Friday, 14 May 2010

Harvesting Stinging Nettles and Seaweed

My family and I have been spending some time at our seaside cabin during the last week or so. It's been great to get away from the rush of the city and work (although I do love my job - let's not get that wrong).

I've also been using this opportunity to harvest both nettles and seaweed, which I've been dreaming about all winter.

Here is the seaside of our cabin. Most mornings we drink our coffee and eat breakfast here. Right now we're doing it with thick jackets on, and watch the steam rise from our mouths. But it's worth it.

If we walk to the end of this balcony and look over the edge, you will see where we will be building the fourth (and thank goodness the final!) balcony during this summer. After this is done, all the big work will be done for at least another 7 or 10 years or so. We're looking forward to that.

Looking down to the left, one can see the stone beach just below us. It is actually illegal to build cabins this close to the sea in modern times, but follow this blog and you will find out why we are lucky to have this place.

Looking straight down, one can see all the nettles that needs to harvested (or as my husband would say - to be gotten rid of. I'm doing my best to harvest as much as possible as it grows to at least a meter high, and he's the one who will have to work in it while building the porch. Mind you, he finds a weed-whacker works wonders).

In order to get down to the nettles, it is necessary to walk all the way around the cabin. There will be stairs down from the porch one day in the future, but as for now we need to go the long way around.

Here is the door to our basement.... and the reason why we have a cabin so close to the sea. These stone walls are part of a foundation on a living quarters that can be dated back historically to the 1700's. And it logically goes back at least 100 years before this as this is when the old farm stead (which now belongs to my husband's second cousin) was recorded historically. Many farms had what can be loosely translated as a 'farm hand' or 'yeoman' in romantic terms. This was however not a romantic title to have.

The men (and probably also their families) that lived here would be allowed to live on a small corner of the farm in exchage for 10-14 hours of work a day. After that, they were free to go home and work on their own garden and produce their own food for their own survival. They were also allowed to fish, but part of this harvest had to go to the owner of the farm. And interestingly enough, there was a law stating that one day a year (a specific date which I am not sure of, yet) the owner of the farm could throw out this man (and his family if he had one) for no reason and replace him with someone else. So when it really comes down to it, those who lived here were slaves to the farm owner with no possibility for anything else.
But this is why we have a cabin so close to the sea. It is legal to continue building on an existing foundation, something my husband's grandfather started doing immediately after WW2.

And opening the door to the cabin, we see that we use this space for storage, and not a nice and tidy storage area either.

To the left we see an old window set in stone which would not have existed in the 1700's. It was no doubt added when my grandfather-in-law when he started working on it close to 70 years ago.

Shelving on the wall directly behind the door with all sorts of old nails, pipes, and knick-knacks that have been saved by various family members during the last 50 years.

To the right of the door, we can see the foundation for the the chimney, which can no longer be used without burning down the cabin. We however are content to use small electric heaters. My husband and I have done so many reperations and additions to the cabin that to replace the chimney will be something our children will have to do.... if they decide to do so.

As one can see however, this is not a large space. It measures about 3 meters by 5 meters, at the most. It's hard to fathom that an entire family, with at least 4 children and possibly many more, used to live here.

But here it is what I'm looking after - garden gloves. Because stinging nettles is pretty nasty stuff.

Stinging Nettles, or Brennenesle as it is known in Norway is not something you want to play with. The scientific name is Urtica dioica, and when touched, it will actually inject small amounts of poison under the skin. It stings and itches like a Dickens. If you have tough adult skin and can grit your teeth for 15 or 20 minutes, it usually goes over. But if you are a kid like my daughter, and accidentally run into it while playing football while wearing shorts and short sleeves, it can leave horrible red welts all over your body. Luckily Aloevera salva tends to work quickly.
At the same time, nettles has been used for centuries both as food and for it's medicinal qualities. It's rich in both A, E and K vitamins (something desprately needed during the 1700's when there is little time to produce or collect your own food) and is also rich in flavoids and plant acids. Common uses were against internal infections, heart and kidney problems, arthritus, and as a blood stopper. For these same reasons, it can be also used for the skin, once the stinging part of the plant is destroyed.
But first I have to pick a bunch.

Here is what I picked in 15 minutes or so. And even though I was wearing garden gloves, I was stung several times on the palms of my hands, though the material of the gloves. I've since made it a point to wear latex washing gloves after this.
But instead of grabbing the Aloevera, I decided to try seaweed, which I have also heard works wonders against small rashes and scrapes.

Leaving my nettles behind, I grab a bucket and head further down my property to the sea.

