Tuesday, 7 December 2010

FORAGING FOOD: Stinging Nettle

The Stinging Nettle or Common Nettle in Great Britain is the only common stinging plant. They are famous for there hollow stinging hairs on its leaves and stems that inject histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation. Growing to 1 to 2m tall in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter. The leaves are green and soft, and grow 3 to 15cm long with a strongly serrated edge. It grows small greenish or brownish flowers.
Only pick for the tender new growth at the top of the plant in the early spring when all of the plant growth is new. This is when they are at their best for eating. Wash thoroughly, then sweat down the nettles in a pan with a knob of butter for about 4 mins. Drain them, (the liquid that comes off could be drunk as a nettle tea). They are ready for adding to soup, risotto's, salads and whatever takes your fancy.
Stinging nettle has a flavour similar to spinach when cooked and is rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Soaking nettles in water or cooking will remove the stinging chemicals from the plant, which allows them to be handled and eaten without incidence of stinging. When Stinging Nettle start to flower and seed, the leaves develop gritty particles called "cystoliths", which can irritate the urinary tract. Stinging Nettles contain up to 25% protein, dry weight. The young leaves are edible and make a very good pot-herb. The leaves and flowers can be dried to make a tea.
Nettle cordial can be made largely from a refined sugar and water solution flavoured with the leaves of the nettle. Versions of a nettle cordial recipe can be traced back to Roman times. There are also many recipes for alcoholic nettle beer in the U.K.
Other uses for the nettle are its stems. When peeled they can be used as a cord or wound into rope. In ancient times this cord along with pine resin was used for attaching flights to arrow shafts.
For treating the itching that the sting produces try rubbing with either horsetail, dock leaves, Jewelweed, the underside of a fern, mud, saliva, baking soda, oil or raw onions.
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