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Allergy Sufferers Get Ahead with Purple Dead-nettle

dead nettle

Lamium purpureum © 2016 Thea Summer Deer

It is Spring and a carpet of Purple Dead-Nettle is covering my garden. Even though I had put the raised vegetable garden to bed and tucked it in with straw this particular weed decidedly took over. These Dead heads not only look like a weed, they smell like one too. And unlike the followers of a particular psychedelic rock band there is nothing distinctive about this plant that would indicate it might be edible, useful or medicinal. While I was never a Dead Head I do march to the beat of a slightly different drummer, and just because I harvest, juice and infuse what most people think of as useless weeds it doesn’t mean I’m tripping or that I smell bad, but it does mean that I’m ahead of my time, so to speak, meaning ahead of allergy season.

dead nettle_1522Introduced from Europe and listed as an invasive species in some parts of North America it can frequently be found growing alongside Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule.) Both have similar leaves and bright purple flowers, but the difference between the two can be seen in the leaves. Purple Dead-nettle’s leaves are stalked on the flower stem compared to the un-stalked leaves of Henbit Dead-nettle, L. amplexicaule. Amplexicaule means “clasping” and refers to how the leaves grab the stem.

If you were called to inspect this plant more closely you would find that it has a square stem typical of the mints but the smell would never let on that it is in the mint family. It smells more like earth and grass with the flowering tops and leaves being edible. The harvested young aerial parts can be finely chopped and used in sauces, salads or as a spring vegetable and while it may be nutritious it has no flavor of great interest. It is one of the first plants to flower in the southeast where I live and may continue flowering throughout the year even during the milder winter months providing a food source to bees (and humans!) when few other nectar sources are available.

Purple Dead-nettle has long been used in folk medicine in Europe, Asia and Africa and unlike stinging nettles (Urtica) it has no sting and is therefore considered, “dead.” There is evidence of anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and free radical scavenging properties comparable to that of ascorbic acid. It can be used fresh or dried and made into a tea or tincture for allergic inflammation. A natural source of flavonoids including quercetin Purple Dead-nettle can improve immune system performance while reducing sensitivity to allergens and inhibiting inflammation. The anti-allergy properties of flavonoids come from their ability to reduce the release of histamine. Research has shown that L. purpureum is significantly anti-inflammatory with pain-reducing properties and works through inhibiting the release of prostaglandins, the principle mediator for inflammation in allergies and chronic inflammatory conditions. This is good news for allergy sufferers (see recommendations below.) The whole plant has also been used to relieve pain in rheumatism and other arthritic ailments. A rich source of antibacterial essential oils Purple Dead-nettle has a wide range of antimicrobial activity and antifungal properties, which may be useful for staph, E. coli and candida.

800px-Illustration_Lamium_purpureum0

Never before has one weed so thoroughly taken over my garden. It definitely had my attention. Previously L. purpureum was only vaguely familiar to me, as I had seen it on my daily walks growing along the roadside. It was so far off my radar as a medicinal plant that I had trouble remembering what it was. My apprentice had pointed it out to me before and one day on a walk together I felt totally incompetent asking her – what is that plant again? In my defense it is indeed rather obscure in the herbal literature. There is still so much we don’t know, but I do know that our medicine is never any further than where we are right now.

Recommendations:

Taking Purple Dead-nettle when you suffer from allergies will help prevent secondary infections of the sinus, throat and lower respiratory tract. There are no known contraindications. Purple Dead-nettle’s actions have not been extensively researched and documented but may include: anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic, antimicrobial, antifungal and purgative. Collect entire above ground, aerial parts for food and medicine.

dead nettle infusion_1525Tincture: 1-2 ml 3x/day (1:5 in 40%)

Infusion: 1 cup boiling water over 1 heaping teaspoon dried herb and infuse covered for 10 minutes. Strain and drink as often as desired. To use as a daily tonic for chronic conditions put 1 oz. dried herb in a quart jar, or 1/3 jar filled with chopped fresh herb, fill with boiling water and cover. Let stand for 3-4 hours and drink one quart per day just prior to and at the start of allergy season.

