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MORAN: Yes, you can eat stinging nettles

March 29, 2017 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


Spring is officially here and the warmer weather brings with it a wave of new growth in the Okanagan Valley. I have been making a living as a forager for years now and this time of year I harvest various edible plants in the Central Okanagan. The most popular spring product is stinging nettles. That's right, the plants that you do not want to touch or fall into as a kid because their fine hairs will shoot some painful chemicals into your skin when lightly brushed against.

Because of their defensive nature, nettles must be handled carefully and cooked before consumption. They are popular with chefs and home cooks alike. Many of my customers also use them as a home remedy for anemia or allergies. Nettle tea is a classic and the most well known way to consume nettles, but after working with chefs I realized that they are perfect greens to cook.

Right now the season is very early for nettles. They are only a couple inches high off the ground and the entire plant can be harvested. Use gloves! Feel free to harvest as much as possible, they will grow back within a few days. Once they are taller only the tender tops are harvested. The season is over when they begin producing flowers and seeds. The chemistry of the plant changes when seeds are present and they will no longer be fit for consumption. Normally the seeds appear in early May but with the long winter and late spring this year they will be good to harvest for at least two weeks longer.

My first experience eating nettles was at a restaurant. The cooked nettles were blended and added to the dough of gnocchi. While at their current early stage of growth I prefer to sauté the dense shoots. Nettle tops are great on pizza, in a pasta sauce, a stir-fry or a creamy puree soup.

Making nettles a regular part of a seasonal and local diet can have many benefits. They are high in silica, which will strengthen teeth, bones, and joints. It is hard to find any food that has more iron than nettles. Also they are a natural detoxing herb, and very high in protein. I have had several senior citizens explain to me how nettles saved the lives of helpless people during World War Two by providing nutritionally complete food during periods of mass starvation in certain areas. They are prolific on disturbed ground so they would be some of the first growth after the land is damaged.

Nettles and other fresh wild greens surround us in April and May. Usually referred to as weeds and pests, they are able to improve our lives in countless different ways.

— Scott Moran is a local forager discovering his own path to food freedom.


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