Today the family and I loaded up the trusty wagon and headed down to visit some friends and do something that I had never done before – forage for nettles! For those of you that don’t know, nettles are a stinging plant (not everyone is sensitive to them, but be warned) that is commonly found across Europe, Asia, and North America. Many a child has been hit by the stinging needles of the Nettle. The upside to these hurty plants is that they’re also delicious and full of vitamins and minerals that will keep you coming back for more.
Nettles are leafy green shoots which are usually found in areas of heavier rainfall and grow particularly well in areas with a high phosphorus soil content. The leaves range from thin and tender
when young to much thicker when mature. The leaves can reach nine inches in length and five or six in width. The stalks are generally fibrous and tough. Both historically and currently they are being used in textiles and cordage.
The leaves are generally eaten blanched and in conjunction with something else (as blanching tends to compress the leaves into fairly dense blocks of green – think frozen grocery store spinach) and provide a fresh ‘green’ or herbal flavor. The leaves can also be dehydrated and crumbled and used as a tea or decoction, or sprinkled over meat or into sauces as an herb. It is quite versatile.
The nettle is rich in vitamins A and C, and contains the following minerals: iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. They are also high in protein (for a leafy green vegetable), containing up to 25% by dry weight.
Harvesting without getting stung can be a challenge. It is recommended (if you don’t know if you are sensitive or not) that when you go you come in the following items: Long pants, long sleeved shirt, shoes, plastic grocery bags, and gloves. The gloves should be leather or latex coated cotton gloves. (Pro Tip: Special care should be made to ensure the back sides of the gloves are coated in latex also. Particularly the fingers.) Additional protection may be garnered by wrapping thin or compromised locations with electrical tape. (Pro Tip: long sleeves with thumb holes might come in handy to protect from the sleeve slipping up and exposing your wrists.) Once you have these items, all you need is a nettle patch to tromp through to look for tasty-looking ones. From there it’s a simple matter of snapping the plant off at the midpoint or so and stuffing it in the sack. Repeat until your sacks are full. Then we get to head home for more adventures! (for more on harvesting stinging nettles, check out learning herbs‘ article on how to harvest without gloves!).
Preparation is easy if involved. This is performed in 4 steps.
- Soak nettles in cold water to remove bugs, debris, and theoretically stinging (While I did not get stung AFTER we soaked them, I still wore latex gloves to protect myself from any potential stings).
- Remove stems and unwanted leaves. Grade the leaves according to size and toughness (larger and tougher leaves are better used for tea).
- Transfer soaked nettles into a pot of boiling water. They should stay in the boiling waterfor 10-20 seconds.
- Remove from boiling water and proceed to wringing the blanched leaves out and forming a thick and dense puck or ball of nettles.
- Package using conventional ziplock bags or a vacuum sealer. If they are vacuum sealed, they can be frozen and kept good for a very long time.
- For tea, throw the leaves in a dehydrator (DIY or storebought doesn’t matter) and dry those things out. In a pinch, a low heat oven will work. When they have dried, simply crumble the leaves and enjoy (try pairing with peppermint, chamomile, or lavender to soften the ‘green’ flavor nettle tea has on its own).
And that’s how we did it! It was an excellent day out with friends and family, and we got to get out, explore the nature around us and get back to our primal roots a little bit.
Food is an important part of our lives, and we feel that our kid needs to know that food doesn’t just ‘come from the store’, but rather has its own place in nature, requires real and honest work to procure, and that the experience of gathering food can be just as rewarding as the consumption of the food itself. I feel that foraging and hunting is very important to the primal way of life and once again connecting our lives to the foods which enrich us and allow us to thrive and prosper in a way that oreos, doritos, or any other ‘food’ that ends in ‘os’ would never be able to do.
For more information on nettles, including medicinal effects, check out this link from the Idaho Observer.