A few years ago I was drumming with a number of women on the side of a mountain not far from where I live, at the home of a local herbalist. Outside her front door she had a patch of nettles growing, which she used in her tinctures. Familiar with nettles only as a dried medicinal tea for arthritis, or a rinse to make your hair shiny, I reached over to gently inspect them further, touching them ever so lightly.
Suddenly most of my hand was on fire – I looked around for the offending bee or wasp but it was not an insect – it was the plant that had stung me, and stung me good. Those hairy little needles beneath the leaves of the Stinging Nettle packed a punch filled with all sorts of irritating chemicals, including histamine and formic acid – the same stuff you find in ant and bee venom! I don’t know if my reaction was the typical reaction or not…..perhaps this happens to everyone. But it was nasty.
Despite washing my hand thoroughly, the burning agonizingly persisted. All day. And then into the night too, finally subsiding after about a full twenty-four hours. Nothing I applied to soothe the burning seemed to help. I decided my relationship with Nettles was not something I planned on continuing into the future.
Nettles grow all over, especially enjoying places where it is wet and damp; places like the northeast and the Pacific northwestern United States. They send rhizomes underground, spreading easily. I cannot imagine planting them in my yard. The thought of having to try and remove invasive nettles is an unsettling image to me. As I said, I disassociated myself from the nettle and that was that.
Flash forward a few years to just yesterday. I happened to stumble upon an event that was happening nearby, an “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Nettles” situation. Despite the nasty experience, for some reason this sort of piqued my interest. Perhaps it was time to Make Peace With The Nettle? Or to Overcome the Nettle. Or maybe even get Revenge On the Nettle for past insult? Or more productively, to see if the nettle could give me some relief from this very uncomfortable arthritis I have been experiencing. I don’t know what got into me, but without thinking much about it I made a split second decision to check out this nettle fest.
It was a little cold and damp, with occasional spritzes of rain happening when I arrived at a location that, ironically, was almost across the street from the home of The Ex-Husband (who would never attend a nettle situation, but still, I checked just in case). Donning gloves, I tromped up a hill following a number of potential nettle aficionados – surprisingly, some of which ended up being my neighbors – to inspect the nettle patch. For the next hour or more we stood there learning everything you ever had wondered, wanted to know or didn’t want to know about Urtica dioica, the Stinging Nettle. It seems if you are bold and bossy and just take firm hold of the nettle, it is less likely to sting you, but if you brush gently against it there is a good chance those hairs are going to sting. A rather passive-aggressive plant….
After this lengthy discourse, we harvested some nettles in order to bring them back into the kitchen to cook. Despite my gloved hands and my attempt at directness and boldness in addressing the nettle, those damn things stung me right through the gloves anyway, and I spent the rest of the day and night with my thumb on fire. Again.
Then began the preparation of the nettles, using a variety of recipes in order to prove just how versatile the nettle can be. It started out with nettle tea, followed by an addictive nettle/onion/mushroom soup. Moving on from that, indulgence in a nettle and garlic saute, some nettle and pignoli quiche, a bright shocky green nettle pesto with pasta, and nettle lasagna roll-ups.
The Big Question of course: Yes, once you blanch them – once they are immersed in hot water or cooked – the sting is gone and they are nothing but green, green, green nutrients and goodness. Blanched nettles are filled with Vitamin A, B vitamins and Vitamin K, high in calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese.
The Second Big Question: Is there an antidote for the sting of the nettle? Through discussion and net research, the suggestions – after thoroughly cleaning the affected area – include Aloe vera gel, a paste of baking soda, slathering on mud, or pressing leaves of the Yellow Dock plant or Jewel Weed onto the affected area. I put some chickweed salve on mine, which did not do much. However, when I woke up this morning, the sting had abated.
Following the clean-up of this whirlwind of gastronomical creating, there was a final discussion about making nettle tinctures. By this time I was very tired and ready to call it a day.
Some people went out into the rain to take home a few intact nettle plants with their roots in order to start them at home. Definitely not interested in introducing the nettles into my own yard, at that point I came home with a bag of nettle tops I had gathered – and quickly got to work brewing up some tea. And making some yummy nettle pesto, which I will have with ravioli tonight. Because you see, I am craving nettles. I am sitting here typing this and craving nettles at the moment.
I supposed you could say I have made peace with the Stinging Nettle.