Recently, I've been very interested in foraging for wild edible plants. The Pacific Northwest is really a forager's mecca and I've only just begun my venture into the world of wild edibles. There are wild berries, mushrooms, bitter greens like dandelions and chickweed, medicinal greens like nettles, plus countless others.
I recently read an article about how wild and heirloom variety plants have an incredible amount of health benefits, exorbitantly more than the typical varieties of produce you see in a grocery store. The reason for this is because our modern-day produce has been bred to taste good, ship well, last long, and look pleasing to the eye. This breeding process to help produce these "desirable traits" comes at a cost. And that cost is nutrition. For example, wild berries picked from a bush in the woods contain up to 37 times the amount of antioxidants per gram of fresh weight as compared to the typical blueberries you'd find in a plastic carton at the grocery store (source). Wild dandelions, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, which we consider a “superfood.” A purple potato native to Peru has 28 times more cancer-fighting anthocyanins than common russet potatoes. One species of apple has a staggering 100 times more phytonutrients than the Golden Delicious displayed in our supermarkets (source: New York Times). It's crazy, right?!
So what's a girl to do when she lives in the Pacific Northwest, land of the wild edibles? Go foraging of course! This time around, I found myself some dandelion greens, chickweed, salmonberries, and nettles. Lots and lots of nettles. And I'm here to tell you about the amazing health benefits of these stinging little greens.Nettles really are powerful. Just type in a search in Google about the health benefits of nettles and you've got information for days.They are considered blood builders and are an amazing source of iron and vitamin K, making them wonderful for those suffering with low iron levels (hello vegetarian women and pregnant ladies!). Nettles are incredibly cleansing and detoxifying and help the liver and kidneys excrete metabolic wastes. They are used to treat joint pain, and many people with arthritis and fibromyalgia have reported decreased pain with the use of stinging nettles. Nettles are also a wonderful way to fight seasonal allergies. I for one have had zero problems with allergies since I've started consuming nettles regularly, and that's saying a lot for me! The list of benefits literally goes on and on, from skin and hair benefits, to helping those suffering with an enlarged prostate, to neurological disorders! I recommend this article for even more great information on nettles, if you're interested.
When handling nettles, be sure to use gloves, or else you'll be stuck with stinging fingers for quite awhile. And it really really hurts! (yeah, I may have handled some nettles with my bare hands...bad idea) Lightly steaming or blanching them will deactivate the stingers. I've also heard that blending them up raw in smoothies and pesto will deactivate the stingers, as well, so I'm going to try that next. You can even make nettle tinctures or dehydrate the nettles and use them in their dried form. Here, I make the fresh leaves into a dark green infusion that's just bursting with health benefits. Surprisingly, the flavor is quite mild and pleasant. It's very "green" tasting, but I actually really enjoy it.
Stinging Nettle Infusion
2-3 cups of fresh nettles, rinsed
4-5 cups boiling water
1. Put the nettles in the pitcher. Pout boiling water over them and stir. Let sit for as long as you want. The longer you let it sit, the stronger (and darker) it will become. I let mine sit overnight. Then, strain the liquid into a mug and drink as often as you want.
Note:To get even more out of your nettles, you may blend the water and nettles in a blender for a few seconds and then strain off the liquid. Your tea will be even darker.
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