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At times we have to choose between the path that is conventional and the path that is not. In today's world that once worn path that our great grandparents traveled is so overgrown and forgotten that it barely exists. Our goal is to reforge that forgotten path and make it new again.

The Family Eggers

The Family Eggers

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Nettles - edible itchy goodness

As part of our spring foraging series we bring you Urtica dioica, otherwise known as stinging nettle.  Already there is at least one reader who is exclaiming “You mean itch weed?”Indeed we do mean “itch weed”.  Nettle has been used for centuries as a spring potherb, a fiber source and medicinal herb.  Nettle is easy to identify by the leaf shape and the hairs on the stem that are actually very tiny "stingers".  We recommend that you try the new growth or fresh young plants.  After the plant ages a few weeks, the stems become very fibrous and the leaves can become tough.  Though older growth may still be used as a tea, the plant itself become much less palatable.
For this post we will focus on the food source aspect of the plant.  Nettle has a flavor similar to spinach.  It is reportedly high in Vitamins A, C, iron, potassium and calcium.  Nettles can be boiled like spinach for a potherb, ground for a pesto, boiled into a soup, or ground into a herb for additives to cheese.
The trick with nettle is to not get stung by the tiny needles that are located up and down the stem of the plant.  Always pick nettles while wearing thick gloves.  Before eating, the stinging property of the plant has to be removed.  Heat (boiling), saute, drying, or grinding will inactivate the “stingers”.   

Those "stingers" are actually filled with something called formic acid.  Formic acid is the same compound that is found in many insect stings and bites as well.   Fortunately formic acid is easily denatured or made inert by fairly low heating.  Heating also wilts the physical stinger and makes it so it can no longer "sting".  To say this in simple terms, it will no longer sting you if you cook it (even a little).  

We've used and tried nettle in scrambled eggs, teas, and pasta sauces with all great effect.  Give it a try.

Caution:   As with all wild or foraged food, make sure you are 100% sure what you are eating.  When in doubt throw it out.  I am not aware of any poisonous look alike to nettle and it is an easy plant to forage, but always use some caution.  

References:
webMD’s article for possible medicinal uses and interactions.
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