Herbal Allies for Pregnancy, New Parents, and Baby

Each pregnancy, birth, and child are different. So, too, are the herbs that can support a woman through this very special time in her life. As we observe the changes in our bodies, nourishing the baby inside, we need to listen to our bodies to understand what herbs will best support us. There are several deeply nourishing herbs women can use throughout her pregnancy and afterward to support her overall well-being.

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Spring Detox: 5 Bitter Herbs to Help Improve Digestion and Cleanse the Body

Herbalists believe that health and vitality begin in the digestive tract. Bitter-tasting herbs are best taken before each meal to enhance digestive function, improve metabolism, and support a balanced state of mind. People worldwide have traditionally called upon spring greens to cleanse the body and clear the mind. Learn more about bitter spring greens that are popping up all over the land and how to incorporate plants like, nettle, burdock, red clover, milk thistle, and dandelion into your daily regimen.

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10 Easy Self-Care Rituals for Mind, Body & Soul

Let's face it. We live in a fast-paced world where we are bombarded by constant distractions. But, what if, for a few moments throughout our day, we took as little as 10 minutes to honor our bodies with a few self-care rituals to realign our mind, body, and soul?

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Vegan Tulsi~Rose White Hot Chocolate

We have put an herbalist's spin on this decadent vegan white hot chocolate, and intertwined flavors and aromas of a summer garden. Aromatic Holy Basil (Tulsi or Sacred Basil) imparts a sense of calmness and grounding, while delicate rose helps the body and mind to relax, inspiring feelings of love and compassion for oneself and others.

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Avena's Ashwagandha Golden Milk Recipe

Cozy up with a warming cup of Ashwagandha Golden Milk. This vibrant blend of herbs and spices, used as a daily tonic, helps support the immune system, stimulate the digestive system, and ease inflammation.

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Opening the Heart with Hawthorn and Rose

Rosa rugosa

Hawthorn and rose are two favorite herbs of mine for opening the heart and balancing the emotions that govern the heart. White-flowering hawthorn trees and the red-colored Rosa rugosa flowering shrubs are worthy of planting in every herb garden and on every farm. Their flowers feed hundreds of native bees and honey bees, and in turn we herbalists are able to gather the flowers and fruits of these magnificent trees and shrubs and prepare them into teas, tinctures, elixirs, syrups, oxymels, and flower essences.

Besides making several gallons of fresh Hawthorn Berry tincture in October, I collect and dry a gallon of berries for winter tea. Combining dried hawthorn berries with fresh grated ginger is a tea I drink several times a week throughout the winter to strengthen my cardiovascular system, to keep my digestion and circulation functioning well and to open and warm my heart. At night before bed, I take Hawthorn Plus tincture which contains fresh hawthorn flower, leaf and berries blended together. This formula helps my emotional heart feel peaceful and settled, and ensures that my sleep is harmonious and restful. Two other herbal tinctures I use alongside hawthorn (at breakfast) are Schisandra Berry tincture and Eleuthero Tincture. These three are supportive to use throughout the winter months for improving overall strength, adapting to stress (including cold weather stress), and enhancing immunity and lung, liver and heart health.

Rose Petal Elixir continues to be a favorite of mine for soothing and comforting the heart, easing mental and emotional agitation and nourishing the nervous system. I take a few drops of Rose Petal Elixir under my tongue whenever I feel emotionally stressed by local and world events or before I meditate -- Rose helps me feel tenderness and compassion for myself and others. This gentle herb opens the heart, and with an open heart comes feelings of joy and gratitude. Another way I like to use Rose Petal Elixir is adding a dropper to a cup of warm Ashwagandha and Shatavari milk. These three herbs together create a feeling of harmony and balance.

The lovely rose garden at Avena's Biodynamic® farm is a peaceful and magical place to work and visit. The flowers are filled with buzzing bees, busy collecting sweet nectar and rolling around in the yellow pollen. It's such a joy to watch these special pollinators and to breathe in the fragrance of the flowers which dispel physical and mental fatigue and uplift the spirit. Visitors enjoy this meditative space to sit and soak in the stillness of the garden.

