I can hear my mother’s voice in my head, tinged with a little exasperation, “we don’t eat weeds.” I smile to myself. My mother was on a constant battle to discourage my grandmother from picking dandelions and other foragables from their suburban lot and sneaking them in to the dinner pot. Considering their varying approaches to “landscape management” that was probably wise, but I’m fond of saying, ‘I am my grandmother’s daughter.’
I’ve known that nettles grow wild in the Pacific Northwest, but counted myself somewhat lucky that I’d never discovered them unintentionally in my years as a child camper. I didn’t know what one looked like as a result and was a little disappointed as an adult to still not be able to recognize one since they were supposed to be both edible and medicinal. This one was discovered on accident.
It had started growing in the flower garden under the bedroom windows on the back of the house. It had shot up next to a volunter, and much unwanted, salmon berry this spring and I had been dismissing both of them for some time, assuming it to be one berry plant, because I didn’t want to pull up the thorny intruder with out my leather work gloves. This weekend, as I was weeding the garden near by, my friend pulled it up. He threw it in to the pile of brush and starting dancing about as he announced that it was not a berry and was actually a stinging nettle. I immediately started plotting as I smiled at my mother’s voice ringing in my ears, “we don’t eat weeds.”
I harvested all of the leaves and threw as many as would fit in to the dehydrator for tea or other future purposes. I simmered the remaining large pile and put them in to the freezer to use in place of spinach. I let the remaining liquid cool and funneled it in to as many empty wine bottles as necessary to use as a hair rinse.
The sting of the nettle is formic acid which is what also lends the sting to bees and ants. It causes quite a reaction, but appears to be largely superficial. Heat breaks down the formic acid removing the sting from the nettle. They are reportedly full of Vitamin A and C as well as good at fixing nitrogen. They are a sign of well fertilized and disturbed soil so it came as little surprise to me to find it near the eaves where the chickens often trek around the outside of the house.