spinach for lasagna, blend it in green smoothies, use it in baked goods, use it as an omelette filling. Or just saute them with a little butter and garlic and they are delicious on their own. If you do this last one no need to blanch first – cooking them over heat will also remove their sting. Have fun and get creative! I’d love to hear if you have other ways you love to use this delicious and oh so healthy plant.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!


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Bridging The Political Divide One Blueberry Salsa Recipe At A Time

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I know that this is a health and wellness blog and my posts have been trending more towards the political lately. These days as I see so many people I love experiencing extreme amounts of stress and anger and frustration and fear that I have to believe the two are inextricably tied together.  It has been hard to think about much else lately. When I’m scrolling through my social media feed it almost seems a bit jarring to come across a post that doesn’t have to do with politics. Like, “Wait! Don’t you know what’s going on right now? Crazy cat videos are no longer important!”

We are all trying to navigate this new political climate in our own way. For me I’m trying to take at least one positive action a day for the world and also for my sanity and well-being.  I’ve also been trying hard to replace anger with curiosity. The question I’ve been mulling over a lot lately is how did we get to this place? How can we create a culture that invites conversation over argument when there seems to be such a huge gap between our beliefs?

I came across this Ted Talk last night that I thought was fascinating. If we really want to move forward as a nation I think it’s important that we take a closer look at our mindset. That we try to shift from the feelings of “we’ve got to beat them,” to “we’ve got to reach them.” Being angry can certainly fuel action, but it seldom convinces someone to see things from your point of view.

Now I fully admit to having lived my whole life on the left coast. I’m positive my way of looking at the world has been shaped by that. Most of the people I’m surrounded with have a similar world view as I do. But still I have a few aunts and uncles that I’m pretty sure have a very different take on things. I’m pretty sure their environment has shaped their views as well.  I know them to be good people who love their children. I have hobbies in common with them. We’ve known each other our whole lives. We’ve celebrated lots of holidays together over the years.

The idea of calling up these relatives and engaging in a political conversation is overwhelming. It makes my stomach clench. Just the thought of it makes my shoulders tense and my heart beat faster (Wow! Instant physical reaction even without the actual interaction). There are issues I feel so passionately about that I’m not sure at this moment in time I could rationally and calmly have a political conversation with them.  I can however imagine calling up my uncle and asking for that awesome blueberry salsa recipe that he made last time he was visiting. Maybe it’s not a conversation that will be world altering, but at least for me personally it’s a start. A reminder to both of us that there are real people that we know and love behind the political labels and party lines.

I’m not saying I think people should just get over it so that everyone will get along. I’m not saying we shouldn’t feel passionately about world issues or that we shouldn’t turn those feelings into phone calls and letters and emails and action. But there is a big difference between action and anger especially when it comes to our health and well-being. One empowers you and the other breaks you down. One reaches out and the other pushes away.

I have another aunt I love on the left side. She is very politically involved. She puts in long hours volunteering for her party. She is up to date on the issues. She reaches out to people to make sure their voices are heard. When we lost the election I was worried she would be hit hard. She had poured so much time and energy into the effort. I tentatively asked my cousin how her mom was doing. “Better than the rest of us!” I was so surprised by the answer. But now thinking about it I wonder if it’s because she is used to having these conversations. She is more aware that there are people out there with different ideas. I need to ask her about it, but I wonder if she like me is excited that even though we may not have the president we hoped for we now have a huge uprising of people who are getting involved, speaking out, learning about the issues.

Yes we can view it as a stressful, scary time. We can focus on the things that might happen (but haven’t yet). But when we do that we cause ourselves to essentially live in a reality we don’t like prematurely – think of me getting stressed out just by the thought of having a conversation with relatives that hasn’t even happened. When I imagine it happening the stress to my physical and mental health is the same whether or not that conversation takes place. I’m the only one who is negatively effected, not my uncle and aunt who don’t even know this is going on in my imagination!