It is here that the gardeners gently harvest, in the early morning light, large baskets of fragrant rose petals. These petals are immediately placed in an organic glycerin and organic alcohol solution, where their soft pink color and medicinal properties are infused. This extraordinary Elixir relaxes the nervous system, eases feelings of impatience and agitation associated with PMS and menopause, comforts a sad heart, and inspires a feeling of love and compassion for oneself and others. Roses soothe and support the digestive system, cool emotional heat and inflammation related to women’s reproductive health, and fill the heart with harmony and peace.

Dandelion Flower Tempura

Dandelion Tempura
This is a springtime staff favorite at Avena Botanicals! When the hillsides are in bloom, we come together, baskets in hand, to harvest the fresh dandelion flowers. We gather under the old willow tree for lunch and toast these golden morsels to the arrival of spring in Maine.
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Nettles (Urtica dioica)

 Nettles: (Urtica diocia) 

Other common names: Stinging nettle, wild spinach

Parts used: Spring leaves are used most often, though the seeds and the root can also be utilized

Many people despise stinging nettles because the hairs on the stems and undersides of the leaves contain formic acid that stings some people. Many of us have probably had the experience or heard tales of people accidentally running into a nettle patch. Bruised plantain or yellow dock leaves rubbed onto a sting will act as an antidote to the formic acid. Nettles can be an ally, if you let yourself befriend this plant.


Nettles grow wild in wet, rich soil in various placed around the world. If you want to get a patch growing, the easiest way is to obtain a few cuttings and plant them in a shady area with plenty of compost and lots of room for them to spread.

Nettle leaves are a dull green color, serrated hairy, oval shaped, and grow opposite each other. Spring is the best time to gather the young leaves for eating, tincturing, or for drying for tea. 



Take a pair of gloves and garden clippers, I cut the top three to four inches off the early spring plants. I am amused by the small greenish yellow flowers that hang down from the stems in early summer. The female and male flowers grow on separate plants or branches. The seeds can be collected in early fall when they turn brown.

To dry the leaves, pick them in the spring before the flowers form and before the plants reach three feet high. Carefully lay them onto nylon screens. Once dry, the hairs may feel prickly if you handle the leaves with your bare hands, but the formic acid is gone. Store the leaves in glass jars in a dark place.



Nettles are high in iron and safe enough to drink as a daily tea or several times a week. Nettle tincture, taken internally over several weeks, supports the kidneys and adrenal glands, nourishes the liver, and improves the elasticity of the veins.

The most effective way I know of extracting the various minerals nettle contains is by placing the dried or fresh leaves in a glass pot of cool water and letting it sit overnight. The tea water will be brownish in the morning. Sometimes I drink this tea cool, or I warm it up slowly and then let it steep for five to fifteen minutes.

Another delicious way to eat nettles is to use them in place of spinach in lasagna, stir-fry, quiche or create an old Italian favorite, Malfatti.


Nettles and our Pets:

Powdered nettle leaves combined with powdered alfalfa, rosemary and kelp are an excellent dietary supplement for dogs, cats, horses, goats, llamas, chickens, cows and sheep. The skin, hair and bones of any animal will look vastly improved with the addition of these herbal supplements to their diet. 



Nettle Malfatti - A delicious way to enjoy tender spring nettles!

Nettle Malfatti with Parmesan and Lemon
From The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes by Connie Green and Sarah Scott

Wild Nettle Malfatti
The word means “badly made,” and though malfatti are used for an odd dish or two in Italy, our wine-country malfatti are unique. Local legend says that the dish was invented during the Depression by an elderly local Italian-American woman faced with feeding a football team and having no pasta on hand. This traditional and economical mixture is composed of old bread, eggs, cheese and Swiss chard or spinach. Our use of wild nettles would probably have made this frugal woman happy. The blue-green color and richer flavor of the nettles really enhance these malfatti. A few cooks add ricotta, but we’re sticking with the old way. This wonderful dish survives in just a couple of little delis in Napa. This pleasure deserves preservation. Make the malfatti a day or two ahead for the best texture, then roll the malfatti mixture into the traditional tiny link shapes.


