Get ready to geek out on a weed. This is nettle. More specifically, this is stinging nettle.
Its botanical name is Urtica dioica, and it is in the Urticaceae family of plants. It’s one of many in this family that grow wild in North America. If you have the misfortune of encountering it whilst wandering through wooded areas, you will know immediately. Any skin that comes in contact with the little hairs on its leaves and stem will begin to sting and burn, and will do so until you wash with soap and water. A slight stinging, tingling sensation might continue for several hours after that. However, unlike poison ivy, which will continue to curse you with its presence on clothes, shoes, and dog (but I’m not one to hold a grudge), nettle does not sting unless you come in direct contact with it. Wearing gloves, long sleeves and long pants makes foraging for nettle easy and painless.
Nettle is known for its nutritive and tonic properties in the herbal world. It is rich in iron, and in Vitamin C, aiding in the absorption of said iron. It also contains calcium and Vitamin A. Its leaves can be eaten raw in salads if picked when very small and young. I wouldn’t chance it otherwise. However, the sting is removed by drying, and by steaming or sauteeing. It is used as a cleansing spring tonic in teas, salads, and soups. Interestingly, it is one of the first green edible things to appear in spring here in NH, along with dandelion greens, another well-known spring tonic herb. Nettle should be consumed sparingly, however, because cases of stomach upset have been reported when large amounts are eaten.
I had both nettle and dandelion in my yard, so I sauteed them with some spinach for a side dish of greens with dinner. I also threw in some garlic, shallots and wine.
The nettle was slightly bitter, but it readily absorbed the flavors of the shallots and wine. I thought it went well with the other greens, but The Husband was not as fond of it, so I will have to try some other uses. I have read that nettle is great for your compost pile; just remember to wear your gloves.
Before I wrap up, I want to direct your attention to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution website, and Food Revolution Day, which is Saturday, May 19. I am going to the last Indoor Farmers’ Market of the spring to see what I can come home with, and hope you can have fun cooking some real food and serving it to your loved ones. Even better, and Jamie’s real mission, cook with your loved ones, and teach them to cook. Really, I could go on and on, but I’ll let Jamie do that.
See you on the Road.
Hutchens, Alma R. Indian Herbalogy of North America. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1973.
Mabey, Richard. The New Age Herbalist. London: Gaia Books, 1988.
Ody, Penelope. The Complete Medicinal Herbal. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1993.