Backyard Apothecary: Nettle Root

My mother instilled in me an appreciation for fresh, seasonal produce. One way was her constant labour in the gardens at various childhood homes. Fresh tomatoes on toast are a fond memory of my teens. But I recently had to laugh at myself when I recalled that although I very rarely helped her in the garden, much to her chagrin at times, as soon as I lived on my own, starting a garden was the first thing I did. In fact, many of the gardens were started, only to be abandoned before harvest during my transient early twenties.

Another way my mother gave me an appreciation for fresh food, and an inadvertent understanding of the season’s cycles, was during our annual trip to Vancouver Island from the Central Interior. The drive always involved a couple of stops at various farms: fruit stands near Cache Creek and a wonderful corn farm, the location of which now eludes me. It was these early introductions to the sensory pleasure of food—handfuls of shiny, black-red cherries, the smell of fresh, raw corn—that laid the groundwork for what has become a passion for wellness. Truly nothing beats the flavours and textures of fresh produce in season, and sharing this with my family is an extra pleasure. Beyond home and food security, community takes an important role in most people’s life. My network of friends, extended family, familiar locations and even trustworthy businesses all make my life both easier and more enjoyable. And when I think of this web of people in a place, I can’t help but be reminded of nettles. Nettles are an amazing metaphor for the support our community provides us.

By the time you read this, little spiny buds and shoots will be forming on the snaking roots of nettles. It wasn’t until after numerous seasons of harvesting nettle shoots that I noticed the uniqueness of their roots. Harvesting these I realized that all the nettles in any patch, and perhaps an entire forest, are all related. The roots do not support themselves by growing down and deep. They spread out an interconnected web of roots running horizontally across the forest floor. Their strength is in their mass: they are supported by their interconnectivity. Nettle root is a potent tonic, strengthening and stimulating the urinary tract, kidneys and spleen, as well as the immune and lymph systems. Nettle roots steeped in vinegar create a unique and earthy brew ideal for salad dressings.

Just remember, when harvesting nettles, or any plants, to honour them and ask them for permission before picking. They are a part of our community, and deserve respect. With nettle especially, the consequence of careless harvesting is immediate and painful. Search nearby for some yellow dock or plantain. The chewed leaves of either plant will bring relief to a nettle sting. And be warned, as the spines seem concentrated on the tiny buds that run along the plant’s roots. But consider if there is stagnant energy in you that needs stimulating. Like a good friend who says something that stings, but ultimately helps you to face your truth and grow, nettles’ sting has this ability as well.

Rose Dickson is an artist and writer with a passion for natural health. A self-taught herbalist who specializes in local, urban wild-crafting and do-it-yourself medicine. She can be reached at