There’s something so magical about being in the forest in the springtime. The rain is still a steady comforting drizzle, the air is warming up, and delicate new leaves unfurl from sturdy weathered branches. A juxtaposition of old and new presents itself across the forest floor, sprouts rising up from the dead leaves and forest debris. Amongst the first plants to break through is stinging nettle, or Urtica dioica, or sc̓ədᶻx̌.
Nature has a way of providing for us when we need it, if we take the time to tune into the rhythms. Newly sprouted nettle is packed full of the vitamins, minerals, and proteins a human body needs when recovering from a winter diet of processed foods. Many people readily accept these gifts, making teas and various other recipes to help their bodies recover from a long winter’s rest.
In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Kimmerer writes, “Plants know how to make food and medicine from light and water, and then they give it away… From the beginning of the world, the other species were a lifeboat for the people. Now, we must be theirs.” The relationships we have with plants have the potential to be reciprocal and here at Friends of North Creek Forest, we try to carry that message across all that we do. It’s most obvious in our core work of ecological restoration, and we are trying to incorporate this into our education programming as well. It just so happens that carefully harvesting nettle at this early stage helps the plant grow stronger.
Students from Soundview learned this lesson of reciprocity while also learning the ecology of nettle growth. They learned how to remove the invasive European plant, yellow archangel, who is similar to nettle in many ways. While carefully harvesting nettle, making and eating nettle pesto, and enjoying lunch together, students and educators discussed human relationships with plants and the ethics of restoration ecology. What makes one plant a friend and the other a foe? In what ways can we honor our relationships in nature? In what ways can we practice reciprocity in our lives? Questions to consider as you make your way through the day. A wise friend once told me, nettle reminds us to walk carefully and deliberately through the world.