Monday, 6 June 2011

Wild Edibles; Stinging Nettles

If you have ever walked through a little wooded area only to come out with a burning sensation on your hands or legs, you have unknowingly encountered stinging nettles. Stinging nettles are a herbaceous plant, covered in small stinging hairs, and it is those little hairs that cause the burning. The plant can grow up to 2 meters high, dies each winter and spreads through rhizomes. To some people I can see them seeing this plant as a pest. But if you look past the stinging nettles of the stinging nettles, you will discover a wonderful plant.
Stinging nettles have a past with native americans/canadians, being one of their foods they consumed during spring, when other foods were scarce. In the spring to early summer (about three weeks ago), the plants are about one foot high and at their best for harvesting. The leaves of this plant can be added to sauces, soups or eaten sauteed. It is high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, potassium, manganese and calcium. The leaves can also be used to make nettle tea, which leads to the most important property of stinging nettles. Their medicinal use! Stinging nettle juice has diuretic properties. Nettle shampoo is used to control dandruff. Nettles have been shown to ease eczema symptoms. In the past, fresh nettle was used to stop bleeding, caused by its high Vitamin K content. But, when dried, has no Vitamin K, so it used as a blood thinner. If one suffers from arthritis, purposefully handling the fresh plant (stinging and all) can reduce ones symptoms. There are more positives to this plant than there is the one negative.
I have used gardening gloves and garden clippers, gone out to my local harvesting woods and collected myself a big bag of it. Back at home, I fill up the sink with warm water, then dump the nettles in. Using a wooden spoon, I make sure all the nettles are submerged. The warm water deactivates the stinging hairs, so after half an hour, I can take them out using my hands no problem. They are then ready to steam or sautee, put into baggies and freeze. (Just a note, the water is suppose to turn a rust colour.) Although I find the plant a bit too earthy for my taste just plainly sauteed, they are great in soups and sauces. The best part is that it's free!!!

Happy Homesteading!!

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