I’ve become interested in the idea of foraging. Being the timid city dweller that I am, I’m not quite ready to put down my purse and shimmy up trees, traipse through swamps, or scrounge under rotten logs. I’ve been reading about the bounty of frequently ignored foodstuffs readily available in the wild and my interest has been piqued. Armed with a 30-year old copy of Stalking the Wild Asparagus, I feel ready to take on the world.
I’ve also been reading about foraging and wild food from experienced foragers like Steve Brill and a local Urban Forager. I’ve been thinking about places nearby that might be ideal foraging grounds. I’m having a hard time coming up with places where I won’t look like I’m stealing or trespassing.
This dilemma seems to have resolved itself. On our first day examining our new garden plot, it became apparent that a lot of work is in order before we can begin to plant. Weeds needed to be cleared. With a new perspective on plants, I no longer see these as weeds, per say. Clearing the plot also served my purpose to try my first wild plant. Half of our plot was covered with stinging nettles. I might not normally be tempted to try such a dangerous plant, but my new-found knowledge emboldened me. Unfortunately, it did not prevent me from a bit of a stinging.
So, what have I learned? Nettles are extremely nutritious. They are incredibly high in vitamins and minerals, as well as protein. They are good for the soil and infuse compost with nitrogen and nutrients. They also indicate healthy soil, so I am pleased that they are growing in our garden. They have a nice green flavor, rather like spinach. They can be used in any recipe that might call for spinach or a leafy green.
I also learned that they really do sting! My hand smarted for a good 24 hours. Depending on the person, the sting might not bother you at all, or can last days or weeks. Remedies for the burning, stinging sensation include baking soda, vinegar, cucumber, aloe, antihistamine and honey (the last being the only option that offered me any bit of relief). Although the sting was strong, my hand looked absolutely, completely normal! A strange and wondrous phenomenon. So, for next time, I will find a better pair of gloves.
Tips for harvesting and cooking Stinging Nettles
- Use the top of fairly young plants. Pick only down to the 3rd or 4th leaf branch of a plant.
- Use thick gloves or cover your hands in plastic bags. Looks silly, but the plastic creates a lovely barrier.
- Blanch nettles in (preferably salted) boiling water for at least 5 minutes. The cooking deactivates the sting and makes them safe to handle. The salt makes them taste better.
- Strain nettles and set aside for future use.
- The boiling water will turn a brilliant shade of green. This is very nutritious and a nice substitution for vegetable stock.
When you find yourself burning from a sting – an immediate solution is to spit on the area. The saliva helps relieve the sting. Be careful not to rub the area, as you can transfer the stinging hairs onto other parts of your body. Wash area as quickly as you can to remove any stingers. A piece of tape can also work to remove stingers.
A honey based lotion like Bee Yummy Skin Food offers soothing relief.