When you think of nettles you might first balk at the stinging part of the plant and want to give them a wide berth. But think again.
This local flavourful plant is rich in vitamins A, C, D and also high in calcium, magnesium and iron. Although you won’t find them in the grocery store, you might might think of them more along the lines of some of the usual suspects like kale and other leafy greens that you find there.
Nettles grow quite abundantly in Saanich. I was happy to discover a patch growing along our driveway. You can generally find nettles in disturbed areas, especially along paths and roadways. You might also see them in clearings and along waterways. It is the leaves that are generally harvested.
Nettle leaves are best to eat until they flower, which is usually in the summer. They are most tender in March and April, but the way this spring is going I am going to bet we are going to be harvesting them well into May and June.
If you are feeling game to try them and you haven’t harvested them before it is good to know how to do so safely. It is important to wear gloves because of tiny hairs that can sting your hands. I would recommend using scissors to cut off the top six leaves or so on each plant. If you look at the stalk the leaves grow in pairs on either side. Just cut off the top, then the plant can continue to grow.
Then, still wearing your gloves you can wash and drain them and carefully remove the stems. If you heat, dry or freeze the nettles it gets rid of the hairs that sting so don’t worry you will not get any nasty surprises with that first mouthful.
I generally take the leaves and boil them for a few minutes until the greens have wilted. Then you can drain them and either chop them up right then or store them for up to about five days in the refrigerator in an airtight container. You can use the chopped up leaves in just about everything from omelettes to putting on pizza. The options are really quite limitless. I have heard everything from steaming nettles to eat like spinach, to making nettle pesto, nettle tea, putting nettles in soups and stews, and even nettle hummus or nettle beer.
WSANEC elder Anna Spahan advised that nettle tonics have been used for generations for keeping hair healthy and to maintain its colour. You can boil the nettles in water and then use the water to rinse your hair. It is said that nettles are a natural remedy for grey hair. If you google nettles you will also see that there are many medicinal uses for nettle and it is used to treat everything from arthritis to eczema to anemia.
When we think of our foods we think about the grocery store or our gardens but we can also be grateful for, and celebrate plants like nettle. Nettles are both nutritious and medicinal and a great example of what nature so generously provides for us. Be adventurous and give them a try.
Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.