Autumn Wanderin…


Thistle Down and Nettle Stalks

Fall is arriving, I notice the big leaf maple leaves beginning to yellow and the black berries are drying up on the vine. The grass is dry dry dry. Yes, some of the delicious fruits of summer are coming to pass but Fall also offers much to be gathered, eaten, crafted, dried, stored, and celebrated! Its a wonderful time to wander the landscape, the earth is warm and dry, the golden sun is soft, and there are many things to harvest.  So… what is out there right now?


There is much happening on the land as the seasons change!

Have you noticed any white fluffy down like materials floating in the air lately? About an inch in diameter? Pay attention you will start to notice it everywhere, especially meadows and open areas. Thistle down is a soft silky material which enables thistle seeds to float on the breeze so they can propagate elsewhere. Not only is it fun to watch blow through the air ( sometimes there is so much its like thistle down snow billowing about in the sky) but thistle down is also a very useful material. The soft downy material is ideal for fire making, specifically the tender bundle (the nestlike bundle that a coal is blown to flame in).

Yes Fall is warm and dry and fire is easy to make right now but winter is coming and the rains will bring moisture… now is the  time to prepare for winter. Next time you go for a wander bring a little bag with you and collect the thistle down as you go. Its best if you find a patch of thistles growing and can then harvest a bunch of the down while its all bunched together still, before its blown into the sky and dispersed. Keep it dry and tucked away for the winter time! It will come in handy when you want to blow your coal into flame!


If you wander from the open spaces full of flying thistle down and into the riparian zones another useful plant awaits you…. watch out though, even though it no longer displays its large spring green leaves this plant can still sting. I love this herb for its many uses and become excited every time spring rolls around to collect its nutritious and medicinal leaves! But it also offers itself in another way, Stinging Nettle(urtica dioca) is an excellent cordage plant. And Fall is the time to harvest its long stalks to make cordage from.

Look for standing patches of Nettle, mature and drying but with a good amount of green to ensure the fibers are strong. Its best when the leaves are fallen off or at least sparse. Right now the seeds of nettle make it very distinguishable, you will notice them  hanging in clusters and dangling off the plant.


To gather for cordage, wear gloves and harvest the Nettle from the base of the plant and remove any leaves/seeds so you just have the stalk. You can gather a bundle of stalks and let them dry.

To prepare the dried nettle stalks for cordage:

~Trim off the thin top part of the stem with pruning shears or scissors

~Crush the hollow nettle stem. Press in on the stem or roll a heavy branch or rock up and down the stem to crush it along its length

~Open the crushed hollow stem along its length. Find a weak point and pry the seam open with a fingernail

~Flex the opened nettle stem backward, away from the interior all along its length. This will separate the hard inner core from the usable outer fibers. It is also a very satisfying task! Be gentle to keep the fibers as long as possible while you are separating the inner from the outer. This will make it easier when you begin the cordage.

~ You now have the outer fibers separated but they are still all connected together, use your fingers to separate the outer fibrous bark into smaller strands to begin the cordage making.

~ Now rub and roll the fibers between your hands to clean the fibers of debris. The outer fibers may need to be dried or can be used right away depending on various factors…. pay attention to what you feel

Congratulations! You have now prepped nettle stalks for cordage making. A wonderful way to make cordage is to gather a group of your freinds together around a fire and tell stories while working on your cordage( or any other craft) There is something so timeless about sitting around a fire and crafting with community. The hands are busy and happy and the heart and ears are open. You can use your thistle down to start the fire and then make nettle cordage while you enjoy the warmth it provides and the stories around it.

here are some good online resource for cordage making:

~ Both these sights have very thorough pictures to guide you as well.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more Fall havestables! There is so much bounty out there and I look forward to sharing the gifts of this season!



~ by rcnature on September 18, 2012.

2 Responses to “Autumn Wanderin…”

  1. I’m going to go harvest some nettle stalks today. At what point in the process can you take the gloves off?!

    • I think thats your call! It depends on how dried out it is i have found. I have handled stalks with bare hands and got no stings. That is when its quite older and drier. Listen to your intuition…. But i am not pro… thats been my experience. ; )

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