Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nettles Bring in the Spring


Nettles are here: little spiky purple and green clusters of leaves with sparkling coats poking up from the forest floor.


We fulfilled our northwest forager’s spring tradition today, nettle harvesting.



It has been so cold and wet out for a while, it was a great day to get the little ones into the woods.

Yes, I am talking about nettle as in stinging nettle, dubbed in Latin Urtica dioica. These beautiful little sproutings are among the first signs of spring, but I also love them because they bring an abundance of nutrients and medicinal properties as well. In fact, they’re what we herb dorks call a medicinal food.

They are full of minerals and antioxidants, vitamins and a host of all those other important phytonutrients, many of which have yet to be discovered. Nettles are a rich source of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and are a good herbal source of vitamins A and K.

The medicinal value is just as impressive. This herb is used commonly in a variety of get well formulas (for general cold and flu stuff) as a nourishing herb.  It’s gentle enough for use in children’s formulas too. It’s great for pregnancy, postpartum and lactation formulas because of it’s nourishing and replenishing qualities.

 Nettle is also been used traditionally as a preventative for seasonal allergies. Drinking infusions regularly is said to reduce the severity of allergies. I say, “said to” because I have tried this (and many other things) in an attempt to make my breathing more tolerable from May to July, and I certainly still have allergies. It’s hard to say if they’re less severe because of the nettle. Nonetheless I think this is an interesting point and I wonder if the nutritive quality of nettles helps the liver to process toxins and thus reduces severity of reactions. Hmm,…


How to Eat Them


They have to be cooked or dried. I know some people who put them in smoothies. I’ve been stung that way so I’m not really a fan. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a vitamix. Nettle can be steamed throuroughly so that you don't see any spikes poking up, and eaten like any other green. It is also good added to soups. I’m planning to make some nettle chili. Nettle pesto is nice and it freezes well for year round use.

Harvesting


Wildcraft sustainably by only pinching the top part of the nettle off at the main part of the stem. This allows the plant to grow back. Also don't harvest all the plants in one area and for your benefit, avoid areas with high pollution levels like roadsides.

In practical terms, its good to wear gloves to minimize stinging. Scissors are also great if you don't want to try to pinch the tops off with gloves on. If you’re careful, you can actually just use scissors bare handed and then gently pinch the top with the scissors to transfer into your bag. Or if you prefer, don't use gloves or scissors and just get stung, it’s how my husband does it.


Learning


Chobie did the harvesting this year for the first time. He learned how to harvest the plants so they can continue to grow and not to harvest from every plant in the area.

While we were in the woods, we also did some plant identification, alternating between “What is this plant called?” and “Go find a ______” (cedar tree, sword fern, etc.)

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