All content except where otherwise noted © 2016 Thea Summer Deer

References:

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Secrets of Wood Nettle

by Thea Summer Deer with Jamie MacLeod

Jamie with Laportea canadensis

Jamie with Laportea canadensis

Sipping our freshly harvested and dried batch of wood nettle infusion, we can’t help but ponder on the goodness contained within this chlorophyll rich plant. Her color is an iridescent, deep forest green, singing with aliveness. The word psychedelic comes to mind. My apprentice, Jamie, is too young to truly appreciate the reference to an era that exploded into our consciousness more than four decades ago. She wasn’t even born yet. But this is the beauty of our journey together with the wood nettle, a journey that starts with a hike into the forest to teach and learn about plants that can heal us. It is a timeless journey: An older woman with long white hair makes an offering to the earth and a prayer of gratitude to the spirit of the plant she is gathering. The younger woman, strong and lithe, bends to cut and gather the herb with her long blonde curls falling around face and shoulders.

We are carrying on an ancient wisdom tradition. It is the Wise Woman Tradition. And while much of what we know about these plants originated in the Western European Herbal Tradition, which was largely lost during the inquisition and systematic persecution of “witches,” we are keeping it alive and carrying it forward in a new way. Aided by the tools of science we know much more about these healing plants than we did in our ancient past. When we bring the healing modalities of the ancients together with the best of current models of medicine a new model emerges: one in which the whole person is seen in the light of a new understanding. The Wise Woman model teaches us this, and to trust our inner guidance and intuition. Wisdom comes as a result of marrying heart and mind.

Early flowering

Early flowering

Curious about the medicinal properties of wood nettle as compared to its cousin the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) we can only assume that it offers similar benefits. It is surprising how little information we could find to confirm this. It becomes immediately apparent that more research is needed. We sip our wood nettle infusion and confer. It clearly holds the same energetic properties: cooling, slightly bitter, salty and astringent.

Wood nettle is native to the eastern half of North America and is prized by foragers as food and medicine. Its species name, canadensis is a term used in taxonomy to describe species that are indigenous to North America, whereas stinging nettle is native to Europe. Wood nettle has fewer stinging hairs, but don’t get too cozy with it as Jamie’s gentle brushing action still ended her up with a few painful stings. Or you could get cozy and experience the practice of urtication, a folk remedy that dates back over two thousand years. Urtication includes intentionally stinging oneself to provoke inflammation and stimulate the immune system providing relief from arthritic pain and rheumatic complaints.  By actively stinging the skin around an affected joint the inflammation will subside for up to a week. This topical application makes use of nettles’ rubefacient action, which produces redness of the skin by causing dilation of the capillaries and increasing circulation.

It was a beautiful cool day in the mountains when we found wood nettle growing in the woods near my house. A perennial, we harvested it only a couple of weeks before it flowered in mid June. One of the ways wood nettle can be distinguished from its close relative is by its alternate rather than opposite leaves that are larger and wider with more rounded bases. There are also differences in the characteristics of their flowers. Wood nettle is monoecious plant, meaning it holds both male and female flowers on a single plant while stinging nettle is a dioecious plant having both make and female strains with the flowers appearing on the female plant. Both plants, however, are in the same nettle family, urticaceae.

stinging hairs

stinging hairs

Nettles have a long history of medicinal use and as a remedy in the treatment of arthritis.  Nettle leaf contains active compounds that reduce inflammatory response.  It is also used as galactagogue to increase mother’s milk and promote lactation.  Nettle root extracts have been extensively studied in human clinical trials as a treatment for the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

As a food, wood nettle has a flavor similar to spinach when cooked and is rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. It is a tonic that builds the blood. Native Americans harvested the young plants in the spring and boiled them as a pot-herb. They also knew about its ability to strengthen and support the whole body and its use as general detoxifying remedy. The Meskwaki, a Native American people originally from the Great Lakes region, used the inner bark of the wood nettle to make a nettle thread that was used in the making of cattail mats. A fiber obtained from the stem is used for making nets and cordage and is considered 50 times stronger than cotton.

