Spring is finally here! I had the pleasure of getting out of the city to harvest some stinging nettles this week. As an urbanite, I really crave that connection that I get from picking my food from the forest. I have months of supply of free, nutritious greens in my freezer- and extra for drying and also benefited from slowing down to collect my food, rather than hurrying up at the grocery store.
Nettles were actually one of the first plants that I learned how to identify; as a little girl on the farm, running around in shorts and skirts in the summertime, I learned the hard way to avoid these plants as they have a nasty bite!
I remember my Granny telling me that when her family had settled the farm, coming all the way from Scotland with 10 kids and no money, they never starved because of the wild foods available; even on the seemingly barren prairie land. Stinging nettles, dandelion greens, rabbits and deer sustained the family until the trees they planted grew enough to protect the fields from blowing away. She remembered that her mum could gather them with her bare hands!
Well, they definitely made people tougher back then. Speaking of strength; I have experienced the strengthening and sustaining power of there yummy wild greens. In Holistic Nutrition School, we learned of the properties of nettles. I had forgotten that my Granny had told me tales of her family eating them until I was reminded in school about them. Despite their prickly exterior, they are packed full of iron and calcium, they really are a girl’s best friend!
I forage them alongside the creeks and ditches in an area where the air and soil are clean. I then take them home and plunge them in cold water. Using heavy duty rubber gloves, I pick the tender leaves from the tougher stock and those that I am not eating right away, I blanch them and freeze them for future use. I brought some nettles into my recent Spring Cleansing cooking class and was encouraged about how many of the students had not had them before but had lots of interest in learning how to forage wild plants. My best advice is to tag along with someone who’s had experience. they will show you how to pick the plant so that it will grow back and how to correctly identify it.
Nettles are a great plant to start foraging for beginners because they don’t resemble any poisonous plants and they grow in abundance. (Most people call them a weed. Gardeners and farmers will be happy for you to take their nettles for them!)
Making this tasty all-season’s pesto (click link to download recipe) with the cooked nettles is one of the yummiest ways to enjoy them. On pizza or pasta, as a sandwich spread…
In a culinary sense, basically just treat them like a super powered spinach. Ten seconds of cooking by roasting, blanching, steaming or sauteing completely disarms them and renders them nutritious and tasty.
Drying the nettles also disarms their sting. Pour boiled water over them to make a cup of iron-rich tea. Nettle tea has been used for centuries by women to build blood during and after menses and pregnancy.