Saturday, June 6, 2009

Put the Mettle to the Nettle (Urtica Dioica)

It's early in the morning and I've had little sleep, so I thought I'd extol the virtues of the wondrous Stinging Nettle, considering the title of this blog. A blue jay landed just inches from me on the fire escape, so I will take that as a sign of good things to come.

The title of my blog has as much to do with my love of the way certain words sound when linked together, as it does with my fascination of those things in nature that are prickly, and full of burs, and sting us, but are so benevolent in their healing powers. The way we react to these things speaks volumes. To me a fresh patch of dandelion in early spring is a gratis feast for foraging granted by Nature. To the average American, it is something to which one applies copious amounts of Roundup--something to be eradicated at first sight-- a sad testament to how woefully detached we've become from Nature. I say this without blame. I only express gratitude that I have learned a better way and can pursue the healing gifts that Nature has perfected.

And after all, all is not lost. We are coming around slowly but surely. Last week at the farmer's market, there was one sad little wilted bunch of Stinging Nettle left for me. (I was super late as always). I was a little bummed, but on the other hand, so pleased that their plentiful supply of that wild and cantankerous weed had been snatched up by people who had received information, opened their minds.

As I myself am feeling a bit cantankerous this morning, and not a little lazy, I thought why not take a nice shortcut and steal wholeheartedly from my dear friend Sacha Jones. She just wrote a fantastic and very thorough post on the Stinging Nettle, aka
Urtica Dioica, in her Stiggly Holistics newsletter and posted my recipe for a very simple Nettle-icious soup to boot that I in turn, took from some of my lovely neighbors and fellow countrywomen who were so pleased that the beloved nettles they foraged and ate so often in Armenia were available here! I brought them a few bunches from the market.
Anyway, I don't think Sacha will mind--at least I hope not...

PS: I had to add in that after I wrote this, I went out for a stroll and passed a pretty house with a gorgeous bloom of pink roses. I stopped to sniff of course (always time to smell the roses), and then I see the owner of the house (I presume), hunched over a teeny tiny sliver of weed making its way into the world from a crack in the sidewalk. She was armed with a gigantic container of Roundup, squinting furiously and pointing the nozzle with all the concentration of a scientist in the lab . It was true irony, indeed!