So for my part I’m going to try my hardest to focus on the incredible and exciting positive response we’ve been seeing from people getting involved in the political process in a way that I’ve never known in my lifetime (thank you Mr. Trump!). I’m going to reach out to my friends and relatives on the other side and remember that they are good humans who have been shaped by their environment just like I have. Eventually I’m going to try to have some conversations with them through the lens of curiosity. I’m going to remember that one person doesn’t define a nation, that it’s all of us and our voices that do. I’m going to use mine!

Be happy, be health, be well.

via Daily Prompt: Overwhelming

Hygge for Health and Happiness!

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I am fascinated by wellness practices around the world and how environments help shape what we do to take care of our physical and mental well-being. Things like shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) in Japan, the culture of sauna in Finland, siestas of Latin America…but one practice I just recently learned of is the practice of Hygge (pronounced Hoo-ga) in Denmark.

Did you know that Denmark rates #1 on the list of happiest places in the world? Why is that when their winter days are extremely cold and short? How do they keep their happy disposition despite what some might think of as a challenging environment? I live in the Pacific Northwest where it is undeniably beautiful but winters are dark and rainy and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real thing for a lot of people. I was hoping the Danes might have a trick or two to help us through the darkest part of our year.

Denmark is doing a lot of very cool things that probably contribute to it being the happiest country on earth. Things like the fact that 50% of commuters in the largest city of Copenhagen commute by bike. There is extensive parental support when it comes to paid leave after having a child. They have universal health care. They provide free (or very low cost) high quality early childhood education and consequently many more women return to the workforce post-baby.  Gender equality is rated as very high.

In one interview a Danish woman said she believed that they were such a happy people because they felt safe. They don’t have to stress out about whether or not to have children because they know they will have lots of support. They don’t have to worry about the cost of health issues if someone gets sick. They have a strong sense of community and social support.

There is one other thing they do that I think we should embrace here in the Great Northwest -the practice of Hygge. Hygge doesn’t translate perfectly into English but it means something like “the feeling of coziness” They make a point – especially in the winter – of making their surroundings inviting, comfortable and festive. The winter season is dominated by festivals and gathering of family and friends.

5 Easy Ways to Practice Hygge at Home

  • Light candles – The Danes love candles! You can bring a little Hygge into your home by lighting candles on your mantle or at the table.
  • Snuggle under blankets with a hot drink and a good book – Even better if someone else is snuggling under that blanket with you!
  • Warm foot bath- If you aren’t sure you want to go to the trouble of a full blown bubble bath (although I’d say that would be very Hygge) try a decadent foot soak with epsom salt and a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
  • Enjoy a treat- One component of Hygge is enjoying delicious holiday treats in a mindful way without feeling guilty about it afterwards – just making a point to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate them.
  • Turn on some relaxing music during dinner time. Make the mealtime environment warm and inviting.

Really what I think Hygge boils down to is taking care of ourselves and appreciating the important things in our lives – our family and friends, our warm cozy homes, good food. It’s understanding that our bodies need a change of pace as the seasons change and embracing it rather than fighting it. We could all use a little more Hygge in our lives. Hygge for health and happiness!

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

 

 

Practicing Radical Self Care During Tumultuous Times

“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” – Carlos Casteneda

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I don’t know about you but I’ve had a bit of a bumpy week. Normally I am that admittedly somewhat annoying person who loves getting up in the morning. I have crafted the most beautiful morning routine that I love so much that I feel a little bit of Christmas morning giddiness every morning (I know, I know, normally I try not to talk about it too much so people don’t throw up). I run through my routine and finish by sitting down to write and I really don’t worry too much about if I’ll feel inspired to do it or not because I inevitably do.

But this week has been hard! I have been struggling with everything going on in the world and not sleeping well. I have been staying up too late searching for some kind of answers and spending far too much time on social media reading articles of speculation and distress. I have had a hard time getting up in the morning and have found ways to justify staying in bed later and later. As so easily can happen when our mind, body and spirit need it the most I have been letting my self care routine slip.

