Wild food forager and Nature Place activity leader Paul Tappenden tells us what’s local, wild, and edible in and around our area.
Apart from the fact that stinging nettles are among the most nutrient rich foods available, they have been used medicinally for treating seasonal allergies, cold symptoms, bladder infections and chronic arthritis, along with many other ailments. They are much prized by herbalists. In fact, despite their tendency to sting anyone who touches them, most of the herbalists and foragers I know have planted them on their property. I have two sizable patches in my back yard, which I tend with loving care.
Now that it is October, I’ve cut all my nettles down to the ground, hanging the plants to dry for making teas.
I’d highly recommend starting your own patch, if you want to have their medicinal and nutritional powers at your disposal. If you have a friend with a patch, I’m sure that he or she would happily give you a piece of root to transplant (nettles do tend to spread and need thinning).
Each year, I work with campers at The Nature Place Day Camp. We use stinging nettles in cooking or even eat them raw. Once cooked they can no longer sting, but eating them raw presents a bit of a challenge – a challenge that the kids love to go through as a kind of rite of passage. There is a trick to eating them without being stung which I make sure of telling them be fore they try it. Eating raw nettles has become a source of pride.
Nettles are rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. What’s more they possess up to 40% protein. Of course, these nutritional facts are not foremost in our minds when we are enjoying a bowl of nettle soup or a side of nettle greens. We are too busy experiencing their delicious flavor.
There are many recipes that call for spinach or kale in which nettles can be substituted, and several that were developed with nettles in mind. I’ve found many versions of nettle soup online. With the recipes that call for boiled greens, usually, twenty minutes of boiling is all that is required to produce tender results. However, don’t throw out the brownish water that remains. It makes a rich and tasty stock as a base for soups, having an almost meaty flavor.