i’m not a fan of the name nettles, or evening stinging nettles. growing up in maryland, most of my swimming trips were thwarted by “sea nettles” the most common jellyfish, and a provider a pretty potent sting. since then i’ve experience the occasional nasty sting from stinging nettles (west coast nettles seem especially strong, making me actually break out in red bumps that persisted for a couple of weeks), and despite my initial frustration with the rather uncomfortable but memorable sensation i’ve come to respect them.
nettles don’t really look like that much, like a fleshy, green, yummy plant. maybe because it look so appetizing is why it needs such impressive defense. my first couple encounters with them were, painful ignorant, by which i mean i was ignorant of what they were, and was left with plenty of pain.
now that i know what they look like i know to steer clear of them without protection, and to always where gloves for when harvesting them.
with all this pain involved, why would anyone want to harvest these things?
because they are an amazing plant, and have numerous uses. starting with the garden, they are great addition to compost piles because of their high nitrogen levels, makes a good compost tea, and are in biodynamic preparation 504. nettles have also be used for making cloth and the leaves and roots as pigments. nettles also have a long history as an herbal, being promoted in many cultures and have long been used as a spring vegetable. as a vegetable they are extremely nutritious, full of vitamins and surprisingly high in protein.
all this makes for good reason for some urban foraging this last week. while i’m sure there are several places in detroit that nettles can be found, river rouge park is my go to, since they can be found in large amounts and its a fun place to visit. rouge park is located on the far west side of detroit, and bit off the beaten path. it doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of use, and the woods seem largely underutilized other than by those involved in paint ball wars as is evident by the makeshift forts to be found. there are some trails that people have created, but the areas along the river, on account of being a floodplain are pretty clear and easy to navigate, especially this time of year. huge amounts of garlic mustard cover the open spaces. within about twenty minutes s and i are able to collect a good amount of young tender nettles to take back with us.back at home i made bundles and took advantage of the windy weather hanging them out to dry for a day before bringing them inside to finish off in the dehydrator. i’ve taken nettle tea for some years to help with allergies, and while i have no idea if it helps, i enjoy a warm cup of the earthy herbal flavor they bring. i saved some nettle to cook up, as at least one batch of spring soup with nettles is needed each year. a brief dip in boiling water is all they need to rid them of their stinging ways (note the glove) and then drained and treated just like spinach which their flavor resembles. i strip the stems as they can have a strange sandy texture to them. the chopped nettles work in any thing that spinach would work well with, pasta, eggs, soup, or even a pesto made with them and the aforementioned garlic mustard. i added them to some chicken noodle soup. nettles like spinach quickly cook down to a whole lot, and my big batch didn’t go to far. i’m looking to grab a few more this week before it becomes too late, and the nettles are not all tender and yummy. what are your favorite spring time forages? where are your favorite place to forage in detroit?