Friday, December 23, 2011
Nettles for Medicine and Nutrition
Lately, I've been daydreaming about nettle gathering come spring. It's only late December and much too early for tasty, slightly bitter but oh-so-good-for-you spring greens such as stinging nettles or wood nettles. The pix above shows a young wood nettle, which grows in shady areas near flowing water.
If you're thinking of getting into wild food foraging this year, try to familiarize yourself with the nettle plant before spring hits. Get a good foraging book, one with color photographs and read up on stinging nettles, which is the usual variety of nettle described. Around here, I mostly find wood nettles, but since their nutritional and medicinal profile is the same, I harvest them and am grateful to find them in such abundance. I wrote about nettles once before...
Early in the spring, young nettles make excellent eating in any number of preparations. Saute or boil them for a few minutes, top with olive oil or butter, a touch of salt and you'll have one delicious and nutritious dinner. Or make a soup with onions, garlic and nettles. Add some to scrambled eggs...ah, the list is endless.
Harvest young nettles when they are four to eight inches tall. If they get much taller than that, they'll be a bit tough. Still tasty, still nutritional, but a bit tougher. Even so, I've harvested nettle at about a foot tall and they still tasted great to me. The trick is to find them when they're young and freshly popped out of the ground. Around here, that's early spring, in late April or so. Then later, I harvest nettles throughout the summer, but these I'll dry for use as a wonderful medicinal tea or as an extract.
Nettles are the green of chlorophyll, which naturally they contain, as well as iron, calcium, silicon, sulphur, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. Rich in vitamins too: A, C, D, E and K and a few of the B vits as well. Nettles also have trace elements or more of zinc, cobalt and copper. I think nettles are so healing because of these vital nutrients. If you've read much of this blog, you've read how our food today has lost much of its nutritional value due to industrial agriculture and overall processing. One fine way to counter that is to eat wild foods like nettles (and lambsquarters, purslane, red clover....).
I found a couple of very informational articles about nettles. One is from Ingri Cassel, from a few years ago. Europeans down through the centuries have employed nettles in a variety of medicinal uses and treatments. Its a terrific article.
The other is from the University of Maryland Medical Center, which for some reason has lots of good herbal information. As you'll see from these articles, nettles can be used for many different ailments in a variety of forms (extract, tea, capsules and so on).
I mostly use nettles for a wonderful spring tonic--either as greens or simmered in a broth with other young spring greens (dandelions, clover leaves, wintercress, garlic mustard, plantain). I usually make two nettle extracts--one of the leaves and stems, one of the roots. And of course, I dry lots of the leaves for use as tea throughout the year. Whenever I'm feeling a bit under the weather, nettle tea is one of the first things I turn to.
It is definitely worth your while to learn to identify and harvest nettles. They grow worldwide, where ever rich soils are found. Both stinging nettles and wood nettles can sting, so wear gloves when harvesting. Once cooked or dried, they no longer sting. Nettles make a great fodder for animals as well. Once cut and dried a bit, nettles can be fed to horses or cattle, especially if they need a nutritional boost themselves.
During these months of winter (while I'm daydreaming longingly about these plants...), I'll describe as many as I can. I hope this will spur some of you to start foraging and boosting your family's nutrition. Foraging free, wild plants is an ancient skill--but one we should learn again.