Earlier this week I went foraging for stinging nettles with a few friends in this fledgling collective. Karen, an island native and avid forager, led us on our search for these often feared but tasty and nutritious weeds. Nettles (Urtica Dioica) are high in iron, potassium, manganese, calcium and vitamins A and C, especially when consumed raw. And they grow in abundance this time of year in wet, wooded environments, our enchanting Pacific Northwest island included.
The four of us met at a trailhead on a drizzly morning, with two children in tow and a collection of gardening gloves, clippers, shopping bags and baskets. Not far down the trail we encountered our first nettle patches along the trail. I was excited to begin clipping and collecting nettles. But between the four of us and foragers who had preceded us, supplies quickly dwindled. Soon we rounded a corner, and the path opened up into a luscious green field teaming with untouched nettles along the perimeter. This is what we had come for.
Being a nettle newbie, I asked my pals for harvesting tips. Gloves are a must for avoiding the hot painful welts nettles can inflict. My friends also advised clipping the tips of the plants only, taking just the top three rows of leaves. It’s not only the tenderest part of the plant, this method also allows the plant to continue growing for further harvesting.
Almost an hour into our adventure, our bags and baskets were full and the kids were ready to head back. We discussed recipes on the walk back to our cars, and I was already envisioning a steaming pot of nettle soup, savory pesto, herbal tea and other culinary possibilities.
I made nettle soup yesterday following a recipe I found online that sounded close to the one Karen described, using celery, leeks, garlic, potatoes and chicken stock. It was a hit with everyone at my house, except my pickiest eater. Even so, not a drop was left in the pot.
Today I made pesto, following this recipe: http://www.saltfatwhiskey.com/2013/05/14/raw-walnut-nettle-pesto/#comments
The kids and husband liked this dish too, but the baby was turned off by spaghetti coated in green sauce. It reminded her of snakes (as indicated by the “ssss” sound she makes to mean snake). She has never seen a real snake but has an aversion based on pictures she has seen in books. Perhaps I will use penne next time.
I chose this recipe because it called for raw nettles, which pack the most nutritional punch. The food processor eliminates any risk of stings to the mouth. My fellow forager Melinda also consumed her nettles raw in smoothie form. I have a few cups of nettles left and plan to make tea with them. Then, it will be off to the forest to collect more.