Stellarie from Learning Herbs.com

Stellarie from Learning Herbs.com

So why is there so little information available about wood nettle?  She must be the best kept secret in the Appalachian mountains where we found her growing not too far from the creek in the Pisgah National Forest. For the record, we found her to be every bit as tasty, and a wee bit less inhospitable as her cousin, although you still wouldn’t want to rub her the wrong way. And with all of the known benefits of stinging nettles, from her chlorophyll rich fortifying tonic to her ability to restore the kidneys and adrenals ~ inquiring minds want to know what woodland secrets wood nettles has yet to tell. As renowned herbalist David Hoffman says, “When in doubt, give nettles.” Does this apply to wood nettle? Surely someone is the keeper of this mystery ~ and I’ll bet it’s the wood nettle fairy. I’ll be green with envy if you find her first. I have a feeling wood nettle knows the secrets of the earth.

Note:

Jewelweed is the antidote for nettle stings ~ watch for her story in an upcoming blog post.

All photos ©2013 by Thea Summer Deer except stinging nettles hair.

To make a nettles infusion: Place 1 ounce of dried herb in a quart jar cover with boiling water, cover and let stand 4 hours or overnight. Strain and drink one quart daily.

References:

Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman

Wisdom of the Plant Devas by Thea Summer Deer

Plants For A Future

A Mid-Summer’s Evening Primrose and Menopausal Ally

PrimroseThea_8084

Photo by Nicholas

Hiking in the high desert with renowned herbalist, Susun Weed, at the beginning of my menopausal years was a gift from the goddess. Susun had come to Tucson, AZ to meet with her editor, Betsy Sandlin, in order to put the finishing touches on The Menopausal Years manuscript. With Betsy in the midst of her change it couldn’t have been better timing.

Pollinator bee approaching

Pollinator bee approaching

A mutual friend had gathered us together for a morning hike through the saguaros in the Santa Catalina Mountains beneath Mount Lemmon, named for the botanist and mountain trekker, Sarah Plummer Lemmon. Sarah trekked to the top by mule and foot in the late 1880’s with Native American guides who called this granite mountain above the heart of the city, “Frog Mountain.”

Oenothera biennis

Oenothera biennis

As we retraced Sarah’s footsteps at the base of this city’s backyard wilderness, I confessed to Susun that I was experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding and was concerned. “Oh! You’re experiencing menstrual flooding, are you?” she responded. A flood it was. Welcome to perimenopause. I was relieved to have the diagnosis, but I was only in my late thirties and wondered if it was normal to be experiencing this kind of bleeding. She reassured me that it was a symptom of early menopause and suggested that I take capsules of Evening Primrose seed oil daily for six weeks, coupled with Vitex berries (aka Chasteberry) to stabilize progesterone shifts and decrease flooding. She even gave me a Xeroxed copy of her as yet unpublished manuscript with the protocol (see below). It worked like a miracle. I will be forever grateful for the synchronicity of that morning and the information that I now get to share with you as we pass it down the Wise Woman way.

Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, is a biennial wildflower that blooms in mid-summer. The Evening Primrose that most of us are familiar with is the yellow flowering variety in a genus of about 125 species. Native to North and South America it is not closely related to the true primroses (Primula). In the Desert Southwest the fragrant tufted Evening Primrose, Oenothera caespitosa, is a southwestern species that first blooms white, but turns pink or light magenta. Most native desert species are white.

Primrose_0944True to its name the flowers open in the evening but will stay open for most of the following day. They can be seen on a dark night from a distance possibly due to some phosphorescence in the flowers. Moths and certain bees that are specifically designed to gather pollen from the Evening Primrose flowers are effective pollinators. Evening primrose tends to germinate in disturbed soil, growing wild throughout North America in pastures and fields. Seeds ripen from late summer to fall and it is cultivated in North and South America and Europe for its seed oil.

Primrose_0948Evening Primrose oil, an omega-6 EFA, contains high amounts of GLA. The mature seeds contain up to 10% GLA and 70% linoleic acid. This rich source of GLA, the precursor of linoleic acid, and an unusual long-chain fatty acid is found in only three other plants: black currants, borage seeds, and hemp seeds. Because the human body needs a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids it is recommended to use evening primrose in combination with fish oil containing omega-3 EFA’s.

