Stinging Nettle Tea

10 May 2012


They sting.

Yeah, me and nettles haven’t exactly been fast friends over the past few years, but that is changing. If you will allow me to get a bit metaphorical, I will explain.

When I first moved to Ireland, I didn’t know what to expect. I was head over heels in love and braying-like-a-donkey-excited to embark on this new chapter of my life. As anyone who knows me personally will attest, my most profound challenge after relocating to Ireland was obviously not “marrying a farmer.”  It’s pretty easy to be married to my husband, no matter how rough things have gotten, we’ve managed to stay in love (no small feat). No, the hardest part was something I naively never anticipated: losing the stubborn identity that went along with a career that, for better or worse, defined me.

It’s not like I had a six-figure job, nor was I the president or CEO of a Fortune 500 company. When I moved to Ireland, I was working in the wacky world of advertising, producing television commercials that shlepped global beauty, fashion and food brands. The work often involved collaborating with talented directors and took me around the world. Before that, I was at the Rosie O’Donnell Show in NYC. But, don’t get too excited; I was very young and merely a serf who spent a whole lotta time buying Christmas pressies on behalf of Ms. O’Donnell. Memories of maniacally running around the west village in search of rare redcoat army figures for Tom Hanks, or toy shopping for Cruise-Kidman clan will forever more be imprinting on my brain.

Still, I was passionate about my work because I got to be creative and work with people who inspired me on a daily basis. The work was very social and there was always something new on the horizon. Of course, this was before the recession when clients still had bottomless pockets of money to be spent on hefty advertising budgets (yes, somewhat Mad Men-esque despite being the noughties).  I lived, breathed, ate, and drank work. I was so consumed by it that there was room for little else in my life (ahem, like farmers). Sure, at times, I would become keenly aware that I needed more balance. And, those days became more frequent as Richard and I became serious about our relationship.

When we decided it would be best for me to be the one to move, I genuinely assumed I would still be able to work as a producer. If not for the agency I had been with for 5 years, then in a freelance capacity in Ireland. I was excited to experience new opportunities.

Suffice to say, those options didn’t really pan out. I became a mommy. CEO and chief nappy changer of the house. When Geoffrey was still a baby, I designed a line of infant one-pieces that fell through when I discovered my BABY EIRE branding was not acceptable in Ireland (There are still 300 of them sitting in the attic, if you want one). I worked on one television series, and also some small food-related production projects on a gratis basis. I help out on the farm. I am paid a small salary to write a country living column in a national newspaper. I am trying to restore a period thatched farm, whose potential is not seen as clearly to others than to I. I have done a handful of cookery demonstrations at events around the country. I started this blog, which has evolved into so much more than I anticipated…but, as much as I am committed, a blog alone is not a career.

Which brings me to why I’ll never forget my first nettle sting. I was working in the garden. My first garden ever, I might add. Somehow summer Sundays had always been for shopping at Sephora or sitting by a pool, not gardening. Anyway, I accidentally brushed up against a nettle. What the hell was a nettle anyway? The sting was painful, but didn’t warrant my reaction. I swore at that blasted nettle. I damned it.

Then, oddly, I began to cry.
One of those horrendous heaving cries.
I cried about the hurt of the damn nettle sting.
I cried for my father.
I cried about the bloody Irish weather.
I cried that Geoffrey would never play Little League.
I even cried about not getting Rosie her tuna fish on poppyseed bagel anymore.
I cried the kind of cry that keeps your cheeks a slappy shade of red for the rest of the day.
Then, I rang Richard and screamed at him for the nettle abuse.
Nettles were just one more reason why we should move to America in my mind.
America, my imaginary land of opportunity, where I could have fulfilling work again. Where I could be me.
It was ridiculous.

Yes, life had a bit of a sting to it at the time.

This is why me and nettles haven’t been on the greatest terms. But, this is changing. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been bravely experimenting with nettles. We’ve had a few good natters, the two of us. We’ve made a deal: if I wear gloves and blanch them in hot water, they won’t make me cry. In fact, I discovered that if you put them in hot water for long enough, you will create a most flavourful and completing cup of tea, especially with a tiny drip of honey. Perfect for the wintery weather we can’t seem to shake here.

I’m now embarking on a special new film project, Food Island. I get to take everything I’ve come to learn here on my food-and-farming-filled Irish adventure, and combine it with those good old production skills. For me, this feels like a match made in heaven. Next week, two wonderful friends will arrive from America; one a producer and one a cinematographer. We will be journeying around the country as I direct a short film about Ireland’s exciting new food culture. Not quite a new career, but definitely a good start.

That sting is history.

Slan Abhaile,


Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012

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45 Responses to “Stinging Nettle Tea”

  1. Elaine says:

    I too am developing a love for fresh, young stinging nettle. Try it in your homemade pasta. It’s very much like spinach pasta.

