Spring Harvest of ts’exts’ix (Stinging Nettle)

 

 

 

 

Squamish Language: ts’exts’ix

Stinging Nettle

Urtica dioica

Range: Stinging nettle is found growing in abundance from Alaska, through British Columbia as far south as Oregon.

Habitat: Found growing in rich, moist soil along streams, rivers, meadows and open forest. This plant thrives in disturbed habitats such as village sites, roadsides and barnyards.

Parts of plant used: New spring shoots and leaves

What you need to harvest ts’exts’ixGloves, scissors or clippers, basket or cloth ba

Warning: **Do not harvest nettles for food or tea once they have flowered as they develop gritty particles called cystoliths that can irritate the urinary tract.

Stinging nettle is a nutritious spring green that has many uses, and once identified, may become a staple for your spring foraging. This plant is a perennial and grows as tall as 5-8 feet at maturity. The stem is usually less than 1cm in diameter and the coarsely saw-toothed leaves are lance shaped to oval and have a pointed tip and a heart shaped base. The leaves are found growing in opposite pairs along the stalk.

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The leaves and stem have stinging hairs that contain formic acid and can cause a stinging reaction when they come in contact with the skin; thus, many people opt to wear gloves when harvesting. Cooking or drying destroys the stinging properties, this includes; drying nettles for tea, sautéing, steaming or baking.

Stinging nettles are best harvested for eating when the young shoots are less than a foot tall and still have a purple tinge to the leaves. They are at their most tender then. They can continue to be harvested beyond this height but they do get more fibrous as they grow and eventually will be too tough to eat. **Do not harvest nettles once they have flowered as they develop gritty particles called cystoliths that can irritate the urinary tract.

Nettles are rich in vitamins A and C as well as in minerals including calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. They are a delicious alternative to any recipe that calls for spinach and can be added to soups and stir-fry’s for added nutrition and vibrant color. The leaves can also be dried and used to make a healthy and hearty tea. Stinging nettle can be used as a bath to help with rheumatism and the mature plant can be processed to make strong cordage. Many coastal First Nations, including Squamish, used this cordage to make strong fish nets and fishing line.

The origins of this plant are not certain. It is likely that Uritca dioica was brought here from England long ago but there were also species of Urtica native to Canada that hybridize readily with Urtica dioica. The food uses and plant properties are identical.

The Squamish name for stinging nettle, ts’exts’ix, comes from the root word ts’ix meaning singed or burned. Chum (Ronald) Newman has told me that the stinging indicates the power and medicine in this plant. He has used the fresh plant to sting himself on his arthritic joints to help with pain. He believes that the local sting from the nettle increases blood flow and helps with swelling and pain.

Squamish People know that when the stinging nettle is a few inches tall this marks when the baby seals are born. This is an example of the deep connection that develops between people and their natural environments over thousands of years being spent out on the land.

Happy Harvesting! See below for a nettle pesto recipe and  how to dry nettle for tea.

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Nettle Pesto Recipe

This is a basic pesto recipe with nettles as a substitute for basil. Because blanched nettles will not oxidize and turn brown easily you can store this pesto in the fridge for up to a week.

Total Time 20 minutes

Produces 1 cup, feel free to double or triple the recipe based on the amount of nettles you have after they are blanched.

Ingredients

3 cloves garlic

2 generous tablespoons toasted pine nuts

2 tablespoons grated cheese

2/3 cup blanched,

Salt to taste

Olive oil (see instructions below)

Instructions

  1. To blanche nettles, bring a large pot of water to a boil, place the nettles in batches into the water for 1-2 minutes, after that immediately immerse the nettles in an ice water bath. Then strain the nettles and dry them with a salad spinner or paper towel. Tip: You can use the water that was used to boil the nettles as a healthy chilled drink or use it as a base for a soup stock, or even cool it and pour it in your garden!

2. Pulse toasted pine nuts in the food processor or high powered blender.

3. Add the garlic, salt, cheese and nettles and run the machine so everything combines, but isn’t a smooth paste, you want it with some texture.

4. Start adding olive oil. Drizzle it in a little at a time until you have the consistency you want.

Now your pesto is ready to be put into clean jars and stored in the fridge or used right away on your favourite dish!

Drying Nettle for Tea

You can harvest the plant the same way, use gloves and scissors to clip the nettles, make sure to harvest in an area that you know is clean. Don’t harvest along highways, under hydro lines or other areas where chemicals may be used. The reason this is so important is you do not want to wash the nettles you are going to dry or tea.

The reason for this is that if you wash them there is a higher chance they will mould.

Take your clean and dry nettles and bundle them together, take an elastic and put it tightly around the stems. Hang the bundle from a string in a cool dry and dark place and wait for them to be completely dry. The reason you don’t want to do this in the sun is that you might loose some of the potency of the plant with sun drying.

After they are dry, take them and remove the leaves, the stinging will be gone now. Compost the stems and save the leaves in a cool and dark place. Storing them in a glass jar, paper bag or other storage container is great and you can keep them in the fridge or freezer as well to maintain freshness. You can also use a coffee grinder (preferably one that hasn’t been used for coffee as the taste will get into the nettles) and pulse them into smaller pieces.

