How nettle changed my life…..part two


Stinging Nettle

Just when you thought our thrifty ancestors could not be any more clever, enter the stinging nettle. I seriously cannot think of a plant more useful than nettle. Every where it grows, throughout the globe, nettle is used for the same things- food, fiber and medicine. In the spring, tender little nettle greens shoot from the ground and tell us to wake up, to get moving and to cleanse yourself.

Traditionally, around this time of year, the ancestors of the Pacific Northwest would be coming off a winter diet that consisted mostly of dried fish, meats, nuts and berries. While these foods are very nourishing, they are also pretty tough on our digestive system because our intestines had to work extra hard to process all that dry food.  Then nettles come out in the spring and help cleanse the body after a winter’s diet and help them to build strength.

Some of my teachers tell me that if you were to drink nettle tea every day, all day, for two weeks straight, that it would completely change the composition of your blood. That makes sense to me, as nettles are extremely high in iron, calcium, magnesium, fiber and vitamins A & C. This is the perfect recipe of nutrients that our body needs to make our blood and immune system strong.

Now, I definitely do not recommend consuming nettles without adding a little heat. When you add heat to nettles the stinger is denatured and it will no longer sting you. So, if you want to build your strength, feel great and eat your traditional greens here is how you can handle and consume nettles:

1. Bring your favorite harvesting basket, or a plastic or paper bag from the grocery store will work just fine.

2. Make sure you have a clean pair of scissors or garden pruners with you.

3. Don’t forget gloves. Unless you do not mind the sting. On occasion, I harvest bare-handed, but make sure to move slowly and show respect to the nettles. To my surprise, I do not get stung when I harvest this way.

4. Clip the fresh tops with your clean scissors and using your gloved hand place the fresh cut tops into your gathering receptacle.

What to do with your harvest?

Below are just a few suggestions of things you can do with your fresh nettle greens.

Option A- Preserve the Harvest

-When you get home, bring a large pot of water to a boil and put ice water in a separate large bowl. When the water comes to a boil, add your nettles and let them boil for 2 or 3 minutes maximum. Do not throw out the water that the nettles were boiled in, this is the best version of nettle tea around. Drink it!

-Next, remove nettles from the water using tongs and immediately transfer to the bowl of ice water where they will sit for 30 seconds maximum. This is called blanching.

-Remove nettles from the ice water into a strainer to get the water out of them.

-From here you can portion out your nettles into the size of a small fist, put them in plastic baggies and freeze them.

-Now you have preserved your harvest and can add nettles to your soups, meatloaf s and pestos throughout the year!

Option B- Eating Fresh Nettles

1. You could rinse off your freshly harvested nettles in a colander, let them drain and transfer them to a large bowl.

2.  Using scissors, cut up the nettles into smaller bit sized pieces.

3. In a skillet heat olive oil on medium heat.

4. When the oil is hot, add onion and garlic and saute until they become translucent.

5. When the onions and garlic are ready add your nettles and saute them for another 4 or 5 minutes.

6. Flavor your saute’d nettles with balsamic vinegar, tamari or a low-sodium soy sauce.

Remember that now is the time to harvest nettles for eating.  In a few months they will have grown taller and at that time the leaves become to fibrous and not very palatable.  When they get a little older like this, they are ready to be harvested for tea.  But, that sounds like another blog to me!

Enjoy!

How nettle changed my life…. part one


I took this class while studying nutrition at Bastyr University called “Therapeutic Whole Foods”.  It was an amazing class, chock full of wonderful information around food recipes used as remedies.  One day, I came in to class to find a cup of tea waiting for me.  My instructor told us we would be doing a tea meditation, not to talk, to sit in silence for three minutes and drink this cup of tea.  She instructed us to pay attention to how this warm beverage was making us feel.  At that time, I was immersed in a study environment that preached the benefits of a good diet.  It was safe to say my diet at that time was looking pristine, without flaw and pretty obsessively “correct” on certain days.  Regardless of my healthy eating behaviors, I was still sick quite often and couldn’t put my finger on this feeling of deficiency.  What could it be?