The seed oil of O. biennis is used clinically in Britain to reduce the symptoms of PMS, most notably the pain of menstrual cramps and breast tenderness. It may even protect against breast cancer. Additionally, evening primrose oil is thought to aid in fertility by improving the quality of the mucus lining the cervix. The oil extracted from its seeds has long been a favorite of women for female reproductive disorders. Midwives use it both orally and topically to aid the cervix in ripening for birth.

This natural polyunsaturated fatty acid is an effective anti-inflammatory used to ease the symptoms of arthritis, colitis, diabetic neuropathy, hypertension and high cholesterol as well as dry skin conditions and eczema. It eases prostate swelling in older men, too. Evening primrose oil is considered a carrier oil in the world of aromatherapy and is prized for its abundant food, health, cosmetic and medicinal benefits.

Evening Primrose Photos by Thea

Evening Primrose
Photos by Thea

Back home in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina Evening Primrose grows abundantly all around me. The Cherokee use it as a food source eating the leaves as greens and boiling the young root. While I had been introduced to many naturalized European imports in my herbal studies, it was refreshing to discover a native of North America that had been successfully introduced in Europe and naturalized in England as a garden escapee.

Evening Primrose continues to be an ally for me, even after menopause aiding in keeping my heart healthy, reducing inflammation and alleviating joint pain. As I was reviewing my notes for this article I found the Xeroxed copy of the manuscript Susun had shared with me. In the margin was a handwritten note from Susun and I quote:

“Betsy and I discovered we both thought of you as anything but ‘Cynthia!’ Hope you don’t object to my shortening your name to ‘goddess,’ Thea.”

Well, of course I didn’t object to being called a goddess! And that’s how I not only met a new herbal ally, but also claimed a new name. So, if you should happen to meet her on a mid-summer’s eve, Evening Primrose is an ally that serves the goddess well.

Recommendations:

Please consult with your healthcare practitioner for recommended dosages for specific needs.

Evening Primrose seed oil 1,300mg softgel 2x/day (Solgar or Barlean’s) up to 3,000/daily

Chasteberry, Vitex agnus-castus is a slow acting herb and it may take up to 3 months to see an effect. Supports women achieving menopause either naturally or through surgery, radiation or drugs. Naturally increases levels of progesterone and luteinizing hormone in the blood (by nourishing and increasing the responsiveness of the body’s own feedback systems). While this can be helpful during early menopause it needs to be used more judiciously during the “melt-down” years when too much LH is dilating the blood vessels causing hot flashes and palpitations. Inhibits prolactin and over 50% of women experiencing PMS have high levels of prolactin. Helps to keep cycles more regular. Especially useful for women experiencing fibroids, endometriosis (anti-inflammatory effect on the endometrium), emotional mood swings or hysteria, and fertility issues. Long term results come from long term use up to two years. Not for use during pregnancy except as directed by your midwife or health care practitioner. Is an anti-aphrodisiac for men hence the name “chasteberry,” yet increases women’s libido when taken over time.

Vitex Extract: 1000 mg. daily (Gaia Herbs) Vitex Tincture: 1:4 Take 1 dropperful/1 ml (approx. 30 drops) of tincture 3-4/x day.

References:

New Menopausal Years, by Susun Weed

Delmar’s Integrative Herb Guide for Nurses, by Martha Libster

A Modern Herbal ,Volume 1, by Mrs. M. Grieve

Frog Mountain Blues, by Charles Bowden

Register now for Thea Summer Deer’s work-at-your-own-pace class, Heal Your Heart: Summer & the Fire Element at Wise Woman University.

Meet Creeping Charlie

Glechoma hederacea

Glechoma hederacea

When Charlie comes a creepin’

You’ll be meetin’ a new friend,

And he’ll be true to you, ya know,

Not kept away by winter snow:

He’ll be comin’ back to sow,

The seeds of friendship that will grow,

Within our hearts and keep us lively,

‘Cause Creepin’ Charlie, aint just any ivy!