Sometimes just going through the motions you can trick yourself back into an inspired state. As I laid in bed this morning I said to myself “Enough! Just get up and put the tea kettle on.” So I did and that started off a series of well worn morning practices that ultimately led me to you with a huge sense of the comfort of coming home.

I’d like to advocate for intentionally creating a morning routine just for this reason. Sometimes when you are feeling emotionally drained you need a self care plan in place that you can run on autopilot. Whatever it is that you need to do to feel cared for, rejuvenated or inspired make sure you do it regularly during the good times so that you know how to fall back on it in the hard times. Trying to create healthy habits when you are not feeling great – physically or mentally – is exponentially harder.

Although I have been letting my morning routine slip there are two things that I have made more time for this week that have been a huge help in processing these big emotions I’ve been having. One is spending time with good friends – talking about everything going on, and also remembering to take time to talk about other things going on in our lives!

The other is making time to get outside – I call it our mountain therapy. This weekend it felt like we needed a good dose so we packed up the family and headed up into the Cascades to spend a couple of days with a good friend who lives there. There have been all kinds of studies done on the benefit of spending time in nature, more on that in a future blog post, but I can say from personal experience that breathing that pine soaked air and exploring the trails with the kiddos was just what this aching heart needed this weekend.

Please be sure to take care of yourself in times of tumult. The world needs you healthy and well now more than ever.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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Book Review: Slim By Design – Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life

Have yoslimbydesigncoveru ever wished for a magic health fairy to come and wave her wand and just make it easier for you to eat better and loose a few pounds? Well if there ever were such a wonderful fairy she would probably be using this book as her manual. In his book Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions, Brian Wansink, Ph.D. not only dives into the fascinating world of human behavior he also gives us TONS of practical advice for how to tweak our environment to help us eat better – and it’s all based on years of scientific research he has conducted as the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab.

As a health coach I don’t like to focus too terribly much on weight loss as a primary goal. I think it’s more important to think about WHY you want to loose weight – more energy, longer life to spend with loved ones, better quality of life, increased self-esteem, etc. But the truth is the majority of people would really like to drop a few pounds (one of Wansink’s studies of more than 1,500 women found that four out of five would be happy losing an average of about 16 pounds).

If loosing weight is such a common thing that so many people want why is it so hard? When most of us decide we would like to loose a few pounds we might start a new diet or a new exercise regime (a logical place to start right?) but we are relying heavily on our willpower to keep us honest and working at it.  That is a lot to ask of our willpower day after day after day and as many of us have experienced when times get busy or stressful our well intentioned plans can fall to the wayside.

In Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions, Wansink helps you set up your environment in a way that makes it so that you don’t have to rely on your willpower at all. He gives you ways to basically trick yourself into eating better. Some of the tips are ones you may have heard of before – eat from smaller plates, place healthy snacks at eye level – but some are ones that you probably would have no idea unless you read his research.  For example did you know you are 3 times more likely to eat the first thing you see in the cupboard than the fifth one? So it stands to reason that simply by rearranging what’s in your pantry you can “help” yourself make better food choices.

I thought I’d try an experiment with my own household from the book just to see what would happen. I always have a bowl of fruit in the corner of the kitchen counter. Usually it’s filled with apples. Wansink recommends having 2 or more fruit choices in the bowl and placing it in a place that is within 2 feet of the main passage through the kitchen. So I added two more kinds of fruit and moved the bowl to the center of our kitchen island and was blown away. My kiddos are generally good fruit eaters when I offer it to them, but for the first time they started asking for it on their own (vs. asking for cheese and crackers or cereal). So cool to see such instant results from such an easy change to make!

If you are a data nerd like me and fascinated by human behavior you are going to love this book. Wansink’s style is highly entertaining and loaded with hilarious anecdotes while at the same time providing lots of very accessible ways to shift our environment to help us live a healthier life.

P.S. If this stuff interests you and you live in the greater Bellingham, WA area check out my Pantry Makeovers on my Work With Me page. We cover a lot of this kind of material in my fun and fast-paced workshops done in your home.