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Wildcrafting, Stinging Nettles

STINGING NETTLES urtica dioica

Known for their sting, you may already identify these plants as one your mother warned you to stay away from. Their tall slender stalks, reaching up to five feet, are covered in hollow hairs ending in a protective tip. Get too close, the tip will break and you’ll be injected with formic acid and histamines.

In young plants, the nettle’s leaves are small and heart-shaped. As the plant matures their leaves become long, toothed, and pointed. Male plants produce yellow and purple flowers, while females grow white and geen.

Nettles grow throughout North America and Europe, thriving in damp nitrogen rich soil. If they aren’t already in your backyard, you’ll surely find them nearby. I’ve spotted them along the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail, Whipple Creek Regional Park, and throughout Fisher’s Landing neighborhoods. (i)

Health benefits bestowed outweigh the sting 

Nutrients: iron, calcium, magnesium, protein, potassium, vitamins A, and vitamin c

Energetics: Neutral and nourishing

Properties: anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, diuretic, kidney tonic, mast cell stabilizer, mineralizer, and tonic.

Sources: Bulk Herb Store, Frontier Herbs, Mountain Rose Herbs, San Francisco Herb Company, Starwest Botanicals, Stony Mountain Botanicals

Wild Harvest: Bring gloves, scissors, and bag. Only take what you need and what you’ll use. Practice gratitude by thanking the earth for providing and the plant for giving it’s life to enhance yours. Traditionally one would leave a small sacrifice of berries, nuts, or tobacco at the base of the eldest plant. Do not consume after plant flowers, or if you are pregnant.

Hank Shaw’s NETTLE PESTO

Ingredients: 

  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 heaping tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp grated cheese (any hard cheese will do)
  • ½ to ⅔ cup blanched, chopped nettles
  • Salt
  • Olive oil (use the good stuff)
  1. Pesto is best made with a mortar and pestle, thus the name, which means “pound.” You can make this in a food processor, but it will not be the same. First add the toasted pine nuts and crush lightly — as they are roundish, they will jump out of your mortar if you get too vigorous. If you are using a processor, pulse a couple times.
  2. Add the garlic to the mortar, then pound it all enough so that the pieces don’t fly around. Add the salt, cheese and the nettles and commence pounding. Mash everything together, stirring with the pestle and mashing well so it is all fairly uniform. With a food processor, run the machine so everything combines, but isn’t a smooth paste. You want it with some texture.
  3. Start adding olive oil. How much? Depends on how you are using your pesto. If you are making a spread, maybe 2 tablespoons. If a pasta sauce, double that or more. Either way, you add 1 tablespoon at a time, pounding and stirring to incorporate it. If you are using the processor, drizzle it in a little at a time.

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