Racism and Nettle Juice

“Can we go to the store now, mom? Please?”

“Is it time to the store yet?”

“Mom, when we go to the store I get to choose want I want to buy, right? It’s my money, right?”

The whole time we are at the lake my girls pepper each conversation with the promise of buying candy. You’d think we were vacationing at the Mall of America instead of an empty campground, judging by how much we talk about shopping.

When we do finally arrive at the store, ready to blow weeks of allowance on refined sugar, we see the CLOSED sign hanging inside the darkened building. Another woman who is also waiting walks towards us with crisp, white capri pants and a perfectly coiffed hair. It looks like her curls are as stiff as her pants.

“The store should be open; it’s already ten o’clock,” she announces before we have time to turn around, “But Indians are running this place now so you can’t expect much.”

I’m still holding on to Belén and Susie’s hands and I wonder if they caught what she said. I also wonder where this lady is from. Even though racism is everywhere in our province, I’ve never heard a stranger voice their opinion so crudely while thinking they’re being perfectly polite. She continues to drawl about other things she’s noticed about “the Indians” (she meant First Nations) around here.

Eventually we decide not to wait any longer and slowly walk back to our campsite.

“What do you think about what that lady said?” I ask Belén and Susanna, trying to gauge how much debriefing is necessary.

Belén is still miffed she can’t get rid of the money burning a hole in her pocket and she answers, “Well, if you’re gonna have a store, you shouldn’t keep it closed.”

It’s hard to argue with that logic, and I agree with her. But what I really want my daughters to get out of our discussion is how not to waste time. By wasting time, I mean making destructive comments that fuel misunderstanding and spread ignorance like wildfire. These are time-wasters for everyone because instead of building relationships or dignity, sweeping generalizations keep knocking everything back to the ground where growth has to start all over again; like a two-year-old kid who can’t resist pummeling a tower made of blocks.

Surprisingly, Coca-Cola initiated a project that’s a great example of building up the block tower–or building bridges. Of course, it’s not about blocks at all, but about people–separated by armed barriers and political drama–connecting with the “enemy” on the other side. We showed this 3 minute video to our girls, and then I watched it several times myself, because I was gripped with the power of person-to-person contact in a hotbed of racism.


photo not mine

We also just finished reading this book out loud about two wild children in a fantastical forest, who come from warring clans. Susanna whimpered fearfully in her bed after listening to it every night, but when it came time to read it the next day she was the first to clamber onto the couch, insisting we read “at least two chapters.” I think this story must be one of Astrid Lindgren’s best (she also wrote Pippi Longstocking.)

We read the book and watched the video before we ever talked to the stiff-pants-and-hair lady. And, who knows what themes settled into the recesses of my children’s mind–or even my own for that matter, from these selections. I hope though, that next time I feel the urge to make, agree with, or tolerate a derogatory statement about an entire group of people, I might remember to replace the vague, faceless group in question with a memory of a single connection.


And now… for the nettle juice part of this post.

Many people in my life are drinking green smoothies. I am not. But, we are eating our morning porridge with stinging nettle concentrate.


Tender stinging nettle plant

I started harvesting stinging nettle from an overgrown alleyway a couple of weeks ago, to treat Belén’s allergies. There is a lot of information online, and in herbal reference books, about using nettle as a natural antihistamine. To be honest, I haven’t noticed much difference in Belén’s reactions since I’ve been giving it to her, but I also think it requires a long-term commitment. One doctor recommends drinking nettle tea at least two months before allergy season begins.


This is ground ivy… an edible/medicinal plant that often grows near stinging nettle.

I’d read that ground ivy is a convenient and effective way to soothe nettle burns, so Stan and I promptly rubbed some hairy stinging nettle onto our bare legs to test the theory. We chewed up the ground ivy and stuck it to the affected area…


spit poultice of ground ivy

Just so you know, it didn’t work. Next time I’ll try plantain.

Belén is still popping her regular dosage of loratadine (an over the counter anti-histamine) and I’m still popping frozen cubes of stinging nettle into our hot cereal and soups. Besides it’s anti-histamine properties, it is a calcium/iron powerhouse.


fresh nettle leaves loose their sting when they are cooked, dried or ground up


nettle juice to be frozen–I put one cube per person in our oatmeal and the girls don’t even notice it

To make easy-to-use, fresh nettle concentrate:

  • Finely grind up leaves with a little water
  • Mix one part nettle paste with one or two parts water and let sit for a day or so
  • Strain nettle juice and freeze it using ice cube trays
  • Use the chopped up leaves (left after straining) in the place of spinach in any recipe. I tried to make Boston Pizza’s spinach and artichoke dip with it and it turned out quite well. The taste is a little different than spinach though.


The more I think about the title of this post, the more ridiculous–and arrogant–it seems. How could a short blog post appropriately address a complicated issue like racism? Despite the name I gave it, this one doesn’t. It’s is about a store that wasn’t open when it should’ve been, an inspiring project, a good book, and nettle juice. Thanks for reading it.


PS. Today is the very first day of summer vacation! Guess why my children woke up at 7 am this morning? To play school.


2 thoughts on “Racism and Nettle Juice

  1. I realize this is an old post, but I’ve gotta say I agree fully with your remarks on racism. I don’t understand how you can just classify everyone just by their ethnicity. Good for you!

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