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More on Weeds

April 29, 2012

Last month, I collected nettles.  Yep, stinging nettles.

I probably don’t need to convince anyone about the benefits of nettles these days.  It seems to be all the rage in herbal circles.  But in case you haven’t yet come to learn about this amazing weed, you should know that nettle is used primarily for its diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties.  It is also encouraged by some herbalists in pregnant and postpartum women, for situations of excessive bleeding, for stabilization of hormones, and for rheumatism.  Herbalists also warn that nettles can lower your blood pressure, but that is one of the main precautions with using this very nutritious plant.  The Learning Herbs folks have more to say on nettles, how to identify, and harvest them.

Once you start looking, it’s not hard to identify nettles.  It took about 10 minutes (and one stinging experience) before my four year-old was able to identify nettles.  She continues to find them all around, as they are ubiquitous in spring in the Pacific Northwest.

Once you have a big bunch of nettles, what should you do with them?

First, I dry them.  A day of nettle picking can produce a very large supply of nettles.  Nettle lay on a sheet on my dining room table for a few days to a week, depending on the weather.  A rainy week takes a little longer to dry them than a sunny, warm week.

Then, I stuff them all into airtight, dry containers for storage.

My favorite ways of eating nettles so far are soups and infusions.

For soups, I just add nettles to a soup that I intend to puree.  I sometimes add finely chopped nettle leaves into a chunky soup or chili.  They add a fresh green flavor.

My favorite nettle infusion is one that I make with mint that I grew and dried in my garden last summer.  I put approximately equal parts nettle and mint into a big jar and add boiling water.  I let it sit with a lid on top for 4-10 hours.  Overnight is perfect.  The longer it steeps, the stronger the infusion.

 

Then it’s time to pour out the infusion and strain the nettles.  I pour the whole mess into a bowl and strain the leaves out.

You have to really squeeze the leaves to get out the liquid, which includes the important nutritional elements.  This can be a big pokey, but should not sting.  You can use a glove if it’s uncomfortable, though I am told that the sting of a nettle is in and of itself medicinal.  So, take heart if you do meet with a sting in your quest for nettles.

 

When you are done, you will have a dark green tea.  It is most wonderful chilled, especially on a hot day.  Or you can add some hot water and honey to your cup for a warm up on a cold day.

 

You can compost the left over leaves, or feed them to the herbivores and omnivores amongst your animal friends.  The guinea pigs love our nettles and mint.  They start to squeak in anticipation when they smell it coming.  This sounds like a joke, but I am completely serious.  (This also sounds like a joke, but it’s the honest truth:  We once nursed a sick little piggy back to health with nettle infusion, too.  It’s perfect food for little hay burners.)

It’s almost too late to get the fresh, young nettles, which are the ones you want.  So, don’t delay!  If you can’t do it this year, there are lots of herbal shops selling nettles that you can infuse or cook with at home.  Enjoy!

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