It happens from time to time: you are stumbling through some underbrush or bushwacking to get back on the proper trail and all of a sudden you feel a dull stinging sensation on your arms or legs. You have been stung by a stinging nettle! Nettle are a herbaceous plant native to our area that have tiny hairs on their leaves, which act like tiny hypodermic needles injecting the skin of those who brush against them with histamines. This results in a stinging sensation and occasionally a rash or other allergic reaction.
With the kind of discomfort they produce, people are often surprised to learn that nettle are in fact edible. But not only that! They are actually really nutritious and have been used for medical purposes for centuries. Nettle leaves can be foraged or cultivated and cooked much like spinach or any other green- just be sure to soak them in water or blanch them before using to remove their stinging hairs. They can be soaked in hot water to make a tea that can be used to sooth gastrointestinal distress, urinary tract problems, and gout. (In England there is even a nettle eating contest!)
A few weeks ago some friends and I went out into the woods to forage some wild edibles. It was my first time on a proper forage but I was fortunate to my highly knowledgeable friend Carolyn with me to show me the ropes. Luckily for us the woods was filled with delicious, beautiful nettles! We donned gloves and long sleeves and began our harvesting. When foraging it’s important to only take a small portion of each plant, so that it can continue to thrive and reproduce. Its also good not to defoliate an entire area- keep moving around so you don’t create a big disturbance. Also be considerate of others-take only what you need as the woods is a common space.
After a few hours of wandering around the woods and enjoying a leisurely Sunday, we had filled our bags with nettles and it was time to head home for dinner. Since we had an abundance of nettles we decided to turn them into pesto, which we served atop pasta with a side of homemade bread. Below is the recipe!
6 Cups Nettle Leaves
4 Tsp lemon juice
1.5 Cups Walnuts or Pine Nuts
1 Cup Parmesan or other hard cheese
5 garlic cloves
3/4 Cup Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Fill a large stock pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Blanch the nettles by immersing the in the boiling water for 30 seconds then immediately strain them out and dunk them in the ice water bath. Once they have cooled take them out of the ice water and leave them in a colander to drain.
Next put all the ingredients together in a food processor and blend until the mix resembles a smooth puree. You may need to add more oil if the mix if it seems too dry.