This rock wall that can be seen here is the first project of work at the cabin I was given 12 years ago, newly married and living in a country where I did not speak the language. There is a reason why I'm pointing this out and I will come back to it in a bit.

Another view of the same wall for the opposite side. Stick with me, there's a reason why I'm pointing this out.

Here we have the seaweed that I will be harvesting. It looks like we have two different types located on our beach, but really this is not true. What is seen above is what the seaweed looks like when it's establising itself on a rock face.

And this is what it looks like after it has had time to grow a bit.

And this is what it looks like when it has had a winter to grow without any of us removing it from our swimming area.
This type of seaweed is Ascophyllum nodosum, or is otherwise known as Norwegian Kelp. It is high in nutrients and minerals. The first thing I did was drop my bucket (well after taking pictures in any case), grab a few handfuls of seaweed and rub my itchy hands on it. Abracadabra, my itching stopped, and I was a happy girl again.
Other things I have learned about Norwegian Kelp - it stimulates cell growth, tones and hydrates the skin, and can apparently be used in soups, broths and chowders. While I have not tried that, I can say if you catch fish, pack it in this seaweed and then toss it on the fire, it will be the best meal you've had in a long time.

A close up of the seaweed - here are the small gas bubbles that help the seaweed float to the surface when the tide comes it. The closer to the sunlight they can come, the more photosynthasing that can occur.

While I'm busy with my gathering, I suddenly hear a noise behind me - it's my daughter who's suddenly gained an interest in snails and small crabs that the tide leaves behind when it goes out.

Here's a quick shot of the treasures she has found.

This shot shows the difference between an inexperience wall builder who has never pushed anything other than a pen and textbooks for 10 years (that would be me) compared to an experience farmworker. And that was the point I was alluding to earlier.

On the way up, I hang all my seaweed on a super old (50+ years?) apple tree that has long since stopped producing apples. It will be cut down and replaced in a year or so, but in the meantime it can be useful to me.

And my daughter follows me up because she's told that if she's going to look for more snails and crabs, she needs to put on a life vest.

Into our half finished kitchen to boil some water to make the nettles more customer friendly.

We still carry our water in by the bucketfull because it costs a small fortune to be allowed to be connected to the local irrigation system. And we would rather have a fourth porch instead.

And the water goes onto our old-fashioned oven that we inherited from my husband's grandmother.

While the water's slowly boiling, I carefully transfer the nettles into a siv.

Finally the water is boiled and I can pour it onto the nettles. Quite a nice vegitable smell rises up in the steam, similar to spinach but not as strong. Although I think I will add some mint essential oils when I use it in soap.

And while I wait for the water to do it's trick, I admire the view.

And ask my daughter what she's found.

She tells me she's found a mussel, lots of snails and a ton of bitty-small fish swimming just out of her reach.

And now it's time to separate the nettles from the other grass that it was harvested with. A job that is easily done without any painful consequences with my bare hands.

And here we have lots of nettles that is now ready to be added to my soaps.

It would also be interesting to note that I have read that fireweed loses its stinging abilities when dried, which is something I am also going to try. But since I intend to use this immediately, I couldn't wait the 5-10 days drying takes. But I will get back on that one and blog about my experience with that.


Sofia-Sobeide said...

Interesting post! :) Looks like a beautiful place too!

Lucie said...

Thanks for sharing ! It's a great cabin you have there, beautiful and just on the sea! And about firewood, this plant has many proprieties : I use a decoction of firewoods against diseases in my garden. And when I was a little child my mum used to make wonderful soups from firewoods'heads. It tastes very good :D

Rita alias alatvian said...

Thank you so very much for the detailed sharing!

ira said...

very interesting to read Nicole, I can't wait to see the result of that fireweed!:)

ingermaaike said...

That was super fun to read!

Nancy van den Boom said...

Great blogpost, thanks for sharing your interesting world with us!

gr8jewellery said...

What a wonderful post Nicole! I really enjoyed reading this, and seeing all the photos of your cabin in its magnificent setting!

l'actrice said...

Nicole you got such a little paradise here:-) Each time I see it I start dreaming!

BHB Kidstyle said...

What a great magical place!!!! You are so lucky to have it! Lots of interesting info too.

Weird said...

Hello there :) We just "met" in the etsy chatty forum. I really enjoyed this post, it was fun and interesting. I used to collect fireweed (in German, it's Brennessel, by the way) and make soup from it or put it into potato soup. I have to keep the seaweed/fish thing in mind since we'll be going to Norway in July - thanks for the tip! :-)
Oh - and I'll follow your blog now, seems to be interesting :-)

Best wishes,
Weird from