Foraging is one of the areas that I’d love to learn more about with my kids. Imagine walking outside to find food that you can add to your diet, and help you be ready for emergencies.
Amber Rose from FreshBitesDaily.com shows us how easy it is to add wild greens to our diet in this special guest post. She will share information about gathering and using Nettles plus putting more wild greens in your diet.
We have long been fans of nettle leaf and the popular nettle tea made from simply steeping fresh nettle leaves in hot water. Nettle is a natural source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and antihistamines, so it is no wonder we felt better every spring when we could find it fresh.
However, my problem with the harvest was that no matter how thoroughly I dressed — boots, long sleeves — I always got a rash that lasted for a couple of days. I would get stung through my leather gloves.
In one fateful season I learned two things that changed our nettle approach: (1) A friend pointed me to a nettle rash remedy that was no-fail for me, and (2) I happened to use nettle in a soup and realized the great silky texture it added.
In the same season we discovered greens soups as well. These richly tasting soups gave us energy we had not imagined possible and suddenly the stock on any wild green rose by about twenty-fold in our household. Nettle leaf stock rose higher still because of the silkiness it brought to our soup bowl.
We started noticing nettle in meadows we had driven past for thirty years without giving the green leaves a thought. We now harvest as much of that nettle as we can manage and process it for the freezer.
Nettle leaf grows in meadows all over the country particularly in the spring and you too may want to take a look at all of those meadows again for the first time.
Find Nettle Near You
Here in the United States, you have a good chance of finding nettle growing wild near you. It is a moisture-lover that you will find it in the spring growing in moist areas like meadows or drying creek beds. Nettle dies back when the frost comes but its perennial roots will send up fresh growth as the season warms in the spring.
Identifying it is not difficult if you have seen it before but there are different varieties across the country making identification a little more tricky for some. Here in the Sequoia National Forest I have found two varieties, one at a lower elevation and one at a higher elevation. They are both obviously nettle to me but the plant sizes are much different and one has leaves that are more pointed. To find nettle locally, your best bet is to find a local forager and simply ask about the best areas to look.
Farmers and long-time gardeners will know nettle too, especially if it is prolific in your area. Talk to farmers at a farmer’s market. If nettle is near, it will not take you long to discover it. Its stinging reputation has a way of preceding it.
Line Up A Nettle Remedy
Before harvesting nettle in any quantity, experiment with remedies. There are quite a few folk remedies out there for nettle rashes and you need to find one that works well for you. You may find the hunt a bit frustrating as your nettle rash burns away, so have a number of remedies ready to try. You should have relief from any one remedy in about ten minutes.
As an example of why nettle remedies may not always work for you, my go-to remedy (lamb’s quarters) works better for me on lower elevation nettle rashes than on higher. As it turns out, lamb’s quarters grows right alongside nettle in the springtime in lower elevations here. Nature provides a rash remedy right in the nettle field itself. Lamb’s quarters does not grow at our higher elevations and, lo and behold, the remedy is less effective. Nature has an interesting way of creating specific remedies. Try some of the remedies below to discover what works best in your situation.
- Lamb’s quarters leaf. Rub the leaf on the rash or make a poultice and apply it.
- Dock leaf (e.g. “curly dock,” “yellow dock”). Rub the leaf on rash or apply a paste/poultice.
- Plantain leaf. Rub leaf of rash or apply a paste/poultice.
- Apply aloe vera gel.
- Apply a mud paste.
- Apply a nettle leaf paste/poultice, crushing the leaf enough to deactivate the stinging hairs on the leaf.
Use All Of The Nettle
Once you have your remedy in place, you will be ready for your bountiful nettle harvest. Soup is by far our favorite use for nettle leaf but after we remove the leaves from the stems, we are left with a lot of stem. The stem certainly composts well but the best use is to turn it into a strong infusion, making full use of it. This is our basic system:
- In the case of tender spring nettle, we may harvest only the top few leaves of the plant. The tops of the nettle are tender enough to be cooked as a green. It needs only to be rinsed before using. We use the harvest completely in cooking.
- As the plants mature, we harvest entire nettle stems. We cut the stems and set them in boxes to pack in the car.
- At home I use sharp scissors to remove the leaves simply by running the blade of the scissors down the stem. With a bit of practice, this step goes more quickly than you would think, although you still may want to pop in a good movie to watch as you do it.
- We blanch and freeze the leaves for soup and we are left with a lot of stem.
- We press the stems into a large soup pot, cover them with water, simmer for an hour, cover, and let them sit overnight. What we don’t use immediately, we strain the liquid into freezer containers and have nettle infusion ready for teas and other other beverages.
With this process in place, as we drive by green meadows we take a second look at just what is making them green. If it is worthy of trying in a soup, we harvest a sample and give it a try. When we realized what an asset nettle leaf was in our soup-making projects, we added 30 quarts of blanched nettle leaf to our freezer this past spring.
You can too.
Amanda Rose, Ph.D. is the coauthor of Will Forage for Soup: Gourmet Soup From Wild Greens, written with her mother in California’s Sequoia National Forest. Find them both at the FreshBitesDaily.com website