I once fell into a patch of stinging nettles. Something like that stays in your memory and makes you wary of willingly wading into them with the idea that you’re going to stuff them in your mouth.
The plant has many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on its leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles that inject histamine…
I was shocked to find out that my friend Tara had gone out gathering nettles and neglected to call me. Of course, she graciously went about explaining how the nettles she gathered were likely too small, and she’d be happy to try again and show me the ropes, all the while promising a bigger and better harvest. We’re busy people, though, and it has taken a few weeks to set this up—and nettles are only good while tender in the spring. This morning, I got a tentative call. “You know, it is a bit wet out there. Maybe we should postpone.” “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” my brain exploded into a green frustration, “It’s Seattle. It’s always wet! I’m dressed, and I am coming to get you!” “Well, then you need to bring me some gloves. I have forgotten my mine at mother’s.”
By the time I joined her for coffee, the sun was out, the day was warming, and you could feel the nettles just trying to push through the concrete around us. It was going to be a successful day.
Here’s the thing about foraging: stuff is just there, and you pick it. Maybe somethings try hiding or have strange environments that make the whole proposition challenging, but nettles are not those. They are everywhere. Vicious, sure, but everywhere. As long as you’ve got a good set of gloves—and Tara recommends full rubber gloves like the kind you might use for refinishing furniture, you can snip away to your heart’s content. It sure seems that way. As she mentions on her blog, though, “nettles are considered ‘dynamic accumulators,’ because they draw up nutrients from the soil. This also means they can draw up pollutants. Make sure wherever you are foraging is not polluted.”
I now have a giant bag of nutritious spring food. I plan to follow Tara’s suggestion and cook it down and then freeze it in small batches to pull a bit of the freezer to add a boost to soups, tarts, and eggs. I have a recipe for a Spanish shrimp and nettle tortilla that I’ve wanted to try. Finally, my pal, Lisa, reminded me of the days I used to bake focaccia and suggested a nettle and shallot focaccia might be just the thing for a weekend brunch in the garden.