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Topic: It's nettle time!  (Read 12132 times)
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« on: April 13, 2010 07:54:45 PM »

Of course Spring is eagerly awaited for all the obvious reasons, but I also look forward to  it because I can have fresh nettles again. They're only really good in the spring when the plants are less than a foot (30 cm) tall. But they're at their best right now, and if you've never eaten nettles you're missing a real treat.

Most people have encountered nettles at some point in their lives, usually as kids. One minute you're walking through the empty lot with your friends, the next your skin is on fire and you're running home screaming. Of all the edible wild plants, stinging nettles are certainly the best disguised - eating them is the last thing you'd ever imagine doing!

But the secret that the nettles fight so hard to keep is that they're one of the most delicious and nutritious greens available. Very high in vitamins A and C, as well as protein, their painful sting (inflicted by tiny hairs that are actually hollow glass-like tubes filled with formic acid) is transformed by heat into pure nutrition. The delicious, slightly nutty taste is unlike any other greens.

Nettles can be found in empty lots, along roadways, and at the edges of farmers' fields. They will grow in quite poor soil, but because they contribute more nitrogen to the soil than many commercial fertilizers, nettles are often found in areas of lush undergrowth. There are none growing wild anywhere near my home, so I bought a plant from a herb nursery and planted it in my own yard. I now have a thriving, luxurious patch! A lot of people are reluctant to try eating wild plants because they're not sure of their identification and are afraid of picking the wrong thing. No need to worry with nettles, though. One touch will tell you if you've got the right plant - if it stings instantly, it can't be anything else!

Obviously a plant with such fierce defenses needs to be handled very carefully, but a few simple precautions will make picking painless. Gloves are essential, though ordinary cotton garden gloves usually don't offer enough protection. Choose full-length latex dishwashing gloves for maximum protection. (Even then, a careless brush against an exposed arm or ankle can be agonizing, so keep your legs and arms covered!) Snip the young plants off with scissors or garden shears. Don't worry about harming the plant by over-harvesting; anyone who's tried to eradicate a nettle patch knows cutting them down just makes them grow back more luxuriantly!

Keep the gloves on as you wash and pick over the plants (they need a good wash as those tiny hairs tend to trap dirt) and until they're safely in the cooking pan. A few minutes of heat renders them harmless and delicious.

My family usually likes them best simply tossed in a pan with a bit of oil and some chopped onion or garlic, but they also make delicious soup, casseroles,  omelets, or when dried, a pleasant and nutritious tea. This evening I made a nettle and bacon quiche (because there was bacon in the fridge that needed to be used up!) and it was very, very good. In fact nettles can be used in any cooked dish where you might use spinach or other greens. Pretty much the only way you can't eat nettles is in a salad, for painfully obvious reasons! They're only at their best for a month or so, but they can be frozen and kept all year long.

Be adventurous and try cooking nettles. It may give you another reason to look forward to the end of winter!


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« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2010 08:03:49 PM »

That quiche looks wonderful! I've been wanting to get my (gloved) hands on some fresh nettles. But, there aren't any around these parts. I have a ton of dried nettle though. Do you think it could be reconstituted some how and used in recipes?
« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2010 08:18:36 PM »

You're braver than I am, Wulf!  I think I read too many fairy tales as a kid, like the one with the girl who had 7 brothers that were turned into ravens, and the only way to free them was for her to make them each a nettle shirt, and she couldn't talk the entire time she was making them, or they wouldn't work...  I'm fairly sure other tales mentioned nettles, but mostly as a punishment, and never as a tasty green.

It's certainly useful information, should I ever come across some. 


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« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2010 08:21:05 PM »

Thank you for the wealth of information!

I am going to survey my property as I believe I have this growing (and I have avoided it because of the stings!)....I am quite intrigued now to try it--you make it sound so yummy!

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« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2010 08:36:28 PM »

I think that is the longest a post has kept my attention in a long time!  What a wealth of information.  Thank You for posting this.  You have definitely piqued my attention to an interesting ingredient. 

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« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2010 08:39:11 PM »

Dangerous dinner, Wulf! Shocked
My inlaws are always foraging for various "weeds" (dandelions, something they call 'black grass', etc)to eat but I am sure they have not tried these. I sure haven't. I love all greens and this recipe sounds yummy (loving the bacon too).

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« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2010 01:54:20 AM »

I actually had the experience of making and eating fresh pasta with nettles in it about a year ago.  It was fantastic!
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« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2010 01:59:17 AM »

Mmmm, I love nettle soup. They're sooooo ridiculously good for you. In the UK you all get taught to rub fresh nettle stings with a crushed dock leaf http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumex_obtusifolius which totally takes the heat out of the rash.
Near where I come from in the south of England they hold a nettle eating contest. The competitors have to eat raw nettles for AN HOUR. The winner is the person who has stripped the longest amount of nettle stems. Total madness!

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« Reply #8 on: April 14, 2010 04:51:59 AM »

Crazy!!! I cannot believe you actually had to buy a nettle plant! This stuff grows all over my property probably because I live on a rocky sandy hill where nothing else will grow kinda place. I've been trying to eradicate it for years but I guess I'll embrace it and eat it!! That quiche looks delicious. I'm thinking throw some sun dried tomatoes in and feast!!!!

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« Reply #9 on: April 14, 2010 06:25:30 AM »

Thank you so much for posting these nettle ideas!  We have a bunch of nettles in our yard, and just started drying some for tea.  I need to try them in quiche for sure.

Also, my partner recently read that nettles have been used for pain relief.  "However, the sting that gives the nettle its nasty reputation has been used for centuries as an effective remedy for pain relief, and it is not just an old wives tale! Early man would have discovered this use by accident, as he bumped into the plant and experience the pain it inflicted. Then, he would have learnt, very quickly, how the body was stimulated by blood moving rapidly to the area and the sting gave warmth and pain relief. From this discovery, we have the folklore of taking some fresh nettle stems and beating parts of the body affected by arthritis, rheumatism, sciatica, paralysis, gout and lumbago. This method of pain relief is still practiced in countries where natural remedies are the major source of therapies." (http://www.herbsarespecial.com.au/isabells_blog/nettle-many-uses-many-benefits.html)

I thought it was pretty interesting that the pain of the nettle can be used to relieve other pain, but I'm not itching to try that as much as cooking them. Smiley


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