  2. tamieka silas parker says:

    I LOVE your story and your blog! For some reason, I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland. I’m inspired now, thank you 🙂
    I wish you the best! Sounds like you’re on your way.

  3. mike polletta says:

    Excellent, I picked some stinging nettles a few weeks ago. Im drying it out. Soon to be making tea. didnt miss the asparagus either

  4. Congrats on your new Food Island project! You got a gift, Imen! It’s writing…What a wonderful article!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I know exactly what you are talking about. Being a lawyer with a six-figure salary and great benefits in my home country, Brazil, was amazing. Falling in love with my hubby and moving to US, totally changed my life as well as my career. Now as an occasional food-instructor, blogger, and mother of 2, a great salary became history… 🙂 Although blogging is not a career, I do still hope you consider to blog with me in the future. I began a new segment in my blog called Fusions and I’d love that you do Ireland. It’d be a Brazilian-Irish dish. Wishing you always the best… xx

  5. Shu Han says:

    I blogged about first trying stinging nettles a week or so ago too. I like its iron-y spinach taste, but am not a fan of its furry texture, so ended up pureeing it, not into soup but into spinach curry, with some crispy new potatoes, my take on saag aloo. I loved it. It was quite an adventure for me trying it, I had to put on my heavy duty yellow rubber gloves to handle them because I couldn’t find any other!

    That was a very heartfelt entry, thanks for sharing all those emotions with us. Food Island sounds like wonderful, not just as a project in itself, but for you, to finally reconcile with your move to Ireland and away from the world you were so accustomed to. Good luck with it and all the best x

  6. Congratulations and lots of luck with the new food and film project.

  7. Bren says:

    I just LOVED reading this! It brought back all the things I went threw on my journey moving here. I was once the Style Director of a top Beverly Hills salon. I now work in a small but well known village and live in an even smaller one. My past credentials don’t have the same meaning, and the all out crying fits have ebbed off too. Thank you for your honest words they really took me back, and helped me remember how far I too have come on this Irish journey. As I have animals I would like to add that I brew up nettle tea and give it to my pets as a tonic all threw out the year. Dogs, cats,chickens, rabbit, hedgehog.. I just let it cool in a french press then add it to my pets water It is so good for them as well. But nettles are not my friend I just abuse them for my own gain 🙂

  8. kale says:

    I loved reading this. Every word. It is so honest about change and our reactions to adjustment. Every new beginning comes with unanticipated (and some anticipated) stings. But when life hands you stinging nettles, you made nettle tea. 🙂

  9. Mary says:

    As an American, I was also wondering “what the hell” is a nettle! Thanks for clarifying that one! Your tea sounds delicious, and I might like to add a drop of honey too!

    Enjoy your visit with your friends from home! I hope your heart doesn’t ache too much when they leave. But remember, you’re on an exciting adventure for your new career!


  10. Cathy says:

    I love nettle tea. One of my visits to Ottawa(Canada) to visit my youngest son, he attends Carlton University any way back to the story…. we went to a wonderful tea house and of all the teas we choice nettle tea. We both wanted something very different and well we got it. Both of us like it better when it is steeped for awhile…yummy. Guess it is not for everyone. Now we get it each time I head there.
    Wish you had not cried so hard. We have nettles in Canada and remember running into them as a child, not fun at all.

  11. Those darned nettles! Looking forward to catching up with you at Inishfood next week. Cx

  12. Aine says:

    A very touching tale. Born in Ireland, I’ve lived in the US, Asia, Europe, and then back to US again. Those nettle moments still manage to sting, even after all these years, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Your blog is wonderful. Keep up the good work and the best of luck with your video. I’m eagerly anticipating it.

  13. Alicia says:

    A lovely story and yes, its hard starting again. Thank you a recipe for using those otherwise awful nettles that hurt when you touch them.

  14. Imen,
    Life can sting. Honey always helps. Your honey sounds as wonderful as mine. Keep blogging, cry when you must, visit home when you can and take joy in teaching your wee one the ways of Irish football.

  15. Catherine says:

    When life gives you nettles, you make nettle tea 🙂

    I am so excited to see what you’ve got up your sleeve next, Imen, you’re a joy to read and be around.

