Just when you thought our thrifty ancestors could not be any more clever, enter the stinging nettle. I seriously cannot think of a plant more useful than nettle. Every where it grows, throughout the globe, nettle is used for the same things- food, fiber and medicine. In the spring, tender little nettle greens shoot from the ground and tell us to wake up, to get moving and to cleanse yourself.
Traditionally, around this time of year, the ancestors of the Pacific Northwest would be coming off a winter diet that consisted mostly of dried fish, meats, nuts and berries. While these foods are very nourishing, they are also pretty tough on our digestive system because our intestines had to work extra hard to process all that dry food. Then nettles come out in the spring and help cleanse the body after a winter’s diet and help them to build strength.
Some of my teachers tell me that if you were to drink nettle tea every day, all day, for two weeks straight, that it would completely change the composition of your blood. That makes sense to me, as nettles are extremely high in iron, calcium, magnesium, fiber and vitamins A & C. This is the perfect recipe of nutrients that our body needs to make our blood and immune system strong.
Now, I definitely do not recommend consuming nettles without adding a little heat. When you add heat to nettles the stinger is denatured and it will no longer sting you. So, if you want to build your strength, feel great and eat your traditional greens here is how you can handle and consume nettles:
1. Bring your favorite harvesting basket, or a plastic or paper bag from the grocery store will work just fine.
3. Don’t forget gloves. Unless you do not mind the sting. On occasion, I harvest bare-handed, but make sure to move slowly and show respect to the nettles. To my surprise, I do not get stung when I harvest this way.
4. Clip the fresh tops with your clean scissors and using your gloved hand place the fresh cut tops into your gathering receptacle.
What to do with your harvest?
Below are just a few suggestions of things you can do with your fresh nettle greens.
Option A- Preserve the Harvest
-When you get home, bring a large pot of water to a boil and put ice water in a separate large bowl. When the water comes to a boil, add your nettles and let them boil for 2 or 3 minutes maximum. Do not throw out the water that the nettles were boiled in, this is the best version of nettle tea around. Drink it!
-Next, remove nettles from the water using tongs and immediately transfer to the bowl of ice water where they will sit for 30 seconds maximum. This is called blanching.
-Remove nettles from the ice water into a strainer to get the water out of them.
-From here you can portion out your nettles into the size of a small fist, put them in plastic baggies and freeze them.
-Now you have preserved your harvest and can add nettles to your soups, meatloaf s and pestos throughout the year!
Option B- Eating Fresh Nettles
1. You could rinse off your freshly harvested nettles in a colander, let them drain and transfer them to a large bowl.
2. Using scissors, cut up the nettles into smaller bit sized pieces.
3. In a skillet heat olive oil on medium heat.
4. When the oil is hot, add onion and garlic and saute until they become translucent.
5. When the onions and garlic are ready add your nettles and saute them for another 4 or 5 minutes.
6. Flavor your saute’d nettles with balsamic vinegar, tamari or a low-sodium soy sauce.
Remember that now is the time to harvest nettles for eating. In a few months they will have grown taller and at that time the leaves become to fibrous and not very palatable. When they get a little older like this, they are ready to be harvested for tea. But, that sounds like another blog to me!