Spring 'Kraut

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

When spring finally comes here in the northeast it can sometimes feel like a race against time. After waiting months for the return of the green, the plants seemingly pop-up all at once, with wonderful exuberance, and at a pace that few of us can keep up with. Harvesting spring greens- if you let it- could easily be a full-time job! And there’s not only the challenge of collecting all your favorites during their prime harvest windows, there’s also the challenge of preserving the spring harvest because it’s simply not always possible to eat all the greens at once!

Enter fermentation, a form of food preservation that was developed and utilized by our ancestors for just this situation. What I love about fermentation is that it’s living medicine, and while I love making wild salad, pesto, frittata, soup, vinegar, and more with the wild spring abundance, there’s something special about knowing that the food you’ve prepared is probiotic and teeming with beneficial microbes that we enter into a reciprocal relationship with when we take them into our bodies. Symbiosis is a beautiful thing! You can read more about the benefits of probiotic foods in my recipe for New England-Style Kimchi, and read-on for my recipe for preserving some of my favorite spring greens in a seasonal-inspired sauerkraut.

Spring ‘Kraut

9 cups cabbage, thinly shredded (about 1 medium-sized cabbage)
3 cups Nettles leaves and stems (Urtica dioica), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), chopped
1/2 cup Garlic Mustard leaves and stems (Alliaria petiolata), coarsely chopped
4 tsp sea salt
other nice additions: Dandelion lvs, Wild Garlic (Allium vineale), Chickweed, Violet lvs, Yellow Dock lvs, Garlic lvs

nettles kraut.jpg

First-off, this recipe is meant to be played around with. If you don’t have access to one of the greens in the recipe it’s ok to leave it out or substitute it for something you have an abundance of! Start by chopping your cabbage. Pile it into a big bowl and sprinkle with about 2 tsp of the salt and begin massaging it with your hands. The cabbage will begin to breakdown, releasing its juices which becomes the brine. Once the cabbage is thoroughly massaged start adding the Nettles bit by bit, along with the remaining salt, and keep massaging. You can wear gloves for this part if you’re worried about the sting (which will be rendered harmless by the fermentation process). Once you’ve added all the Nettles, add the Garlic Mustard and Chives and mix and massage thoroughly.

Next choose your vessel- a fermentation crock or widemouth mason jar will work. Pack the ‘kraut into your vessel and press in with your hands or use a sauerkraut stamper (also called a pounder or tamper) until the brine covers the ‘kraut. Use a heavy lid or small plate with a sterilized rock on it for the crock or mason jar to keep the brine levels over the veggies, or another good trick for this if you don’t have a small lid is to fill a ziplock bag with water and use that to keep ‘kraut below the brine level. Lastly, you can always make brine to top-off the sauerkraut by mixing 1 1/2 tbsp sea salt with 1 quart water. The bottom-line is that the brine level needs to be over the veggies. Now you sit back and let it ferment! Fermentation time will vary based on the weather, but start checking it after a few days to track its progression. It’s ready when it tastes sour, crunchy, and still salty, but not nearly as salty as it tasted when it first started fermenting. Then put it into a jar with a lid and keep in the fridge or your root cellar, if you’re lucky enough to have one! Enjoy as a condiment, with sandwiches, with breakfast, with a heavy meal, as a base for salad dressing, on a picnic, or even as a simple snack. Happy spring and happy fermenting!

And for any of you wanting to learn more about working with our locally abundant medicinal and edible plants, the summer and fall sessions of our bioregional herbalism series, From the Roots Up, is OPEN for registration! This hands-on course meets outside and in the field and focuses on field botany and plant ID, medicine-making, gaining intimacy with our local plants, reading the herbal landscape, materia medica, and so much more!

Learn More Here

Looking for online herbal learning? Or just want to say “thanks” and help support this blog? In addition to our in-person classes, we also offer online learning through our Patreon Community! Membership starts at just $5/month and there are offerings like monthly online classes, monthly herbal study groups, and more. And if you’ve got enough content in your life it’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!

