‘Tis the Time for Nettles!
The arch-nemesis of childhood play; urtica dioica releases its sting through sharp hollow tubes that penetrate the skin and release histamine. Most of us who had the luxury of growing up near forests and meadows know the familiar burn all too well. It’s been said that Quileute seal hunters would rub themselves with Stinging Nettle before a big hunt to keep them awake all night. Likely, the Quileutes and other Native American tribes also digested nettle under much more comfortable conditions, as cooking or drying the leaves transform the needle covered leave into a flavorful edible that offers surprisingly high amounts of iron, chlorophyll, potassium, calcium, magnesium, silicic, folic and pantothenic acids and vitamins A, B1, B2, C and K. In other words, it’s loaded with lots of goods to make your body sing.
Not surprisingly, nettle is chock-full of medicinal qualities as well and is widely used for its detoxing effects on the body. Many people drink nettle tea or take capsules to treat painful muscles and joints, even arthritis and tendonitis. Some brave souls even apply it topically like a form of primitive acupuncture, with claims of miraculous results. It’s ability to reduce the amount of histamine the body produces in response to allergens makes it a fairly effective allergy medicine without any drowsy side effects. It’s also known to be a blood builder for those with anemia. A warm cup of nettle tea can help reduce excessive mucus buildup through one of its hormonal components, secretin. Researchers have even discovered its power in aiding those with enlarged prostates (benign prostatic hyperplasia) to the extent that most Europeans with BPH use it in their treatment procedure.
Mostly however, nettles are a great solution to getting fresh and FREE greens in those early hungry months of spring when the previous summer’s pantry goods are dwindling and the garden is still waking up. Would you rather eat spinach pre-packaged in a plastic container that has traveled further in one week than you went during last summer’s vacation or go pick your own wild version in your backyard? The gourmet choice has never been closer.
When harvesting and preparing, always
wear protective clothes and gloves. The younger the nettle the better
and the top shoots are the tastiest. Avoid gathering nettles that
grow taller than your knees or are flowering, which occurs in late
spring to early summer (the flowers will give you an unfortunate
tummy ache). Grab your pruners, lob off the top part of the plant
with the newest leaves, rinse clean, de-stem, and steam, blanch,
sauté, add to soups and quiches, or dry for tea. It’s okay to handle without gloves once it has been soaked in water, exposed to cooking heat, or dried. Get creative by
fermenting the leaves for beer or whipping up a bright and earthy
pesto. Create some fun twists on the classics for a Spring Equinox
dinner with these recipes shared from the kitchn.
When foraging, it is always a good idea to pick in moderation from multiple areas as to not destroy the survival of the plant, but with Nettle considered an invasive species, you have permission to go a bit crazy here. This is your true “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” wild edible. In fact, you might even make some friends by clearing their land of this plant. Little do they know what they are missing!
Got lots of leftover stalks? Nettles are a great addition for your compost pile and can also be steeped into a nutritious fertilizer.
Choose to find the good in nettles this season. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed (unlesssss you forgot those gloves)!