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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Eat Your Greens and Like It

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica), a herbaceous perennial found almost worldwide, has earned itself a bad reputation among some people due to a lack of understanding and respect for the plant. Discovering nettles the hard way, by unwittingly brushing up against the stinging little hairs, certainly won't leave a good lasting impression. But once one learns the plant's value and proper ways of handling it, it can become a medicinal and vegetable dish favorite. 

The leaves and stems are covered with brittle, hollow, silky hairs that contain three chemicals, a histimine that irritates skin, acetylcholine which causes the burning feeling and serotonin. The stingers are deactivated by cooking, steeping, or drying, but not by juicing.

Nettles are a foraging favorite for those seeking out the nourishing spring greens. They cannot be eaten raw, but used in tea form or cooked like spinach, you can just taste the green energy. For health purposes, nettles are known as a kidney and adrenal ally, great for removing toxins from the blood, reducing inflammation, help with eczema, and are a traditional food for people with allergies. According to "Wildman" Steve Brill, this natural source of green energy is good for rebuilding the system of chronically ill people. Many of the benefits are due to the plant's very high levels of minerals, amino acids and they're 10 percent protein, more than any other vegetable. When skin and hair are a problem, nettles come to the rescue to restore balance and vitality.

To gather nettles, you must wear long pants and uses gloves to touch them so avoid the nasty sings. Best when gathered while tender and young, April and May are the best months to cut and harvest the plant. After they flower, the leaves may be bad for the kidneys. By that time wait till fall when new nettles may come up before being killed off by frost.

As with most greens, they cook down a great deal, so you need to cut a good quantity for most recipes. Gather in bulk (cut and toss into one of those circular, collapsable, mesh hampers), use what you need for your recipe and dry the rest for tea.

This recipe was borrowed from Matt and Betsy who have the very informative site: DIY Natural. 

(makes 2 - 3 servings)

Gather 8 cups fresh stinging nettles, rinse and chop into smaller pieces
  (wear gloves when handling nettles and use tongs to rinse them)
1/2 cup spring onions
2 - 3 crushed garlic cloves
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp bacon fat
  (Bacon adds a great taste to greens. Fry bacon and save for another time or use bacon in this recipe in place of the ham)
1/2 cup ham cubes (optional)
1 cup noodles, uncooked
salt, pepper, additional garlic powder to taste
freshly grated parmesan cheese

Boil water and cook the noodles. Strain, add a little olive oil to prevent sticking, and set aside.
Melt butter and bacon fat in large skillet. Over medium heat, saute onions and garlic gloves until soft (add garlic after onions are half cooked to avoid burning them)
Using tongs, carefully add nettles to skillet with onions and garlic and saute until cooked down.
Add ham, if desired, and noodles. Toss together to combine.
Season with salt, pepper and additional garlic powder if desired and top with parmesan cheese.


Next time you are feeling run down or miserable with spring allergies, think of this delicious dish as an idea for dinner. Follow with an energy restoring cup of hot nettle tea.