Nettles & Chive Rice Pilaf

Nettles for pilaf.jpg

The Nettles are in their prime right now and I've been eating them as often as I can, harvesting to dry for winter nourishing infusions, and experimenting with recipes my kids will like. This recipe was a win so I thought I'd share it. Enjoy!

Nettles & Chive Rice Pilaf

nettles and chive pilaf.jpg

1 cup white basmati rice
2 cups chicken broth (or veggie broth, bone broth, or water)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1.5 cups Nettles tops, chopped
1/2 cup Chives (leaves and blossoms), chopped
Olive oil
Salt, Pepper and Ghee to taste
Optional: Toasted Pine Nuts

Sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil until soft. Next add the broth (or water) and rice. Bring to a boil then simmer on low heat until cooked, usually 15-20 minutes. When the rice is about half-way through cooking add the Nettles and Chives. Add Salt, Pepper and Ghee to taste to serve. Toasted Pine Nuts would be a wonderful addition and, as with all my recipes, I encourage you to adapt it to make it your own!

Looking for online herbal learning? Or just want to say “thanks” and help support this blog? In addition to our in-person classes, we also offer online learning through our Patreon Community! Membership starts at just $5/month and there are offerings like monthly online classes, monthly herbal study groups, and more. And if you’ve got enough content in your life it’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!

Nettles & Asparagus Kichari

Nettles  (Urtica dioica)

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Kichari is a classic Indian stew of white rice, mung beans, ghee, and loads and loads of spices. It's food as medicine at it's finest. It supports all the eliminatory pathways in the body (often done as a cleanse in Ayurveda), boosts metabolic fire, and provides a re-set to your digestive system, especially if it's feeling sluggish and overwhelmed. It can be helpful for emotional feelings of overwhelm too, as well as excessive anger and frustration, all of which often arise in the spring.  Read more on this in my recent Harmonizing With the Spring post. You can add veggies to kichari too, and this recipe calls for locally abundant Nettles (Urtica dioica) and Asparagus for a particularly medicinal recipe.

Nettles & Asparagus are Health Tonics

Both Nettles and Asparagus are classic spring tonics, known to invigorate the body and provide deep nourishment.  Asparagus is a natural diuretic that wakes-up the urinary system, which is how we eliminate most liquid wastes from the body.... this is why it makes your pee smell bad! It also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, and is loaded with trace minerals, anti-inflammatory antioxidants, and nutrients like Folate, Vitamin K, Chromium, Vitamin C, Zinc, Manganese, and Selenium. Asparagus really defines spring here in the Valley, and once the Asparagus stands start popping-up down in Hadley, I know it's really spring! In addition to the nutritional benefits, eating with the seasons nourishes us on a deep spiritual level, connecting us with nature and the place where we live. Psychology now has a theory that addiction and substance abuse is fueled by lack of connection to community, and- I would add- to the land and nature. How beautiful that something as simple as connecting with the seasons through locally abundant foods can support mental health and promote feelings of well-being.

Nettles are also a classic harbinger of spring here in western Massachusetts, and almost every farm I know has a wild patch. Their season is April-June here, and then they have another season in the fall too if the patch is mowed in the summer. Read more about their nutritional benefits, ID, and harvest, and also how to make an amazingly delicious soup with them here! They're nutritional powerhouses (perhaps the most nutritious plant we know of) and have the same season as Asparagus. It's best to harvest them before flowering and this recipe calls for the top 4-6 inches of the plant, roughly chopped, leaves and stem and all.  When the plants get older the stems can get tough, in which case you can harvest the entire aerial portions and strip the leaves form the stem, using just those. You can wear gloves when harvesting, but the sting is actually medicinal and anti-inflammatory for arthritic conditions! If you don't believe me, look-up "urtication" to read about the practice of applying fresh Nettles leaves topically to alleviate arthritic pain!  Additionally, Nettles are classified as an "alterative" in herbal medicine, which is an herb that gently supports the major organs of elimination (liver, lungs, kidneys, skin, intestines) and improves their function. Why is this so important? When our eliminatory pathways aren't functioning properly (generally due to to being overloaded by our own metabolic waste and sometimes environmental factors as well) we can manifest a huge variety of symptoms including digestive problems, low energy, skin conditions, seasonal and environmental allergies, headaches, and body pain. 