For the Malfatti:
1/2 pound wild nettle leaves, cleaned (wear gloves at all times during handling until cooked)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced 
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, well beaten
3/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus 3/4 cup for topping malfatti
1 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Wearing gloves or using tongs, plunge the nettles into the water and cook for 3 minutes, pushing the nettles down as needed. Drain the nettles through a colander, then spread them out on a rack placed inside a baking sheet to cool to room temperature. Squeeze out any excess moisture, then chop them coarsely.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic, stirring to coat with the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the nettles, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper and stir together. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then cover the pan and turn off the heat. Let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover and cool to room temperature.
Place the nettle mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Add another 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Process until the mixture is very finely chopped. Place in a large mixing bowl. Whisk the eggs into the nettle mixture to loosen
it. Add the Parmesan and bread crumbs and work them in evenly, using a wooden spoon or your hands. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.
Lightly flour a cutting board and have a bowl of flour nearby to use for shaping the malfatti. With floured hands, pinch off a rounded teaspoon of the malfatti mixture. Gently roll it between the palms of your hands to form a small torpedo shape, about 1 1/2 inches long, with slightly tapered ends. The mixture will be moist, so keep your hands lightly floured to prevent sticking. Line up the malfatti on a floured baking sheet, close to but not touching one another. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. (At this point, the malfatti can be frozen on a tray, then put into resealable plastic freezer bags for up to 1 month. Thaw in the refrigerator on a baking sheet before cooking.)

Place the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat

Cook until foaming and starting to turn golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. You will see little bits of golden brown milk solids in the bottom of the pan, and the foam will begin to turn golden brown. Remove from the heat before the color gets too dark, because the butter continues to cook for a few minutes off the heat. Hold in a warm place while the malfatti cook.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Drop in enough malfatti to fit comfortably in the pot without touching. When the water comes back to a boil, turn down the heat slightly, cook the malfatti until they bob to the surface, then cook for 3 to 4 more minutes. Lift the malfatti out of the water with a flat strainer, give them a gentle shake, then place them on a baking sheet and hold them in a warm place while you cook the rest. Bring the water back to a boil before adding the next batch.

To serve, reheat the butter over low heat. Stir in the lemon juice and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the warm malfatti to the pan in a single layer and roll them around to coat with the butter. Sprinkle with the lemon zest and the remaining Parmesan. Serve immediately. Makes 5 dozen.

The nettles lose their sting after cooking, so handle them with gloves before they are blanched. After that, they can be touched safely.
If you don’t have a large enough sauté pan to hold all the malfatti in a single layer, divide the butter between two pans to heat them all at the same time.

Substitutions and variations:
Swiss chard or spinach leaves or a combination can be substituted for the nettles.

Harvesting nettles is a delicate spring dance requiring long gloves and, ideally, your thickest pants. At the base of these angled needles is a sac of formic acid, which is quickly injected into the clumsy harvester. The burning from the acid can last from thirty minutes to a more dastardly twelve hours.

Cleaning and Preparation: Wear gloves at all times when handling stinging nettles. Rinse the nettles, although tidy harvesting into a clean container can making washing a nonissue.The tiny flowers likely to be on the plant belong there and are excellent cooked with the leaves.

Cooking Methods:
Never eat nettles raw. Cook them very quickly with just the water clinging to the rinsed leaves- as you would for spinach or swiss chard- to hold their color, flavor and, nutritional content.

Ideal Stinging Nettles: Each should have a short, tender stem, look bright green, and have four tender leaves.

Alert: Wear gloves during all stages of handling: harvesting, washing, and, preparation until disarmed after cooking.  

  bon appetito!