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Herb Queen of the Spring: Stinging Nettle

Here in the Appalachian Mountains, spring creeps across the landscape. Despite a vicious cold spell that swept across our curvy hills, wild edibles are emerging in our valleys, meadows, and forests. One of the most nutritious and energy-rich of these wild edibles is a dark-green weed with a ferocious bite. Stinging nettle is her name, and though she bites with shockingly strong needles, her leaves are well worth harvesting, for they are extremely nutritious and fortifying for the body.

As the renowned herbalist Susun Weed writes in her herbal e-zine, “Nettle is amazingly rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, especially the critical trace minerals: anti-cancer selenium, immune-enhancing sulphur, memory-enhancing zinc, diabetes-chasing chromium, and bone-building boron. A quart of nettle infusion contains more than 1000 milligrams of calcium, 15000 IU of vitamin A, 760 milligrams of vitamin K, 10% protein, and lavish amounts of most B vitamins.”

Nettles are also high in vitamin C and iron, making them an excellent supplement for pregnancy, bone and blood health. Here at Wild Abundance, a permaculture and primitive skills school just north of Asheville, North Carolina, we harvest nettle in these early months of spring, while the plant is still young, and relish the taste of this health-giving herb. Here in Appalachia, we also gather a native woodland nettle (Laportea Canadensis) as well as the common stinging nettle (Urticaceae), which grows across North America, Europe, through Asia and in northern regions of Africa.

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The nettles’ sting is thought to increase circulation and help relieve the pain of arthritis. When harvesting in the early spring months, when the plant is still young, Natalie Bogwalker, the founder of Wild Abundance and the Firefly Gathering, considers the sting to be beneficial, healing the pains in her hard-working hands. “I'm careful to only touch the nettle with the insides of my hands, as it doesn't seem to sting that part,” says Natalie. “My inner wrists and forearms seem to be pretty sensitive, but if I do get stung I think of it as good medicine for my over-used arms. Later in the season, [when the plant's sting is strongest] I tend to always where gloves, long pants, and closed shoes.” Gloves and proper attire are recommended for the novice nettle collector!

Below you’ll find two recipes for stinging nettle, plus Wild Abundance’s favorite preservation technique (courtesy of Natalie Bogwalker). Harvest while you can, and enjoy the many benefits of this nourishing wild food!

Fresh Nettle for the Adventurous Only

From Natalie Bogwalker: “I make salad from wood nettles simply by massaging the greens to disable the stinging hairs. I then chopped it very fine, and add nuts and dried fruit with a vinaigrette. One time, years ago, I did not massage the wood nettles quite enough to disable all of the tiny hypodermic needles. I served the salad to my boyfriend at the time, and he got stung in the mouth, and made a very big fuss. I haven't made this particular salad since then, but I do still suggest making it, especially if you are more adventurous than faint of heart when it comes to the sensitive inner tissues of your mouth.” Massage vigorously and well, add oil, apple cider vinegar, a splash of honey, fresh chopped garlic, salt and ground black pepper. Keep massaging!!

 A Recipe for Long Life and Abundant Health: Sautéed Nettles & Shiitakes

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil or butter
2 cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 fair-sized finely sliced onion
5 cups stinging or wood nettle leaves or tops, chopped
2 tsp tamari or soy sauce
3 cloves chopped garlic

Directions

1. Heat oil over medium flame.

2. Add shiitakes, cook, uncovered, stirring until mushrooms release and then reabsorb moisture.

3. Add onions, cook for about 5 minutes until translucent.

4. Add nettles and tamari, cover, cook until tender, about 4 minutes.

5. Add garlic, stir uncovered over flame for about 2 minutes. Enjoy.

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Preserve the Abundance: How to Dry Nettles

From Natalie Bogwalker: “I harvest the tops of plants about 1/3 down the plant. This encourages regrowth, and prolongs the flower-free period by harvesting the plants in this manner. Take note: herbalist and ethnobotanist Frank Cook would say that nettles could contribute to kidney stones if eaten when flowering.

“I like to hang long strings attached to hooks or nails in an indoor space where the humidity tends to be lower and more constant than our moist and lush Appalachian environment. I hook one leaf of each stalk over the string. You can really pack the nettles on the string, with stalks about ½ inch apart. I wait for the stalks to completely dry, unhook one end of the string, put it into a large paper bag, and slide all of the nettles into the paper bag.

“Once the nettles are in the paper bag I crush the leaves and green matter into this bag, and pull out the rather fibrous and inedible stalks. I then pour the resulting nettle flakes into clean glass gallon jars or food grade buckets. I keep them tightly sealed, and try to store them in a dark place. 

“As well as making a nutritive and iron-rich tea, these green flakes make an excellent addition to stews, get mixed right into egg mixtures for omelets, combine well with ground deer or beef and feta cheese (optional) for nettle burgers.” Enjoy!

Wild Abundance offers an array of homesteading and permaculture courses throughout the spring, summer and fall including, a Garden School, a Wild Edibles Foraging Adventure, a three-day festival on primitive skills called The Firefly Gathering, a Women's Basic Carpentry workshop, an Advanced Women's Carpentry workshop, a Tiny House & Natural Building Workshop, a Permaculture Design Course, the Cycles of Life: Humane Butchering & Slaughtering weekend workshop, Hide Tanning, and an Ancestral Foods Cooking Class and more!

Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt is a student with Wild Abundance, a writer, gardener and beekeeper in Asheville, North Carolina. Check out her other articles written for Mother Earth News here.  


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