Kichari is Food as Medicine and a Nourishing Cleanse

Kichari, as a food, is an alterative! This medicinal stew is classically utilized in Ayurveda as a gentle and nourishing cleanse by fasting on just kichari for anywhere from 5-10 days which supports all the eliminatory processes of the body. The spices and ghee are central here, and the well-cooked rice and mung beans provide easy to digest nutritional support while the spices and ghee do their work of stoking the digestive fire, called Agni in Ayurveda. The body knows how to heal itself. Kichari is so easy to digest and assimilate that it gives your body a break from the heavy lifting of digesting so it can divert more energy into its own self-renewing processes without depriving it of food and nutrients. This is my version of cleansing; NOT a paradigm where the body is dirty with toxins that need to be removed or a fast where caloric intake needs to be tightly managed or even eliminated. That frame of mind sets you up for self criticism, negative self-talk, feelings of inadequacy and shame, and is not at all body positive. This about renewal, self-love, nourishment, and supporting the amazing vital processes of the body that it already knows how to do. If these medicinal virtues really speak to you and you're planning a fast of just kichari be aware that it really wakes-up the digestive system and you'll often be needing to eat a lot, so plan on one pot/day of the recipe below. It's suggested to take Triphala powder along with a kichari fast to further support elimination.  Take 1/4 tsp in water in the morning and just before bed for about 3 days, then increasing dose to 1/2 tsp.  You could use digestive bitters instead of the Triphala and I've got a recipe for those here. You can also enjoy kichari as a medicinal and versatile meal (which I often do), switching-up the vegetable portion to match the seasonal abundance at hand. 

And now, the recipe!

Nettles & Asparagus Kichari

nettles kichari.jpg

4 cups fresh Nettles tops (top 4-6 inches) or leaves, chopped
2 cups Asparagus, chopped into 2-3 inch pieces
1 cup white basmati rice
1/2 cup mung beans
10 cups water
3 tbsp ghee
Fresh Cilantro, for garnish
NOTE: If Asparagus and Nettles aren’t in season, don’t worry! You can make this with vegetables in season or even leave them out entirely and this will still be a very medicinal dish!

Spice blend:
1.5 tsp Turmeric pwd
1 tsp Fennel Sd
1 tsp Coriander Sd
1 tsp Brown Mustard Sd
1 tsp Cumin Sd
1 pinch (1/4 tsp) Hing/Asafoetida powder

To Make:

Start by combining your rice and mung beans (ideally soaked in water the night before, but not necessary for the recipe to work) and the 10 cups of water. Cover and bring to a low simmer and let cook until soft, stirring occasionally to avoid any sticking to the bottom of the pan. This part take about 20-25 minutes. When it's ready the entire mixture will have a thick, porridge-like consistency. While the rice and mung are cooking, chop your Asparagus and Nettles and set aside. Then lightly grind your spices in a mortar and pestle- you could use powdered spices instead of the full seeds if desired- and set aside. Once the rice and mung are cooked, add the Nettles and Asparagus and cook for another 5 minutes. The spices and ghee are added last. Brown them for just a few minutes in the ghee- being sure not to burn them- until they start to release their aroma. Then add the ghee and spice mix to the rice, mung, and veggies and cook an additional minute or two, and you're done! Garnish with fresh cilantro and a pinch of sea salt if desired. Enjoy

Looking for online herbal learning? Or just want to say “thanks” and help support this blog? In addition to our in-person classes, we also offer online learning through our Patreon Community! Membership starts at just $5/month and there are offerings like monthly online classes, monthly herbal study groups, and more. And if you’ve got enough content in your life it’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!

Young Nettles

Young Nettles