Spring is in the air... Let the foraging commence
One of our children, who affectionately calls me "Plant Man", asked what my favourite herb was the other day. It didn't take long to reply with this wonderful little plant, Nettle (Urtica Dioica). It brings tears and some swelling to children everywhere, perhaps a few profanities from adults and is generally regarded as a nusience weed. It is amazingly overlooked as a food-source that grows in abundance to many during that all too important period in the year when there is little else to use on the veg patch.
Nettle is full of vitamins, cholorphyll, proteins and minerals, can be used as a food staple, used to make dyes, make the most wonderful tonics to support good health and even be converted into fabric as an alternative to hemp or linen. For those into brewing you can also endulge in some nettle beer. It is a perfect spring time beverage, light and fresh yet full of goodness. Nettle's use has perhaps fallen to the wayside since the war-time yet there is much to be said about this free, abundant and local food source. Lady birds and aphids understand this and perhaps we would do well to listen. Ask any organic gardener worthy of such a title and they will all say nettle is one of the most important organic fertilizers to them.
Nettle works on the kidneys and mucous membranes, helping to remove excess and bring about balance. It is a diuretic, anti-inflammatory and a galactagogue. It is full of flavanoids (which are anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative), carotenes, Vitamins C, B & K. There are traces of calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus and potassium, making this a much cheaper alternative to things such as spirulina. Nettle also has one of those unusual reputations as a blood cleanser, making it a wonderful herb to use for people with skin problems.
Those treacherous stingy trichomes contain Acetyl choline & histamines and serotonin. This is why people with Arthritis can be seen running their hands over some nettles. The temporary pain of the sting brings with it anti-inflammatory properties and the feel-good factor of the seratonin. Sting yourself too much though and you will be unable to sleep!
Nettles are a boost to the system to help us get up and going on those cold mornings but they are more than that. They are also an important part of many herbalists medicine cabinet as Hay-fever season approaches. Nettle has been used for hundreds of years for its anti-allergy effect. How does it work? Well nettles inhibit both the action and production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (such as TNF) which are released by cells and influence immune system response. The impact of nettle however is mild and it is usually used in conjunction with other herbs such as eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) and Elder (Sambucus Niger). It should also be taken for a few weeks before allergy season commences for best effect.
Nettle seeds have recently been studied as a means of restoring the kidney's and adrenal glands whilst the roots appear to be useful as hair tonics and prostatic problems.
If you would like to find out more about some of the research into nettle you can check it out here.
That's enough of the why... onto the how I use nettle.
Truthfully, our nettles could have been harvested last month but as we were launching the business and completing exams it got pushed back a bit. Still, in just a few short minutes I managed to harvest some well fertilised nettles (thank you ducks!) to fill a carrier bag - enough to make a big pot of soup and fill the dehydrator for some of our anti-histamine teas. Actually Nettle features quite a lot in most of our spring teas as it is such a wonderful nutritional tonic for this time of year. You will find it in our following tea blends: Strength, Revival, Tov, Awete,
To make Nettle Soup you will need.
Directions couldn't be simpler. Melt the butter and saute onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes. Add a potato and carrot for another few minutes. Add the veg stock and simmer for 10 mins before adding the nettle. I add the nettles quite late as over-cooking them will break down some of the nutrients. Simmer for a further 5 minutes and then blend.
For variations you could add some wild mushrooms, add some spices or a dollop of creme fraiche. Non Shaw and Christopher Headley recommend using mallow leaves in nettle soup as the nettles themselves can be a little drying. I confess I haven't yet tried this.
The photo of the soup below is of a Keto Bread Carla is currently working on. Details of it to follow shortly.
Nettle & Cleavers De-tox
The best way to consume Nettle at this time of year is fresh. That way you get to preserve all the nutrients from the plant. An easy de-tox recipe is to blend fresh nettle leaves and fresh cleavers into a smoothie. A wonderful tonic and immune booster for this time of year. The use of cleavers is a wonderful way to clear toxins from the body quickly and especially useful when fasting as it helps prevent the headache.
Crush enough fresh nettle and cleavers to fill a pan and cover with cold water. Allow to steep overnight. Strain and drink over the next few days.
And for those of you who like the idea of fermenting. I can do no better than the wonderful John Wright of River Cottage.