~~ ~

This time last year I was walking the trail with energetic healer, priestess and aspiring herbalist, Carolyn Bye. This year Carolyn is no longer with us having recently made her transition. She fought the cancer as long as she could and then passed surrounded by the priestesses who loved her. I met Carolyn only three times when she was visiting our healing community in the beautiful blue mountains of Western North Carolina. She was closely associated with Registered Herbalist, Matthew Wood and her knowledge, and her spirit intrigued me.

CreepingCharlieWe initially met on one of my plant walks and our second meeting occurred during one of my workshops. That was when she learned about my mercury poisoning and recommended a plant that helps to remove heavy metals from the body. That plant is Creeping Charlie. I had heard of this plant, but wasn’t familiar with its medicinal properties. So, I wrote down the name and intended to research it at some future date.

The third and last time that I saw Carolyn was an unexpected surprise. We had been trying to connect before she headed back north, but couldn’t find an opening in our busy schedules. On Carolyn’s last day in North Carolina I stopped by a friend’s house in a small mountain town near to where she was staying to drop off some herbal salve. Upon my arrival I was surprised to find Carolyn there. A small impromptu gathering was underway to say farewell. No one knew this would be the last time that we would see her. While Carolyn and I may have seemed surprised to see each other, we also knew that we were meant to connect.

Glechoma heredacea © Réal Sarrazin

Glechoma heredacea
© Réal Sarrazin

“Did you find yourself some Creepin’ Charlie?” she asked.

I laughed and said, “No, not yet, but I will.”

“Well look no further,” she replied and pointed down at our feet. I looked down and saw that we were standing on a carpet of Creeping Charlie. She pulled some up showing me its stolons, or runners, and square stems. I was in awe of how our medicine always seems to be no further than where we are right now. She was providing me with a personal introduction to this plant and it is always better to have a personal introduction when meeting a new friend. I felt incredibly grateful for having been led to Carolyn in that moment. And as one of my herbal mentors, Willie Whitefeather, always says, “Look down! You are standing on your medicine.” And this is how my relationship began with Creeping Charlie. I offer it up as a tribute to Carolyn Bye.

Glechoma hederacea, is an aromatic creeper of the mint family Lamiaceae, more affectionately known as Creeping Charlie. It is an evergreen perennial, which means it is available all year long, even here in the Appalachian Mountains beneath the snows of winter. It has numerous medicinal uses and is commonly used as a salad green. Introduced by European settlers it has become naturalized in North America.

GroundIvy3It is not to be confused with Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, whose leaves are rounder and flowers are yellow. The size of Creeping Charlie’s fan-shaped, round-toothed edged leaves depends on environmental conditions. The opposite leaves are attached to a square stem typical of the mint family. The flowers tend toward a bluish-violet and flower in clusters of 2 to 3 in the spring. They like moist shaded areas and grow in abundance beneath the trees and along the banks of the creek near my house. Once introduced to Creeping Charlie it wasn’t hard to spot on my daily walks. I used to think it was just some kind of ground ivy, which of course it is. Its botanical species name, hederaceae finds its roots in the Latin word for ivy, hedera. Creeping Charlie also appears in sunnier areas especially where the soil has been disturbed and in grass lawns as it is undisturbed by mowing. This is where I initially discovered it with Carolyn.

Illustration_Glechoma_hederacea0Creeping Charlie spreads easily through root division and seed dispersal and is potentially invasive: one of those pesky weeds. Ha! I have to laugh at the amount of time, energy and money some people are willing to spend trying to eradicate a pretty little edible and medicinal plant. It is an attractive plant and occasionally grown as a ground cover. But make no mistake; Glechoma was brought to America because of its culinary and medicinal uses. It can be made into tea, cooked in soups, or eaten in salads. It has a long list of herbal actions including: diuretic, astringent, expectorant, anti-catarrhal, anodyne, digestive, vulnerary, mild stimulant, diaphoretic, antioxidant, anti-cancer, tonic and vermifuge. Creeping Charlie is known to relieve congestion and inflammation of the mucous membranes associated with colds, flu, and sinusitis. Studies have concluded that it has anti-inflammatory action, but no clinical human trials on the actions of G. hederacea have been concluded to date. Information on this plant has been purely based on traditional and empirical knowledge. For a plant with such a wide spectrum of pharmacological activity there are very few references of the phytochemical details and chemical composition of its essential oil.