  16. Laura says:

    I loved your story. I currently live it the other way around. From the center of Transylvania where I had an idyllic life, I moved 1 year ago to Vienna. I do have a roof terrace here but ain’t big enough for me to express all my gardening skills. Anyhow, coming back to nettles, where I am coming from, the folklore wisdom is claiming that getting stung by nettles is good for the health cause is fighting against rheumatism. The pain is just bonus :)) Besides the tea usage of the nettles, I also cook with them, I simply replace the spinach in any recipe with nettles and its a great dish, full of nutrients. But only the young and small nettles are recommended because the old ones are too fibrous and is not pleasant. Enjoy further living at the country side, is much more rewarding than in the city. Good luck 🙂

  17. Móna Wise says:

    What a lovely piece Imen. You know moving is the hardest thing to do. The friendship void is like a crater around your neck, and the thoughts of moving back or somewhere new always linger at your lowest because it seems easier.
    I love reading how you let yourself cry and then blamed your husband xx
    Huge hug to you Imen. Your film is going to be fabulous and I do not think anyone else on the island could do us as much justice as you will. Enjoy the ride and see you at the end of the month x

  18. Imen… I have bad memories of coming off a bike into a bush of nettles in Antrim. Pain pain pain pain. I think I must have lay in a chamomile bath for about two days. Which is why I have always steered clear of nettle tea. But you have now, somehow managed to convince me that it’s a good idea. P.S. I mentioned you on my blog…

  19. Carolanne says:

    Sitting here reading this, drinking a cup of nettle tea. Coincidence! I can relate to your life outside of where you feel you are you. Constantly moving my life to be with T has been difficult but an amazing jorney nonetheless! I’m so excited for you and Food Island and can’t wait to check it out xx

  20. Nessa Robins says:

    Imen, I often wonder what career path I’m on and I haven’t made a big move from my home country. Everything seems to be really coming together for you. I’m delighted for you that you’re getting to work in the area you love. Your new venture sounds fantastic! Food & film, what a wonderful combination!

  21. Rosemarie Mullin says:

    Great post as usual. Best of luck with your new venture we will await with great anticipation … . Rosemarie

  22. Sounds like a wonderful new project Imen, can’t wait to see it.

  23. Andres says:

    Beautiful pictures!

  24. Carolyn says:

    Beautifully written Imen. Sounds like a great project to work on. Very excited for you. Best of luck and enjoy!!!

  25. a perfect post for me today !!!!Thank you – not necessarily b/c of the nettles but b/c I will be relocating to Donegal at the beginning of the year – and I need to know that there will be tears – but joys also!!

    • imen says:

      Thanks for your comment! So, are coming in the beginning of 2013? Must go have a look at your blog! x

  26. Lisa says:

    This is you. All of it. So, very you. You are amazing writer, among other things! I could absolutely picture you doing every one of those things. Glad you are “settling in”…with the the nettles and all! Have fun on the next new/old adventure. See you this summer? Perhaps a little trip up the northshore.

    • imen says:

      Oh Lisa, that is the best comment ever. The funny thing is, when I was writing “slappy shade of red”, I thought to myself, Lisa would totally get that. How ironic. You’ve just made my day by leaving a comment here. And yes, we are totally up for a visit in August. xx

  27. Lovely post, Imen! Nettles are full of good memories for me and I enjoy the stingy reminder now and again, but I can relate well to the challenge of changing tracks from exciting worldly work to minding children and (in my case) balconies. Have a fun time with the film, it sounds like a great project!!

    • imen says:

      Valerie, thank you! I know you can relate and I love hearing about your blossoming balcony and all of your beautiful recipes in New York.

  28. Eleinor says:

    I’m off to make this tea! Lovely honest piece wrote from the heart I can relate on so many levels. Good luck on your new adventure. God Bless and thank you for touching my day with an insight into your life.

  29. Here in Minnesota we have tons of stinging nettles, which my boys call “burn weed” 🙂 I’ev been toying with the idea of tea and a few other edibles using them but have not worked up the courage yet… you may have inspired me tho! As for the Babye Eire, I suppose you can’t seel them one at a time on etsy? If I had a baby I’d want one! Heck I might want one anyways because I will never let go of my dream to have one last baby haha!

  30. antonella says:

    Brava bravissima, Imen!

  31. Brenda says:

    It’s funny how we are having reverse experiences . For me stinging nettles bring happy memories of playing in the fields with my sisters in Ireland. We always stuffed our pockets with doc leaves in anticipation of the sting. I know the stingy feeling of homesickness all too well. The current wet ‘Irish ‘ weather we are having in New England is making me homesick. Best of luck with your film, I look forward to watching it ! Maybe I am mistaken but I don’t think there are any nettles around here so a cup of Lyons (sent by mum) will have to suffice.

    • imen says:

      More than one person has shared “happy nettle” sentiments here =) Well, revel in your “Irish” weather…and maybe when the sun comes out you can send some our way =)) I think there are nettles in New England..have a hunt around! Thanks for your comment Brenda. xx

  32. Laura says:

    Congratulations, Imen! Wonderful! xo

  33. Margaret says:

    A lovely story Imen… it is amazing what can stimulate the tears at times! But glad you’re getting on better with the nettles now!

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