When making nettle tea you can fill a tea ball or add 2 table spoons to a small pot and steep for 5-10 minutes then strain and enjoy. The tea can help with inflammation and as a general tonic for maintaining health. Nettle tea can also help reduce the symptoms of hay fever.

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The Gifts of yetwánaý (Salmonberry)

Salmonberry Flowers
Salmonberry Flowers (Photo Credit Nancy Turner)

Salmon Berry

Rubus spectabilis

Squamish Language: yetwán (berry), yetwánaý (salmon berry bush)

Range: Found growing in abundance along the coast from Alaska through British Columbia and as far south as Oregon.

Habitat: Found growing in moist to wet conditions in both forest habitat and shaded swamps. Can be found growing along streambanks as well and is often found growing in dense thickets.

Parts of plant used: Berries, spring shoots, leaves and bark

** Warning: Leaves and bark must be thouroughly dried before use as wilted leaves can be mildly toxic.

Salmon berry is a shrub that can grow as tall as 3 meters in height and has papery, brown bark and small prickles all along the stem. The leaves have three lobes with toothed leaf margins and are compound with two lateral leaflets and one larger terminal leaflet. If you fold down the larger terminal leaflet the remaining leaves look like butterfly wings.

Salmon Berry is one of the first botanical gifts that spring offers. In the early spring the plants send up succulent new shoots that can be picked, peeled and eaten fresh. The spring shoots have been harvested and eaten as a spring green by First Nations in the Pacific Norwest for thousands of years. My home community of Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation, Canada) holds these shoots in high regard. The Skwxwú7mesh name for the shoots is stsá7tskaý pronounced saskay. My father told me once that he remembered picking these as a young boy. He said he would pick them when they were still tender and easy to bend, like a licorice, and then peel them on the spot and eat them as he played and walked in the forest.

The beautiful, papery, pink blooms of the Salmon Berry bush are one of the first splashes of color to grace the forests of the Pacific Northwest in the spring. These lovely flowers can be harvested and used as decoration for desserts. The leaves and bark have astringent qualities and can be thoroughly dried and used as a tea to treat diarrhea. It is important to ensure the leaves are dried completely as the wilted leaves can be mildly toxic.

The delicious, juicy berries can be eaten fresh from early to late summer depending on where in the geographic range of the species you are harvesting them. The berries range in color from yellow, orange to red. Some suggest that the appearance and color of the berries resembles salmon roe and that this may be where the common name originates. The berries are very juicy and for this reason were most often eaten fresh by indigenous peoples or blended in with other drier berries to make dried fruit cakes.

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Photo Credit Robert D. Turner

The Skwxwú7mesh people believed that the song of the Swainson’s thrush ripened the salmon berries on the bush.

The Yetwánaý Project: Exploring the Link Between Traditional Medicines, Foods, Culturally Related Exercise and Health

Welcome to The Yetwánaý project blog. Yetwánaý is the Skwxwú7mesh name for salmonberry. This name refers to the whole plant and we have chosen this name for our research project as salmonberry is one of the first plant foods that becomes available in the spring. Please see the next blog post on the benefits of yetwánaý for more information on how to use this wonderful plant.

This research project will look at our traditional plant medicines, traditional foods and culturally related exercise and explore how these things might aid in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes (T2D) in our communities. The research team consists of a Squamish Nation committee working in cooperation with a research team out of the University of Montreal and the University of Ottawa. I (Leigh Joseph) will be undertaking my PhD studies through this project. The aim of the research is to contribute to the Squamish Nation community in the most practical and useful way possible. Therefore I will be looking for input and ideas throughout this research project and beyond.

The project will have two parts to it. We will be partnering with existing community programs to incorporate activities, resources and events inline with our research focus. Keep your eyes peeled for events such as plant workshops, plant walks, nutritional education events and more!

The second part of this research project will be a diabetes intervention. This intervention will give approximately 30 members of our community, 15 who are pre-diabetic and 15 who are living with type 2 diabetes, the opportunity to be part of a 1 year experience to connect to their health through culturally relevant ways in order to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes.

Participants in this intervention will have access to:

-traditional plant medicines,

-activities related to traditional foods and medicines,

-educational resources and activities aimed to increase access and use of traditional plant medicines and foods

-ways to measure and monitor their progress through the course of the 1 year period

We will send out more information on this intervention but if you or someone you know would like to be involved or learn more please feel free to contact us!

Type 2 diabetes is a symptom of colonialism. Our people didn’t live with this disease prior to contact. Our diet, medicines and ways of life were changed in a short period of time. As a result of this change in lifestyle, and a shift away from our traditional diets, we are seeing the following:

-Prevalence of diabetes is 3 to 5 times higher in First Nations than in the general population.

-In most populations where rates of diabetes are higher, age of diagnosis is younger in First Nations peoples.

-These rates are similar in other countries where Indigenous populations have been subject to colonization

We can look to our ancestors and our cultural teachings for ways to prevent and manage this disease. There is no shame here, only strength. As Indigenous People we can take a stand and say that taking care of our bodies and our health is a way to heal ourselves, our families and our communities. Health is multifaceted and by strengthening our physical health we will then have the healthy platform to continue to strengthen our spirit, our hearts, our connection to our culture.

We will update this page with information on our traditional plants and their health benefits as well as other diabetes and health related topics. Our overall aim for this research is to promote the health of our nation and increase education and access to traditional plant medicines, foods and culturally related exercise.

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