Unfortunately, it has long been discarded from the Materia Medica in favor of other plants with a greater certainty of action. Clearly more research is needed. Plants that were once considered cure alls, like Creeping Charlie, in my opinion fall into the category of herbal actions known as alterative. Alteratives gradually restore proper function to the body, increasing overall health and vitality. Their primary action is to favorably alter disordered metabolic processes, especially those associated with the breakdown and elimination of metabolic waste. Their secondary action is to enhance better overall absorption and assimilation of nutrients.

Because Creeping Charlie is used as a kidney tonic and a “cure for consumption,” this tells me that it works on the level of the Wood (Liver) and Water (Kidney) Elements by relieving liver congestion and tonifying the Kidneys. In the past it was thought of as a blood purifier, as were most alteratives, further pointing to the liver, which filters 2.5 liters of blood every hour. Its mildly bitter flavor is stimulating to the liver and gallbladder and it relieves headaches, also indicating its effect upon the liver (see “Headache Free in Every Season”.)

Finding any reference as to how Creeping Charlie pulls heavy metals, specifically aluminum, lead and mercury out of the body was practically nonexistent. Yet both herbalists, Matthew Wood and David Winston have used it for this purpose and that was how its knowledge came down to me through Carolyn Bye. The most telling reference I could find was its use in a tincture form by painters who experienced a kind of lead poisoning called “lead colic.”

© Réal Sarrazin

© Réal Sarrazin

Creeping Charlie, abundant and neglected in the Materia Medica though it may be, brings us an important lesson. That lesson is on the importance of having herbalists whose feet are literally on the ground. Researches and scientists in laboratories may be looking down through their microscopes, but knowledge of plant medicine begins in the field by looking down at what is right beneath our feet. It begins with a need for a particular medicine and the receptivity to receive information about a plant from sources other than scientific data. Both perspectives are necessary, but unfortunately the availability of good research is receding from our grasp. This is partially due to government regulation and control of herbal supplements, which relies on the opinions of those who have never given herbs to patients: researchers, manufacturers, bureaucrats, and academics. Other factors include funding sources. With the amount of money that it takes to accurately evaluate the safety and effectiveness of herbal products, government and pharmaceutical company’s involvement is necessary. This further controls and limits, not expands, our choices in health care.

I am looking forward to my personal journey with Creeping Charlie and resurrecting this herb from the slumber of disuse. Perhaps this will lighten the toxic load of heavy metals in my system. I know these plants show up in our lives in divine right timing and at the exact moment when their medicine is needed. This is what the Wisdom of the Plant Devas teaches us – It is an Herbal Medicine for a New Earth.

Goodbye Carolyn Bye and thanks for introducing me to Creeping Charlie in that last brief moment we shared together. May your journey into the light continue to be guided by those plant spirits and devas that you loved and who love you. The plant devas are already in light body and they are holding open the door.

Creeping CharlieTo treat digestive disorders, colds, flu, sinusitis or to improve liver and kidney function or as an antidote for heavy metal poisoning, prepare and use as follows:

• 1 teaspoon of dried leaves, or 2 teaspoons fresh leaves per cup. Cover with hot, almost boiling water and infuse for 15 minutes. Drink 1 cup, 3x a day. Add peppermint or honey to taste.

• Express fresh juice with press and take 1 teaspoon 3x a day.

• Tincture dosage: 1 – 4 ml 3 x a day, folk method (see The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook by James Green.)

• Note: To use fresh harvest aerial parts April – June.

Learn more in Thea Summer Deer’s classes at Wise Woman University.

A Mess of Creasy Greens

Creasy Greens_2328Last year spring blasted us early and fast. The ephemerals were here and gone in a flash like the wave of solar flares that interrupted satellite communication and bumped webinar schedules. This year spring arrived in a more typical and erratic fashion: warm one day, cold the next; windy one day, calm the next. Luckily nature has provided us with spring greens that cool the liver from winter excess and keep us healthy at the turning of the season.

As I gaze out across the pasture on what would seem to the untrained eye like a profusion of yellow spring flowering weeds, a closer look reveals ragweed, creasy greens, butterweed, and wild mustard. What is of particular interest to me, however, is the creasy green, a southern culinary delight. Cultivated as a leaf vegetable since the 17th century they are a now a naturalized European heirloom import. Being the wild food forager that I am, creasy greens, also known as early winter cress, are a vitamin rich feast when not much else is available. Fortunately, the greens are edible right up to the point when they begin to go to seed and the yellow flowers are yummy in salads. Creasy greens are very tasty and extraordinarily high in vitamin A and vitamin C, both hard to come by in the colder months. They are also high in vitamin K. Young leaves are delicious raw in salads and older leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach.

Creasy Greens_1331

Barbarea verna

Creasy green, Barbarea verna, also fondly known as “creasies” in these here parts of the Southern Appalachians are a biennial, land-lovin’ cousin of watercress. Back in the day an old England cress seller would walk through the streets with a basket full of cress yelling, “creases, creases!” In the Appalachians, originally settled by folks from the British Isles, cresses eventually became creasies or creecy and the name has remained. Other species like Barbarea vulgaris (common winter cress) found father north, or Barbarea orthoceras (American winter cress) found in the Pacific states can also be enjoyed almost year round. Barbarea is an Italian name given to this group of land cresses in honor of Saint Barbara’s Day, which falls on the fourth of December, implicating its use as a winter green. The Italians are very fond of these plants that hail from the brassicaeae or mustard family, especially the cresses and rockets, and they used them extensively in their cuisine. The Irish part of me welcomes the comin’ o’ spring each year with a freshly harvested basket of creasies.

Creasy by the Creek

Creasy by the Creek

Creasies readily self sow (though not invasive) and are frost tolerant and winter hardy surviving sub-freezing temperatures.  The outside leaves can be harvested continuously starting within a couple of weeks of emerging. Their leaves form a basal rosette and have from five to ten sets of lateral leaves below a bigger leaf at the end of the leaf stalk. They are pungent with a peppery kick similar to watercress, somewhat bitter when eaten raw, but rather mild and sweet when cooked. As the heat of the season progresses so also does the peppery heat in the greens. In addition to finding them growing everywhere around my house, I was delighted to discover them stocked as a seasonal spring item in the canned goods section of my local Southern Appalachian grocery store labeled “Creecy Greens.” I like to cook them southern style in bacon grease (from organic, un-cured local bacon) with a splash of burdock root vinegar, or vegetarian style in sesame oil with a dash of toasted sesame seed oil for added flavor, also with a vinegar finish. In the South they are eaten as cooked greens served with buttermilk corn bread and many consider it a traditional Southern Christmas dish. They are also good in soups, stir-fires, and quiches.

Creasy_1348Legendary creasy greens, which have 3 times the amount of vitamin C as oranges, and twice the amount of vitamin A as broccoli, have even found their way into folk songs and ballads. Doug Elliot on his Crawdads, Doodlebugs, and Creasy Greens CD performs one of my favorite creasy green songs. The accompanying songbook even has more Creasy lore!

And if you would like to plant some in your garden upland creasy green seed is available from the Appalachian Seed Company, Sow True Seed, featuring heirloom, organic and traditional varieties, and non-hybrid & GMO-free seeds. http://sowtrueseed.com/greens-cress/upland-creasy-greens/

So go get yerself a mess of creasy greens this spring!

Easy Creasy Greens
2 tablespoons sesame oil or bacon grease
2 bunches fresh greens, about 8 cups, washed, de-spined and coarsely chopped.

1 onion thinly sliced
1/4 cup water, vegetable or chicken stock

dash of herbal or apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and coarse grind pepper

Heat oil or drippings in a large skillet over medium heat and add onions, sautéing until translucent. Add greens and stir to coat with oil. Stir-fry until greens are wilted. Reduce heat and add stock and stir, allowing greens to steam until tender. Finish with a dash of vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 4.

All photos ©2013 Thea Summer Deer

Learn more in Thea Summer Deer’s class, Love Your Liver: Spring and the Wood Element, a work at your pace, online class at Wise Woman University. For an edible spring weed recipe visit: Thea’s Kitchen. Visit Thea Summer Deer: www.theasummerdeer.com