Green Hands

22nd January 2013

There is not much showing its self above the snow that’s usable today, but as mentioned before there are clues to where to start looking once the snow is gone, and one of the most easily found and identified are these;-

Stinging Nettles Urtica dioica

Old dead Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica stems.

This is probably one of our most familiar wild plants, I doubt there is anyone over the age of 5 who can’t identify them, but they are also one of our most underrated. There are so many uses for this humble plant including; plant feed, treating arthritis and beign prostate enlargement, fibres for clothing and cordage, food plant for several butterfly species, not to mention its edible uses. For a comprehensive list of all the uses for Nettles, I strongly recommend the book “101 Uses for Stinging Nettles” by Piers Warren.

The best time to use nettles as a food is in early spring, as it is the young growing tips that are used before the plant starts to flower. There is often a second crop of nettle growth that appears in autumn and of course by repeated harvesting or cutting back it is possible to encourage new growth throughout the summer.

Leaves from the mature plant aren’t recommended as they contain calcium carbonate crystals which can irritate both the digestive tract and the kidneys.

Nettles are an amazing source of vitamins and minerals. They contain vitamins C, B1, B2, E and K as well as the minerals aluminium. bromine, calcium, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iron, magnesium, manganese, nickel, silicon, sulphur and zinc and so were often consumed as a spring tonic replenishing the bodies supplies of vitamins and minerals after the lack during winter. Chickweed Stellaria media,which we haven’t talked about yet contains the complimentary vitamins online pharmacy A,B6, B12 and D and the mineral phosphorus to if you add a bit of this to nettle dishes you will have virtually a complete complement of vitamins and minerals.

When you come across the young spring shoots they can be frozen for use later in the year, simply blanch in boiling water to break down the stinging hairs and neutralise the formic acid, drain and cool then store in freezer bags.

The downside with picking nettles is of course getting stung. We all get taught at school to rub a dock leaf on the sting, but actually there are several plants that seem to work better than dock leaves.

Cleavers Gallium aparine , Common Mallow Malva sylvestris and particularly Greater Plantain Plantago major or Ribwort Plantain P. lanceolata are much more effective or if you are brave enough the juice of Nettles themselves work well.

Whatever you use, you need to extract the juice from the plant and apply that rather than simply rub a leaf on. I always make the mistake on our foraging courses of starting with stinging nettles as a gentle introduction as everyone is familiar with it. This inevitably leads to a discussion about treating Nettle stings and at that point I demonstrate how to treat them with Cleavers or Plantain and as a result have bright green hands for the remainder of the day… day I’ll remember!

Kev Palmer

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