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Nettle Lore

Island Epicure

The nettle plant is really your friend. It’s tasty and nutritious. When it stings you, it’s only trying to save its own life long enough to produce seeds and extend its genes through another nettle generation. So never strip a nettle patch completely. The nettle plants know that grazing animals, like us, regard it as an excellent, and free, vegetable. It’s stings ward off deer, but not us. We wear rubber gloves. Cloth gloves can be penetrated with the stingers.

For nettle hunting, take along a paper bag. Bend the tender tops of nettle plants over your open bag and snip them off with scissors, untouched by bare hands. If you get stung anyway, seek some dock leaves; they grow near nettles. Mash them and apply the juice to the red spots the stings raise on your skin.

Dump the nettles into a large pan or basin and fill it at least half full of water. Using tongs, swish the nettles to rid them of any dust. Drain.

Cosmetically, a wash with nettle infused water is said to improve the complexion and add sparkle to the eyes. I’d be sure to bring those nettles to a boil, and then cool them before removing the nettle leaves and trying this beauty treatment. Another use is to make a hair lotion by boiling nettles and vinegar together.

Medically, nettles used to be applied as a counter-irritant to rheumatism. The afflicted person presented the aching joints to be whipped with whole nettle plants. We suppose the pain of the nettle stings took away the arthritic person’s awareness of the original pain. Nettles are said to also be anti-asthmatic.

Nettle seeds were once used as antidotes for the bites of poisonous snakes and spiders. They may have been ground into a paste and applied to the bite, but I have no recipe for that.

Lucky for us, the virulence of those stingers disappears when nettle leaves are cooked or dried.  You can steam them or boil them and serve with a dash of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of vinegar as hot side dish. You can also cook them with other veggies to create nourishing soups.

The soup recipe below is a good way to use up leftover cooked rice or noodles. For a vegan soup, substitute 5 cups vegetable stock for the condensed broth and water.

    Nettle Soup
Makes 6 servings
4 cups nettle tops
2 thin carrots, thinly sliced
2 small potatoes, diced, optional
2 cans Campbell’s condensed chicken broth
3 cups water
Dash Chipotle salt or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
Cooked rice or noodles, optional
Bring all the ingredients to a boil. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

Serve as is, or pour hot soup over cooked rice or noodles. If choosing to serve with rice or noodles, you may want to omit the potatoes, though potatoes contain ‘resistant’ starch which digests very slowly.