Monday, 8 March 2010

A different kind of spring tonic

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

This time of year, the first greens of spring are always welcome. Winter greens can be heavy and tiresome, most growing since last fall and then simmering through winter, a welcome respite for sure, but not the same as the first tender shoots that spring brings.

The much maligned Stinging Nettle Urtica diocia is one of those greens. High in vitamins and minerals, it is a very useful wild plant to know instead of fear. With a high chlorophyll content it is useful in smoothies, teas, & concoctions.

But for this post, I'll just share a recipe for pesto made with nettles. Healthy fresh food almost anyone will eat. Sometimes the people who will benefit the most from a brilliant green smoothie are the first to turn up their nose at something they perceive is BAD, like a stinging nettle. Pesto goes down a little easier... . And with spring still really a ways off, and summer even farther - it will be a long time before cilantro or basil pesto is on the menu.

Stinging Nettle is a perennial, so its roots can uptake heavy metals and pollution, so if you don't have nettles at home and are foraging, make sure to stay away from roadsides, areas with industrial pollution or conventional farming tracts. Here in our area, stinging nettle is associated with the "clover of the woods," Red Alder Alnus rubra. Stinging nettle loves the nitrogen rich soil around the alder, lacking an alder patch, areas on farmland where there is a high concentration of old manure is a good place to look too.

Using gloves to harvest will protect you from the sting of the hairs, and until the plant blooms, the sting is usually just a mild irritant anyway.

Like any other green, nettles really cook down, but a good armful is plenty for a batch of pesto. Especially if you decide you don't like it. Select tender young tops, leaving some behind for another harvest. Today I harvested the top six inches of the plants I found, leaving behind four inches or so to re-sprout.

We make pesto out of lots of greens and herbs, mixing and matching with what's available at the time.

Basic Pesto 1 cup

4 - 6 garlic cloves
4 Tablespoons lightly roasted nuts
4 - 5 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup greens (after cooking for nettles)
Salt to taste
Olive oil to taste - 1/4 cup or so depending on desired consistency

Nettles need to be blanched to remove the sting from the hairs on the leaves and stems. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add salt, bring back to boil, add nettles using tongs. Blanch for a minute or two until bright green, remove from water and plunge nettles in cold water to stop the cooking process.

Drain in a colander, *reserving juice, wring out the nettles to release all the water. You can do this with a towel, or you can just use your hands.

*Optional: To steel yourself for serving nettles at the dinner table and maybe lying about it, hold your nose and drink the reserved juice.
Just kidding, it has a salty, medicinal taste, not too bad really, and remember, its good for you, so bottoms up!

If you're a foodie, get out your mortar and pestle and get pounding, but if you're pressed for time at dinner and still have to get the pasta mixed, so it can rest, I would say use your food processor, or even a knife works wonders.

My daughter whipped this up while I was doing kitchen clean-up. It took longer to roast the hazelnuts than it did to make the pesto. Truly a fast meal, made with items on hand. Delicious!

What do you think? Too far out there - or do you think this is something you would try?


Hathor's Bath said...

I'm a fan of spring nettle actually but too often they're sprayed here or who knows what they've managed to bring up into their stems due to most areas where they grow here being dumping grounds. I intend on gathering the first shoots of bramble (blackberry) on my property for teas and tinctures. Dandelion greens in salad work a treat as well as long as they're fresh-sprouted before setting their flower heads.

Good stuff!

Simple in France said...

I like it! I think it might still be too snowy around here to find new nettles, but I'll keep my eye out.

I think that this is food I could feed to other people--without even telling them it contained the nettles, so YES, I may try it at home.

I think it will go down easier than 'nettle soup.' Excellent idea.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Hathor's Bath, I'm lucky in the spray regard, I can harvest on my own property. The cows like the berry shoots too - right before calving, a tonic for them perhaps?

I have not seen the dandelions emerge yet, although the miner's lettuce is starting in the cover of the woods. After all our spring-like weather, we are getting snow this week.

Simple in France, it does go over a little better than nettle soup or tea. I like the spinach like flavor myself, but I haven't been able to get my family to eat nettles as a side dish. Adding garlic, nuts and oil seems to help :)

thesimplepoppy said...

I would definitely try this! It's a great idea and I've been thinking more and more of about food that can be "found" rather than bought or even grown. I drank nettle tea regularly during my pregnancies.

carolyn said...

