‘Tis the time for nettles! The arch-nemesis of childhood play, urtica dioica releases its sting through sharp hollow tubes that penetrate the skin. Most of us who had the luxury of growing up near forests and meadows know the familiar burn all too well. I once read that Quileute seal hunters would rub themselves with Stinging nettle before a big hunt to keep them awake all night.

Thankfully, cooking or drying the leaves transform the plant into a flavorful edible that offers surprisingly high amounts of protein, iron, potassium, and vitamin C. Living on an island with no grocery store and a garden not yet producing, nettles are a great solution to getting fresh and free greens. Even with a market around, would you rather eat spinach pre-packaged in a plastic container that traveled for days or go pick your own wild version?

Always wear protective clothes and gloves while harvesting. The younger the nettle the better and the top shoots are the tastiest. Never harvest nettles that grow taller than your knees or are flowering. Simply lob off the top, rinse clean, de-stem, and steam, blanch, sauté, add to soups and quiches, or dry for tea. I recently made a killer fried egg open-faced sandwich. It also makes for a fresh and bright pesto. It has many medicinal qualities that range from diuretic to anti-depressant. Make google your friend to explore more benefits. 

When foraging, its always a good idea to pick in moderation from multiple areas as to not destroy the survival of the plant, but with Nettle considered an invasive species, you can go a bit crazy. This is your true “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” wild edible. 

Choose to find the good in nettle this season, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Happy Harvesting!

The Ph. D. nun.

Took the dogs to the vet on Orcas with Mother Hildegard. We drove the back roads that pass lakes and farmland. She slammed on her brakes every time there was an interesting bird perched on a log or fence post (avid birder). It was nice to get more of her story and to have three nervous dogs cuddled up to me.

One of MH's Portuguese Water Dogs (Koko, also known as Nunu, nonny, lulu, bebe, koksie, depending on her mood)

M. Hildegard always thought she wanted to be a children’s surgeon. In her schooling, she went the route of child psychology instead. She took her monastic vows at Regina Laudis (Our Lady of the Rock’s mother Abbey) when she was 26, but that didn’t stop her from continuing the mastery of her studies and work. She was one of the first (perhaps the first) nuns to receive a phD while living at a monastery. M. Hildegard was an early pioneer in the field of animal-assisted therapy for children. She started with a group of troubled kids, one hundred farm animals, and long car rides with the kids and a newfoundland dog in the backseat that she considered “therapy sessions.” Eventually, llamas became her primary vessels. For the last 25 years on Shaw Island, M. Hildegard ran a 4H club for children and adolescents that enabled them to work intimately with their own animal; fun and educational animal interaction with deep therapeutic power.

I think there’s a misconception with monastics that life outside of the monastery ends or is cut off when vows are taken; they are confined behind walls, recluse and isolated. On the contrary, these women are ambitious and talented intellectuals. While they believe that their daily prayers and intentions to God are their primary vocation, they are actively generous with their gifts and expertise in the society surrounding them.


MH with one of her 13 llamas, MH driving Koko in her Ford Expedition (photos from Seattle Pi) –link to one of MH’s articles for those interested in animal-assisted therapy for children