herb day

Tuesday is Herb Day: NETTLES

This series is turning out to be a little bit like ‘Tuesday is Let’s Find Out What Verity is Excited to Have in Her Garden Day.’ Because, guess what I found in there the other day? Good ol’ stinging nettles (Urtica dioica).


I didn’t plant them; I actually didn’t even recognise them at first. Well, I kind of did – I buy bunches of fresh nettles regularly from the farmers’ market to cook – but when I cautiously patted at them to the see if they’d sting, it didn’t hurt, so I assumed they were a component of some mixed ‘cottage garden’ type seeds I’d scattered around at the end of summer, and would eventually have nice flowers. Then, the other day while doing some other garden work I brushed my hand and arm past and came away with a whole bunch of little red welts. My first thought: ‘YES! They ARE stinging nettles!!’; My second thought: ‘Ow, how long is this going to take to stop hurting?’ Luckily either these ones weren’t particularly sting-y, or I’m not overly sensitive to nettle toxins, because the pain and redness didn’t actually last very long.

Where did they come from? I think it’s because a few months back I poured a bucketful of nettle tea around the garden. I had a couple of bunches of nettles I hadn’t got around to cooking, and not wanting them to go to waste I thought I’d use them to feed my plants (they’re very high in nutrients, as I’ll discuss below). I found a recipe here… You’ll notice it says ‘don’t use any bits with seeds’… Being a) probably short on time that day and b) kind of lazy anyway I blithely ignored that bit and just stuck the whole lot in a bucket of water with a lid on it. And left it for a looooooooooong time. Months and months. Eventually I got sick of the sight of the bucket sitting in its corner and decided to just pour it out around the place. I have no idea if it actually did anything much for the garden (which is generally pretty healthy anyway, thank goodness) but those seeds must have been pretty tough. There they are, springing up all over the place. You know, pretty soon my garden is going to be overrun with just about every invasive plant you can think of… Dandelions, nettles, horehound (I’ve got that too)… All I need is some cleavers and I’ll be set.

It was kind of ironic that the day I discovered the bona fide presence of nettles in my garden I had actually cooked up two whole bunches of them. I’d been inspired by this post from Nourished Kitchen, and had made up a nettle and cheese pie, kind of like spanikopita.

2 large bunches fresh nettles
1 small onion, finely chopped
450g feta cheese, drained and crumbled
4 eggs, beaten
Freshly ground black pepper
Butter for greasing
20x30cm Pyrex dish

Bring several litres of water to the boil in a very large stockpot. Rinse the nettles (wear gloves while handling them) and then blanch them in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain the cooked nettles (reserve the water to use in the garden when it’s cool, unless you’re super paranoid about having a garden full of nettles). When the nettles have cooled, remove the toughest stems and chop the remainder coarsely.

Grease the dish with butter and preheat the oven to 180C. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly in a bowl and then spread into the dish. Bake for about 45 minutes (but check from about 35) until golden brown and set. Serve hot or cold, with lemon wedges.

Nettles have an interesting taste; green, but not bitter. I can’t put quite the right word on it but think ‘earthy’ and you’ll be on the right track. Young (spring) nettles are best for eating as older ones can be a bit gritty in texture, which is apparently due to the development of silica crystals in the leaves. As you might expect from something that is high in silica and other minerals (calcium, magnesium and iron) nettles – as food or tea – are particularly good for maintaining the health of skin and hair. They also have a longstanding reputation as an alterative; they both cleanse and build the blood – this is the main thing I’m looking for when I drink them as a tea. There’s a lovely post about nettles as a spring tonic over at Red Root Mountain. Nettles are food and drink for what my herbal medicine teacher called ‘situations of increased demand’: stress, leading to the need for deep nutrition.

Energetically nettles are, unsurprisingly, associated with the warlike planet Mars and the element of Fire; but their profoundly nourishing nature also speaks of their connection with nurturance and motherhood. They are a herb of the strong, powerful Mother, connecting us with her strength and supporting our own. It’s for this reason that nettles are a key ingredient in our Mothers’ Garden tea blend.

Bright blessings

Verity )O(

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Tuesday is Herb Day – Tansy


Here’s a herb you might not think about too often: tansy, Tanacetum vulgare. No, I don’t think about it terribly often, either. I have some in the garden, of course, but I don’t use it much. Mainly it’s there to be decorative with its lovely ferny leaves, and the promise of bright buttony yellow flowers – although it didn’t produce any of those last summer, possibly because it was in too small a pot and didn’t have enough room to do its full thing. Also, caterpillars kept eating it. I transplanted it to a larger pot in a sunnier spot and it’s thriving now. See, here it is:

The cutting I took at the time is also doing well, it seems to be one of those plants that is eager to grow just about anywhere. ‘Just put one root into the most difficult spot in your garden, the spot where nothing will grow, and watch it thrive’ says Dorothy Hall in The Book of Herbs.

Tansy used to be eaten in the spring, the leaves being a bitter tonic; made into cakes called ‘tansies’ which according to Mrs Grieve were absolutely chock full of eggs and sugar, so I’m not 100% sure how therapeutic those would have been, but I bet they tasted interesting. The scent of tansy is camphoraceous and strong and the smell will reputedly repel many varieties of insect and pest; crush the leaves to release the volatile oils. The flowers and leaves can also be used to produce yellow (and sis boy also green) dye.

