Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Oh, wild wonderful nettles!

It's wild nettles season, aka. stinging nettle (Urtica dioica).  Nettles are abundant, nutritious, delicious, healing...and one of the first wonderful spring edibles around here.  I am so fortunate to have a large nettle patch that is establishing itself nicely in the wooded back area of our property.  I harvest nettles daily in the spring, and am careful to maintain a buffer zone so they don't spread into the neighbouring property (nettle does spread quickly, and although it's highly valued by some, others wouldn't appreciate this plant taking over their yard).  You need to harvest delicately, either using gloves, or gently harvesting the stalks one by one by pulling upright on the stems, going "with the grain" (same direction) so to speak with the stinging hairs on the stem.  I think you do build up a tolerance over time, as I can now harvest them largely by hand without getting too itchy.  I wouldn't advise young children harvesting nettle though, as it will definitetly sting sensitive uncovered skin like legs, arms, hands, etc.

Where to begin with the many beneficial uses of nettle - as a tea it's rich in iron, vitamins and minerals, lowers blood pressure, helps with urinary and kidney infections, hives and skin inflammations (taken internally or as a skin wash), boosts the immune system, increases the body's energy supply, and much more.  It's added to women's tea blends to help with anemia due to heavy menstrual bleeding.  Taking nettle tea over time can help alleviate hay fever, and it is a wonderful spring tonic to use as an overall boost to rejuvinate and detoxify the body after winter.  The tea is kind of bland on it's own, but mixed with peppermint or lemon balm, or some local raw honey, it's quite tasty!  As for eating, it makes a delicious cream of nettle soup, replaces spinach well in recipes such as spanikopita (we make annual nettle-kopita with the abundant spring nettles - here is our favourite nettle-kopita recipe from a blog post a few years ago), juiced or added to smoothies, etc.  It's also great for hens, adding into a compost tea...and much more.

For those who want to learn more, we are hosting a Wild Food Gourmet workshop here at Little City Farm on Saturday, May 14.  Nettles are on the menu, as well as dandelion, burdock, wild grape leaves, and various other wild gourmet "weeds" that are growing right here at our doorsteps.

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