Stinging nettles are quite amazing plants, full of qualities both medicinal and nutritional, but who cares when their blistering touch burns like judgment and brings you to tears?
Goldenrod is a classic dyer's plant which also happens to be a rugged native of the Northern plains. Its pigment yields warm yellows, and not only on fabrics. At the beginning of September entire fields and valleys are glowing with the sunny panaches of its flowers.
Setting aside the fact that in the old days people allowed themselves to be whipped with nettles as a folk remedy for arthritis, the first thing to do about this beneficial plant is to handle it with gloves and boil it to remove its vicious bite. All of a sudden it turns from an ogre to a treasure trove. By the way, the active substance that fights arthritic inflammation will be preserved in tincture form where its stinging is eliminated.
Almost every culture has cooking recipes for nettles because the irritating greens are among the first plants to sprout in spring and provide a rich source of iron, calcium, vitamins A and C, potassium and manganese. Some people compare them to spinach but they don't exactly taste like regular greens and certainly not like the gentle and citrusy spinach.
Nettles taste like the minerals they contain, if you can imagine that, which is really hard to do if you never felt compelled to eat manganese. Their flavor is metallic and limey and they keep their grittiness no matter how young they are or how long you cook them. They certainly are an acquired taste but deliver pure health in a bowl especially when you are coming out of a long and vitamin depleted winter.
Consider them medicinal foods if you must and as you struggle through their rusty flavor remember they alleviate anemia, improve blood sugar levels, cleanse the kidneys, reduce inflammation, stop bleeding, strengthen bones and feed skin, eyes, nails and hair. Why is it that all the plants that are good for you must taste like punishment?
How do you consume this delicious green? You can substitute it for spinach in any recipe as long as you don't expect it to taste the same. Remember to pick them really young, old nettles develop toxic compounds after going to seed, and don't forget the gloves!
There are two strong antiseptics in the plant world: one is tea tree oil, only found in the leaves of the Australian plant, and the other one is thymol, a potent antimicrobial found in thyme and oregano that bee balms also have in abundance.
If you ever brushed against a clump of monardas you surely noticed that their leaves' spicy fragrance is stronger than any other plant's from the mint family, mint itself included.
I've had bee balms in the garden for a few years. They spread quickly and vigorously and are relatively care free, they even tolerate light shade, the only thing they dislike is overcrowding, if air doesn't flow freely around their roots they become prone to mildew.
An infusion of bee balm applied topically provides pain relief for minor rashes, burns and scrapes, it prevents infection, soothes inflammation and makes wounds heal faster. Not bad for a plant that grows wild on the side of the road.