Yarb Tales
April 25, 2016

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants

Yesterday I was fortunate to be walking along a moist, sandy path on the White River with two companions to harvest stinging nettle. It was a perfect, mild spring day. The river bank was dappled in sunlight. We fished out field guides from a backpack every so often as we were botanizing down the trail, noting sassafras, sugarberry, hackberry, Eastern cedar and persimmon trees. The heart-shaped leaves of a vine that stretched up into some tall, dead underbrush stopped us short—after much discussion, someone spotted pipe-shaped flowers on the lower sections of the plant, revealing its identity—Dutchman’s pipe vine.

Stinging nettle, (Urtica dioica) grows in patches. The plants arise every spring from a perennial root system. The leaves are almost heart shaped; they occur opposite one another on round stems. The stems and leaves are covered in stiff, stinging hairs. The stems stretch up to 4-feet tall and produce flowers that are greenish, branched clusters.

 Between us we had a couple of paper grocery bags, a pair of pigskin work gloves, wire cutters and a sharp knife. We harvested the prettiest stems, cutting above the two lower leaves on each stem to encourage the patch to rejuvenate quickly. In a very short time we had two bags full of stinging nettle.

I accidentally brushed a leaf with a knuckle on my right hand very lightly. I could almost understand why some folks with rheumatoid arthritis seek comfort by stinging their joints with nettle.

For supper, the leaves were carefully cut off the stems straight into the bowl of a salad spinner and were washed. Then they were poured into the basket and spun dry. These leaves, along with their stinging hairs were wilted down with a drizzle of olive oil and a few cloves of minced garlic and eaten for supper. We’ll warm up and drink the pot liquor for its iron and other minerals.

 The stems and any imperfect leaves were cut into a jar, crushed down with a pestle and then covered with grain alcohol. This tincture will be strained in two weeks and might be used as a liver tonic.

I hope you have like-minded friends too! If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture.