Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Homestead First Aid

It may be too late to forage for stinging nettles to eat, but it's not too late to get stung.

I discovered this recently when John and I were hiking through the woods on our acreage. I understand if you want to eat nettles (say, for soup or to make tea), you need to pick them in early spring when they're no more than 6 inches tall--in the Foothills, that's usually the first couple of weeks in April. If the plants are any taller than that the leaves have turned bitter.

The day we embarked on our hike was an unusually warm day for May, over 80 degrees, so I was wearing shorts. Still, John and I had made one of our rare dates to visit parts of the property we hardly see, so despite the heat, into the woods we tromped.

The broken trees in our woods (from the last two winters' ice storms) are difficult enough to negotiate. But in late spring, the tangle of thick underbrush of thimble berry, wild blackberries (especially the trailing, very "trippable" kind), sword ferns and newly emerging brackenfern are almost impenetrable.

That day, in the far corner of our acreage, I was a few feet ahead of  John when I felt a sharp pain on the side of my knee--like I'd gotten several hornet stings. Man, that really hurt! I looked down to see a spreading redness on my leg. Before my eyes, welts began to appear on my skin. I'd never been stung by nettles before, but it didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened--especially when I saw I'd just stepped into a patch of nettles.

I understand the first thing you do when you've been nettle-stung is to quickly wash off the site, to removed the stinging substance. Well, we were a long way from the house, and would have a rigorous hike back for soap and water. While I was trying to figure out what to do, the sting got more intense.

It felt kind of like a burn, so my first thought was, aloe vera! But I was just as far from the aloe plants I kept in the bathroom. I looked around and spied the brackenfern that grows in nearly every inch of our woods. When you break off brackenfern tops, the inside is like a succulent, with a kind of sticky gel. I quickly grabbed some brackenfern, snapped off the young fronds, split the stalk to expose the gel, and smeared it on my stings.

It worked! The stinging stopped almost immediately--and the welts faded just as quickly. What I learned was that medicinals found in nature can be every bit as effective as the ones you find in the drugstore! I also learned NOT to wear shorts in our woods!

Okay, the shorts were pretty dumb (normally, this time of year I'd be wearing my thick, Carhartt pants) even though I was wearing mid-calf high socks. But this spring, we'd had so much warm weather the nettles were far taller than usual.

Anyway, later that day, when I Googled "nettle sting remedies" I discovered that aloe vera was indeed one of the treatments, as is rinsing the site with vinegar. When I shared my experience with one of my friends, a native Pacific Northwest gal, she said, "Did you know slug slime is one of the best ways to stop the sting?"

I had to admit, no, I didn't. But just thinking of squishing a slug and applying the slime was more than enough to make me glad I'd thought of the brackenfern!