Hal's Hat

Hal's Hat

Saturday, April 16, 2011

spring here...Nettles!

One of the most wonderful parts about spring is the fresh herbs/ food that becomes available. Pretty much everybody is on the farmer's market/ csa train, as well as the "plot of one's own" block party. But there are also wild foods available to us....
Why? Nutrients, minerals, energy right from the source. No cost involved. Adventure. Engagement in my own well-being. Nothing's a mystery- well, lots of stuff is a mystery. But not in a mysterious white pill!
What does it supply? Okay, let's start with Nettle. Urtica dioica. This grows wild everywhere. Bane of farmer's lives- stinging nettle. Old men HATE it (as a rule). Spring time is its heyday. Ohmygoodness, I love nettle. Natural source of Vitamin K, Selenium, Magnesium, Calcium, etc, etc, etc. What I'm suggesting is not new to natural food- Susun Weed advocates and writes about Nettles brilliantly. I'm saying, get some gloves, scissors, a bag and go pick some!
How? Make an infusion. One ounce of dried nettle, steeped in boiling water in a quart jar for four hours is a strong infusion. This is like a tea, but for real. Tea tastes pleasant but has little of the nutrients of the plant in it. An infusion really gets the good stuff from the plant!
Where? Partial sun, wild spaces, near water (creek beds, moist bottomlands) are a haven for this plant. I pick mine right off the levee in North Lawrence. Along the mown edge of the green, before the trees start is a small jungle of ground covers and stinging nettle.

What to look for: Serrated leaves, square stem, hairy neck, STINGING! Do not be afraid of the stinging. It doesn't feel great but have a conversation with yourself about it, wear gloves or deal with the itch. It is an old wives remedy for arthritic joints- lash the offending area with nettle and all the prickles are supposed to release the uric acid (hope I got that one right; it's from memory there) and lessen the pain. Always look for the sting to tell you you have the right plant. There is a wild vervain/ verbena type thing that looks similar but no sting and a round neck. Not poinsonous and not dangerous but look for the sting!

I took Greer in the Ergo and Myrna on foot to get it. It felt fast- after all the hustling the girls out of the car in the cold blowy morning; it took only minutes to walk around the gate, down the levee, spot some medium tall plants and walk down for a closer look. I tend to trust the levee plants because they don't spray. Poison ivy and all sorts of other wild plants live down there relatively undisturbed. The nice thing about spring Nettles? Nearly no sting- Myrna was nervous and put on my gloves. But I cut it all, tucked it into my pocket and we went off. Too cold to walk further but fun to find something useful amid the wild strawberry, spring violets (also a great eating herb. Myrna loves to eat the flowers!) and periwinkle vine (an invasive domestic gone wild?).

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