Just eat them with a little bit of lemon juice or vinegar.....

Hayden said...

yep, I'll try it! Haven't seen nettles here yet, but I'd be surprised if they're not around somewhere. I'll keep my eyes open in the pastures.

and absolutely, I'll lie and serve them to guests if I get the chance!

cpcable said...

I first tried nettles when they showed up in my CSA box last spring. I think they're really great! I love them in pesto and also in creamy soups. Yum!

Susan said...

Yum- I am going to try this as soon as the nettles appear (we still have a foot and a half of snow on the ground.) We have plenty of nettles growing on our little farm and have enjoyed them stir-fried and layered in lasagna.

Diane@Peaceful Acres said...

I JUST ate some basil pesto for lunch...tasted like summer! Can't wait to try the nettle pesto when my nettles start growing again. I peaked in on them this morning and they're coming along. I haven't got any in the wild so I finally bought some plants last Fall. Nettles are an amazingly nourishing herb food!

Anonymous said...

I love nettles, and they're just appearing round here.
I initiated the family by making them into nettle gnocchi with tomato sauce.
Since then, we've had soup (tastes better than it smells) and nettles wherever you might have spinach- under the canneloni stuffed with a ragu type mixture with bechamel sauce, in an unlikely but rather tasty quick supper of cheese sauce with spinach/nettles/chard mixed in, topped with baked beans (very British!) and then mashed potato and then baked in the oven and with poached eggs for DD1 and I.
The rest of the family aren't keen on eating them au naturel, but then they're not keen on spinach as a side dish either.
I'll definitely try the pesto this year.

Hazel, UK

Laura said...

Our property is *awash* in nettles starting in early january. They grow four feet or more here, so I have to get out there early if I want to get the tender tops! I harvested three big grocery bags full a few weeks ago, blanched them, and froze the result in cup containers. I absolutely love nettles -- they have kind of a lobster-like aroma to me (no really).

Anonymous said...

no way!

Anonymous said...

no way!

Anonymous said...

no way!

Sustainable Eats said...

I have a bag of nettles in the fridge just foraged - how do you use them in smoothies? I was going to make soup but I have way more than I can use and like the smoothie idea so I can get some into my kids. Do you blanch then puree?

Sincerely, Emily said...

yes, I would try them. Yes, I would lie (I mean not tell the guests). I haven't been looking for them here, so will have to be on the look out for them. I sent this link to my mom. I know she would eat them - maybe already has. Might have to do this when I am visiting, since I know where they are at her house. Emily in So TX

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

The Simple Poppy, it's definitely a help to the pocketbook and takes the doldrums out of winter for sure to have fresh pesto!

Carolyn, good idea!

Hayden, if you don't have them wild, seed is pretty inexpensive - and chefs love them - I never had any trouble selling 20 - 25 pounds a week to the restaurants on our egg route.

cpcable, soup sounds good, they never seem to get that far here :)
Thanks for the link!

Susan, ooh sorry about the snow - soon nettles and spring will arrive. Lasagna sounds good!

Diane, I never have seen nettle plants for sale before :O But I suppose if the seeds are for sale, it makes sense. Well worth growing - an herb worth knowing.

Hazel, I like your idea of an "unlikely but tasty" supper - sounds delicious! The pesto works here for quick snacks in the middle of the day - with the nettles the pesto is quite a pick-me-up.

Anon - yes way!

Annette, I just juice them (no blanching) and freeze them in ice cube trays. One ice cube per smoothie adds quite a nutrition boost. I never have found them to sting this way, but you may try a small batch on yourself just to make sure. Most of the time, I make pesto out of the spring nettles, and then start gathering plants later (up until blooming) for drying. Dry bundles in a cool, dark place, when dry, strip leaves and store the leaf powder for teas, or adding to smoothies. Michael Moore in Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West recommends powdered nettle leaves in place of expensive, elusive origin food supplements.

Sincerely, Emily, you said it much better, I wouldn't really lie, but not reveal until dinner time, or if asked. My DH is the fussiest one here - he doesn't go out of his way to eat them, but doesn't mind them either :) I think to some people they carry such a stigma as a harmful weed - although they are very useful for composting and biodynamic farming too, besides being quite edible. I would rather gather nettles,than blackberries...

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...
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