When I drank that cup of tea, my body immediately responded.  It felt as if I had been rooted, energized and as if I was coming back to wellness, I could feel this strength was growing inside of me.  When our three minute silence ended, we went around the room and started describing how we felt.  Some people said they felt calmed, some said they felt comforted, the descriptions went on and on.  Still stunned from my experience I sat in continued silence.
The teacher announced we had just experienced a cup of nettle tea.  I had this hunger inside of me for more and proceeded to drink nettle tea instead of water every day.  I would walk around with these jars of nettle tea, telling everyone who asked about this mysterious green liquid just how amazing this plant is.  It was totally obnoxious and dramatic…. kind of like the title of this post.
I began to visit nettle in the woods near my house, at school, in the park.  I read everything I could on the plant, I drew it, I sat with it, I stung myself with it, I harvested and ate it, bathed and washed my hair with its juices.  I had never felt so strong, energized, and healthy.  And then I thought of all the other plants right outside the door and wondered what edifying teachings they had to offer.  Once again, I was hungry for more.  My work is now guided by the plants.  They are my teachers, companions, friends and all due to this enlightening experience.
Because of this profound moment of time, I consider nettle my very first plant teacher.  I am still totally in love nettle to this day.  So, you can imagine how excited I am for this weekend.  Tomorrow I will be harvesting with tribal cooks in some of my first found patches.  There will be lots of photos taken and a full report to you by the end of this weekend!
Stay tuned for more overly-dramatic and passion filled posts.  :)

Cleaning up the Duwamish River


A couple of weeks ago I did a boat tour of the Duwamish River.  This river is considered a superfund (not super-fun) site by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Superfund means the environment has been rated as “super-toxic”.  It turns out we have somewhere near 1600 superfund sites in North America!  The E.P.A. has given funds to support the clean-up of these sites.

A part of those funds are focused on outreach to communities who live near and utilize these sites.

I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in aquatic life of the Puget Sound, environmental justice issues, traditional foods of our region, salmon habitat, etc. take this tour.  It is the most informative and interesting boat tour I’ve ever been on!

Below is a flyer on how you can help restore the health of the Duwamish river.

Hope to see you there!

Val~

Spring Foods of the Salish Sea


Photo by Elise Krohn

Springtime Fare

Like a promise of better things to come, early spring gives birth to many of our traditional foods.  In March the herring are spawning, chinook salmon return to their ancestral rivers, salmonberry and thimbleberry sprouts come out to play, native violets bare their delicate flowers and with the pain comes the pleasure of stinging nettles.  These native foods are diverse and based on the seasons.  They teach us the power of being in the moment and harvesting what is available today.

Eating seasonal foods increases your nutrient intake and prepares you for seasonal changes as well.  In this way, traditional foods help our bodies to function optimally.  Many of our modern foods lack nutrients and do not contain the same medicinal qualities that traditional foods have.  That is why eating traditional foods regularly can make a big difference in your health.

I believe that these foods heal people on many levels.  They provide nutrients and medicinal properties that are needed for good health.  Chinook salmon, sprouts and sauteed nettles are more than food, they are a prescription!

The foods of spring have many teachings.  For example, nettles teach us to wake up and cleanse our bodies so we can be strong for the year to come.  Our bodies and spirits respond to our native foods with profound recognition and knowing.  That is because they are woven into the Northwest Coastal Indian Culture, and are an integral part of our identity.

This month I will write about a few foods that will be available in March.  Stay tuned for more about nettles, sprouts, violets and the spring salmon- Chinook.

Yay Spring!  ~V

“A Sense of Place”


Summertime in Marblemount

Welcome to “Feeding the Spirit”.  My name is Valerie Segrest and I am a Muckleshoot tribal member and a community nutritionist.   As a nutritionist I am not that interested in talking about calories, carbohydrates and fats.  I am more interested in getting connected to the source of our food and rekindling our sense of place.

As I began visioning my life in 2011, I thought of all the upcoming opportunities I will have to harvest and eat traditional foods and felt inspired to share these moments.

Then I thought of how people traditionally harvested, processed, prepared and shared meals together. Eating food in this way can be unifying and is an integral part of cultural identity.  My teachers tell me that the best way to honor the foods is to share them with people.

So, as I dig clams, pick berries, harvest plants, develop recipes and feed people, my hope is that you can enjoy these moments with me through this blog.  Although most of you will not be able to actually eat these meals with me, my goal is that you feel inspired to go out and try them yourself sometime.  In this way we can collectively begin to share a sense of place.  I look forward to sharing with you all.