Stinging Nettle as the name suggests, will sting you if not handled with care, but please don't be afraid of them nettle- they are so very nutritious and delicious that it's a very good idea to get some from the market or if you have some growing in your garden or field, to pick yourself some (wearing gloves) and take advantage of this delicious weed! I would also suggest foraging for it, but be aware that many people spray this "pesky" weed, so be sure to check out where you are foraging. I was lucky enough while visiting Britain to have some tasty young nettles from my lovely sister Toni's field, growing from a nutritious horse manure pile. (Oh you city people I know you're turning up your nose, but really, it's so good for the garden and produced a fine batch of nettles!) What's so good about nettles? Nettles make a wonderful tonic for your kidneys and liver, strengthen your bones, enrich your blood, afford relief from seasonal allergies/hay-fever, thicken your hair, are good for hyperglycemia, help reduce blood sugar levels, and can help improve high blood pressure. Nettles help build energy and are great for women during menstruation, pregnancy and just before and after giving birth - and help to build a healthy reproductive system, as well as immune boosting in general. They are rich in chlorophyll, vitamins A & B, calcium, iron, potassium, silicon, magnesium, zinc and a whole lot more goodies. (Sources: Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal and Rebecca Wood's The New Whole Foods Encylopedia). To me, nettles are a staple herb, and I like to drink nettle tea all year round (from the dried plant) but love it especcially when the fresh leaf is available. You can make nettle tea, nettle soup, nettle pesto, nettle omelette, or sautee it with garlic and eat on it's own - or place on top of a lovely ricotta or camembert cheese and whole grain bagette! (recipe below:) How to: If you are picking your own, please be sure to wear rubber gloves and put them in a sting-proof bag. I get mine back in NYC from Berried Treasure at Union Square farmer's market (Wednesdays and Fridays). I hold the stem through the bag, and run under the tap to rinse, then use a pair of scissors to cut the leaves into a bowl. I then use the scissors to cut up the leaves. If you have gloves it's much easier! Boil the kettle and pour boiled water over the nettles. After a minute or so they are no longer stingy. I leave mine to steep for at least an hour, often 2-3 hours to make a really dark green, almost black brew to drink, and then sautee the greens as above. Eat in the way you like best - there are lots of nettle recipes on line, or try one of my suggestions. Drink the tea, warm or cold, it's so fresh and springy-tasting and very good for you. Don't be afraid, just be careful. When the fresh ones are no longer in season, check out Mountain Rose Herbs for dry nettles, to make a daily healing tonic. Other uses: Use the stems and very wilted leaves to make a hair/face/bath tonic. As with the tea, pour boiled water over and leave to steep for a good long while 'til nice and dark. Strain out and keep in a bottle - it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. Use as a hair rinse, pour some in your tub or use as a lovely facial toner!
Nettle Recipes!
Cha Cha Delight
This recipe was inspired in the Farmer's Market yesterday by my delightful friend Cha Cha, aka Linda. I was describing my passion for stinging nettle and my life-long interest in them, and how I like to cook them in olive oil and lots of sliced or chunky garlic, and she suggested then putting those atop toast and camembert. This is what I made myself for lunch, and I could not stop smiling!
What you need:
Boiled water
Olive Oil or Garlic Butter
Really good baguette (I used organic whole multi grain from Bread Alone)
Camembert or Ricotta or some soft cheese of your liking from a grass-fed cow or sheep dairy (I used Ronnybrook's* but I also suggest Hawthorne Valley's Bianca)
Sea salt and black pepper
What you do:
Boil the kettle
Carefully cut your nettle leaves into a large bowl
Pour boiled water over the nettles, leave to steep (about 20 minutes)
Chunky-style chop or slice your garlic
Cut the baguette in half length-wise and toast
Strain the nettles, keeping the "tea" to drink
Sautee your garlic in the olive oil or butter and toss in the nettles for a few moments
Spread the delicious cheese over the baguette
Top with garlicky nettles
Put on a plate
Sit down, smile, breathe, look at your food, have gratitude for your food, chew well, enjoy this meal, make it last for ages. Do not eat in front of the computer or television - be with your meal. Be grateful for the cows, the sun, the rain, the farmers, the bakers, and Mama Nature. This meal would best be enjoyed with a friend but if that's not possible, at least tell your friends all about your experience.
*Ronnybrook's Camembert is super runny, more like yogurt really - be sure to have it on a plate before cutting into it, and if you are having it for a picnic, have friends to share it or a sealable container to take it home.... be prepared for lip smacking, finger licking deliciousness! And as with all well-crafted soft chees, make sure they are out of the fridge for several hours before you want to eat.

Arousiak's Nettle-icious Soup
My lovely friend Arousiak is a fan of foraging and all things spring, and this is her recipe for a simple nettle soup that is so flavourful and easy to make. It's great for left-overs too, in fact I think I like it better on the second day, so make lots of it.
What you need:nettle soup
One Big Onion
Olive Oil
Bunch of Nettles
Sea Salt and Black Pepper
What you do:
I don't want to change anything about Arousiak's recipe so here are her own words:
"Nettle Soup: SUPER easy. I used one bunch of nettles. Scissored them into the colander to wash. Then i sauteed half of a really huge gigantic onion, so that would be one large --for quite a long time on very low heat with olive oil. Threw in about 4 diced fingerling potatoes, so that would probably be one large or two medium taters. Sautee those with onion for just a few seconds. Then four cloves garlic, salt, pepper, then the nettles (in fairly large scissored pieces), cover with water, bring to boil, cover with lid, simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until it looks ready and the nettles are tender. The nettles are so flavorful, you really need nothing. Then ladle into bowl, add a little pinch of salt and a good squeeze of lemon. Enjoy. A handful of lentils in there might be nice too, but try to resist the urge to add too many things."
Stiggly note: I did add a small shaving of pecorino on mine and used sweet potatoes instead of fingerlings because that's what we had in the house, and on day two threw in some left over brown rice to make a really hearty breakfast on a rainy day.