It’s not a herb to be used internally in quantity, although I’m sure the taste alone would ensure that anyway; in small doses it is a useful emmenagogue to help with painful periods. In less cautious, more heroic days tansy was often given to help expel worms, and it is still a useful treatment, but should not be used for more than a couple of weeks. Mrs Grieve reports that it is useful for ‘hysteria’, that interesting and loaded term: to me, it seems that it would be the bitterness that makes tansy suitable for calming down someone in hysterics, the bitter flavour being the herbal equivalent of a slap in the face, putting the sympathetic nervous system back in its place and giving the parasympathetic the opportunity to take charge.

I have also read somewhere (of course, now I can’t find the reference) that tansy has a strong connection to the Divine Feminine, embodied in Christian times as the Virgin Mary, but dating from much earlier: this ties in with the concept of tansy as a remedy for hysteria, and its use as an emmenagogue – some kind of deep connection with the womb, which I think it would worthwhile to explore further.

Do you have tansy in your garden, have you ever crafted with it or explored its uses? I’d love to hear!

Bright blessings

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Tuesday is Herb Day – DANDELIONS!

There are still a few hours of Tuesday left, so let me rave on at you about dandelions for a bit.

I must be one of the few gardeners in Melbourne actively trying to increase the dandelion population in my garden, rather than attempting to eradicate them. For a long time my garden was, sadly, entirely dandelion free. Then, amazingly, under the thorny shadow of the climbing rose, a single exemplar of the being Taraxacum officinale appeared. I was delighted, checking on it regularly to see when it would flower (a slow process), and then, just as regularly, and even more eagerly, checking to see if the flower had turned into a puffball of seeds that would populate my already (maybe) overcrowded garden with more of its kind.

The puffball arrived. And THEN A POSSUM ATE IT.

However, a few days later, after listening to me whinge about the possums eating my long awaited dandelion puffball, Cath very sensibly just took a seedhead from the massive dandelion that was growing down the lane (that’s the one in the picture above) and blew the seeds all over the spot where I want them to grow. Now I have lots of dandelion seedlings popping up and I am content.

Just what is so good about dandelion?

You can eat the leaves, which are very bitter, especially as they get older, so the young ones are best in terms of palatabiltiy. They are still quite strong and may take a bit of getting used to (I’ll probably have a rant about why people should include more bitters in their diets at another time). I often pick a few to put in a salad or a sandwich amongst the other greens like rocket; you could also toss them into a soup or cook them in amongst some milder greens like spinach or silverbeet.

Because the roots of dandelion grow so deep into the earth, the leaves are rich in minerals like iron and potassium; you can brew them as a tea, which has tonic and diuretic properties (and since diuretics in general can deplete the body of potassium, dandelion is a particularly good choice).

The root is hepatic, which means it acts on the liver, stimulating its function and aiding the body’s natural detoxification processes. Roasted, the root makes a tasty ‘coffee’ which is delicious on its own or with milk and/or spices.

Dandelion is one of those herbs which bridges the worlds. Its taproots go deep, as I mentioned before, and yet its flower is as pure a representation of the sun as you can find. It is sacred to the Goddess Hekate, the Illuminatrix who also walks between the worlds. The seeds are messengers, and will carry your wishes with them as they take to the air.

So next time you meet a dandelion, honour it; there’s more to it than meets the eye and it has many gifts to share with you!

Bright blessings


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Tuesday is Herb Day – NASTURTIUMS!

Do you like nasturtiums? I LOVE nasturtiums. They are one of my favourite plants. I love the way they grow all over things and the way their flowers are so bright and colorful. I love the peppery taste of the leaves and flowers, and that you can eat every part of the plant. I love the fact that they have such an unlikely-seeming botanical name… NOT Nasturtium officinale as any sensible person might think, but Tropaeoleum majus (N. officinale is actually watercress! Go figure. But at least I can remember it).

I planted quite a lot of nasturtium seeds in one of my garden beds a few months ago, not expecting them to do much as it’s in an area that gets almost no sun in the dark half of the year. Naturally, every single one germinated and the bed is now a riot of nasturtium leaves, some almost the size of plates (although no flowers have appeared as yet). They are so rampant they are even overshadowing my horseradish and I needed to do something to cut them back a bit. But there’s only so many leaves that I can put in a salad… Salads which I am pretty much the only person in the household to eat… And then I came across a solution: nasturtium pesto


I made a few alterations to the original recipe (I didn’t have any walnuts), and I can vouch for its deliciousness. So here’s my take on it:

Nasturtium Pesto
2 cups (tightly packed) freshly washed nasturtium leaves
2 cloves garlic
1.5 cups (NOT packed) coarsely grated pecorino cheese (or Parmesan)
Olive oil
Salt, to taste

Place the first three ingredients in a food processor and blitz together. Add olive oil in a stream and keep blending until you have a smooth-ish paste – I didn’t really measure but I imagine I used at least half a cup. Taste and add salt if you like. Scrape into a clean jar and cover with a layer of oil to help keep it fresh. Cap tightly and store in the fridge. Or, fill an ice cube tray & freeze, popping the little blocks out into a freezer bag for longer storage.

Let me know if you try it, or if you have any other unusual pesto recipes, or if you love nasturtiums too!

Bright blessings,


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