Stinging nettle can be quite the nuisance during an afternoon hike through the Pacific Northwest. This weedy species loves to inhabit stream banks and open forests often growing in disturbed habitats forming thickets. The reason this plant can become a nuisance is because of the irritation it can cause your skin. The stinging nettle features many hollow hairs that grow from the stem called trichomes. The trichomes extend from glands containing formic acid which when broken will result in secretion that irritates the skin. The irritation can last up to a couple of days for some people depending on the exposure to nettle. A common forest remedy that is said to relieve the irritation is to rub the nettle sting with the underside of a fern. The sori from fern leaves is said to help soothe the itch. Most commonly bracken fern and sword fern are the native ferns that are often associated with this method. This temporary remedy tends to vary with people so just in case always remember to pack an anti-itch cream!
As annoying as the sting can be though nettle is known to be very nutritious! Nettle is high in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. When cooked the nettle has a similar flavor to spinach which has earned it the name Indian spinach. The robust taste of nettle makes it a fantastic substitute for any recipe that includes spinach, my personal favorites being pasta recipes. The best time to harvest nettle is in late March and April, the rule of thumb being that if a nettle plant has begun to flower then it is no good for harvesting. Leather gloves, long sleeves, and plastic bags are a must when headed out for a harvesting excursion. When preparing the nettle for cooking be sure to separate leaves from the stalk and let leaves sit in warm water for 10 minutes to rid them of their noxious itch. Using these tips you can make wholesome and healthy foods from plants grown right in the backyard! Bon Appétite!
“If they would drink nettles in March,
And eat mugwort in May,
So many fine maidens,
Would not go to clay.”