Today we walked in woods that people would have been walking through for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Once you have a path through a valley, they just stay - chances are Romans walked these woods, and medieval villagers, and even quite possibly my own ancestors, though it's a good twenty miles from where I have traced them. Twenty miles would have been a long way, I suppose, in those days. You'd have to have a good reason to walk it. But today, we were walking to dispel the depression that's settled in a little, to put some miles between us and feeling blue. And the thing about walking in Somerset woodlands, you just can't feel blue.
In these woodlands, yellow dead nettle and campion sit side by side, pink and yellow, and there's less of the swathes of white wild garlic we saw last week. Everything is still tremendously green, but when you start looking into the green, the colours emerge. Yellow dead nettle is a particularly cheerful plant, and it's this one I choose to focus on as I walk, musing on how I've never noticed it before, not even when I lived in England for five years. Perhaps I just wasn't focussed on it then, so busy I was protecting a young son from the vicious spikes of stinging nettle. Yellow dead nettle - also known as yellow archangel or dummy nettle - is certainly a gentler cousin.
Yellow Dead Nettle
The leaves of yellow dead nettle are good for menstrual complaints, being used in a tea or infusion. Part of the lamium or mint family (and thus not the same family as stinging nettle, which is Urtica dioica), they possess anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative and many other qualities, which you can read about in this study. Folk medicine has celebrated it for wounds, ulcers and swelllings (used as a poultice) and for burning urine and kidney troubles, for digestion and for a sleep aid, for lung complaints and as a diuretic.
All the specific medical benefits aside, yellow archangel is added to my pot along with all the other spring greens coming out of the British woods. A varied diet, they say, is so good for your general health - and I'm certainly not biased toward stinging nettle now, knowing that both purple and yellow varieties of nettle can also be used in soups, stews and teas to nourish me. It's certainly far more of a pleasure picking them, gloves free - stinging nettle leaves me with welts, only soothed by plantain (which I find much better than dock). If I was here for longer, I'd be drying them for addition to meals in the winter. Who needs super food powders from foreign countries when they grow right in one's backyard?
Whilst I've been adverse to potatoes of late, having had my fill of them, we'd planned Sunday roast vegetables and vegetarian sausages. I decide to collect a bag of yellow dead nettles, adding them to the potato and celeriac mash and blending. They turn a bright green, but they sure do make the potatoes more palatable! The flowers are sweet, and make a colourful garnish - another wild British flower to add to salad tomorrow, I think, when I go walking in the woods again.