Spring has finally arrived, and you are enjoying a lovely walk along
the creek. Suddenly, something stings your ankle! No, its not a wasp,
its the stinging nettle plant, known to botanists as Urtica dioica.
But before you curse this common weed, you should know that it is one
of the most nutrient dense foods available. Nettle greens are a rich
source of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, cobalt, copper, potassium,
trace minerals, chlorophyll, the B-complex vitamins, and more.
Not only are the greens incredibly good for you, they are delicious
too. I harvest the tender tops from the time they first appear in spring
through mid-summer when they begin to set flowers. To avoid the sting,
gloves are recommended! Luckily, they lose their sting when cooked.
Cooking nettle greens is easy. Just substitute in any recipe that calls
for spinach or other fresh greens. Or steam them for about ten minutes
or until they are tender, and serve with a dash of tamari and vinegar.
Save the broth, its yummy and filled with nutrients.
If you choose to eat wild nettle greens, you'll benefit from the many
medicinal properties of this amazing plant. Nettles are a tonic for
the kidney, adrenal, and thyroid glands, so they can help increase and
stabilize energy levels. Used regularly for several months, they can
prevent hay fever and other allergies.
Because of their dense concentration of minerals and amino acids, Nettles
help to build healthy bones, hair, skin, and teeth, as well as being
an excellent tonic for pregnant, lactating, and menopausal women.
If you haven't been lucky enough to stumble on a patch of nettle this
spring, don't worrythey're easy to find! This plant loves to grow
in rich, moist soil. In Asheville I find them most often along the French
Broad River and its tributaries. (UNCA has a great patch on campus.)
Nettle looks like a big mint, although it is unrelated to that family.
It is best identified by small stinging hairs covering the leaves and
stem, opposed serrated leaves, and a deeply grooved stem. It also grows
in patches(some rather large), so it is rare to find a single plant.
While you're out foraging for your Nettles, you might find some Chickweed
(Stellaria media). Like Nettles, Chickweed is an extremely common
weed that comes out with the first warm weather. It is packed with nutrients,
including significant amounts of calcium, iron, copper, magnesium, zinc,
chlorophyll, protein, and vitamin A. It loves cool weather, so the best
growing seasons for this plant are spring and fall, although I can usually
find it all winter long! It retreats as soon as the heat of summer comes
on. Anyone who has ever gardened has surely encountered chickweed. It
is a low growing plant with small diamond shaped leaves. The flowers
look like tiny white stars, with five deeply divided petals.
It grows in a dense green mat. Long before the lettuce and spinach
in the garden are ready to harvest, the Chickweed is full grown and
begs to be eaten. My favorite way to prepare Chickweed is simple-make
a salad! Eat it on its own, or combine with other greens. It is always
a welcome burst of life after a long winter without fresh cut greens.
The taste is sweet and mild, like lettuce. Chickweed stimulates and
refreshes the lymphatic system, another good reason to eat lots of it
after a sluggish winter.
A springtime feast wouldn't be complete without Dandelion greens. Although
in America the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has gotten a
bad reputation, this isn't true everywhere. In France, beds of the prized
bitter delicacy are planted right outside the kitchen of many homes.
My Italian grandfather sent his five children out to pick dandelion
greens as soon as they appeared in the spring. In America we rarely
eat bitter foods, although sadly we are missing out on a secret many
Europeans still know. Bitter foods tone and stimulate the entire digestive
Eating Dandelion greens, even just a few, with your meal will encourage
your stomach to produce hydrochloric acid, your liver to produce enzymes,
your gallbladder to produce bile, and your intestines to step up peristalsis.
The whole digestive process is assisted, and as a result we are able
to assimilate more nutrients from our food, and problems like gas and
constipation are decreased. Dandy is a potent liver tonic and rejuvenator,
prized as a spring tonic by many cultures. Several leaves a day will
go far in helping you make a healthy transition into the springtime.
Worth eating for their nutritional value alone, the greens are extraordinarily
high in Vitamins A and C, potassium, and calcium. They are also high
in iron, phosphorous, and the b-complex, as well as other trace minerals.
Tasty both fresh and cooked, try adding a chopped handful to your salad
and put some in with your other steamed greens. I like to cook them
with sweet foods that help cut the bitterness, like onions, squash,
and garlic. Surprisingly, without their telltale yellow flower dandelion
plants can be hard to identify in early spring. The best key is that
their toothed leaves have no hair at all, unlike their look alikes.
And remember- the flowers are edible too!
Celebrate the new season by going out to gather some wild foods. By
eating what is abundantly offered from the Earth you will feel more
connected to the place you live in. The deep nourishment in edible weeds
will help you feel more alive and energetic. Best of all, you¹ll
enjoy the delights of being outdoors among the wild plants.
Recipe - Nettle Shitake Stir fry
Ingredients: One bag fresh Nettle tops, half an onion, several
handfuls fresh shitake mushrooms
Directions: Sauté onion in olive oil until soft. add thinly
sliced shitakes and sauté several minutes. add nettle greens,
along with several dashes of tamari and a few tablespoons of water (just
enough to keep it from scorching). simmer about 10 minutes.
Created by Jessica Godino, 2002
Jessica Godino has been teaching people about herbal medicine for almost two decades. After training with Susun Weed she co-founded Red Moon Herbs, an herbal medicine company. Her deep love for the plants and easygoing teaching style makes learning about herbal medicine accessible to everyone. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she practices acupuncture and teaches herbal medicine. She can be reached at http://www.fourflameshealing.com/.
Other Articles by Jessica Godino include:
Wildcrafting Guidelines - ten
steps to follow
Calendula - useful on all external
Usnea - a versatile immune
Violet - a nutritional and
Hawthorn - a gentle but powerful
tonic for the heart
Vitex - a
supreme hormonal tonic for women