It’s nice to get that first taste of spring. In our case that means nettles which are popping up everywhere. They seem to like the edges of things, shady spots where it’s damp. We have them on the wood line, along the edge of snowberries and peaking out from under blackberry patches. They pop up around the old woodshed and at the base of an old alder snag. I don’t mind getting stung believing that it is somehow healthy. On the other hand, I don’t encourage the stinging and wear a glove as I snip the tops into a colander.
Surprisingly, we have some White Russian Kale that survived the winter. After each freeze the kale drooped sadly on the stem only to pop up as the weather warmed. Some leaves were freeze damaged but the four plants remaining have lots of nice, tasty leaves. A 50/50 mix of kale and nettles is very satisfying. We’ve had it six nights in a row. We’ll no doubt eat it many more nights. It’s hard to beat getting free food and food from the garden.
Most of us think nettles are something to avoid because of their long-lasting sting caused by the tiny hairs on the leaf and stem. But avoiding nettles is your loss. They have medicinal benefits, can improve your soil by adding them to your compost and have uses you can’t even imagine. I didn’t know, for example, that nettles can be woven into cloth (the Germans harvested two thousand tons of wild nettles to weave uniforms during the World Wars). Herbalist Susan Weed tells you all about it here.
You can harvest nettles now and dry them for tea or make infusions for use later. Nettle infusions are supposed to be particularly helpful for women’s health. It’s good for men as well, used widely in Europe to treat prostate disorder.
The nettles are out there right now waiting to help, waiting to feed us, waiting to enrich the compost pile. Free for the picking. Making use of the nettle, even for one meal, can put you in closer touch with the island, helping you to recognize that there is much we don’t know, much we’ve forgotten and much more to learn about the place where we live.