Mahalia Freed, ND
I live in the city.
10 minutes by public transit and I am in the downtown core. There is a highway very close to my house. And also, there are green spaces, and there are wild plants. Medicinal, weedy, wild plants. The blessing of using medicine from the earth, the beauty of it, is that the medicines we need are very often right in our (metaphorical) backyards.
Today I harvested wild nettles. I truly love nettles. They are not only a medicine I prescribe often – for everything from seasonal allergies to low iron – but they are delicious and nutritious as food. Allergic to spring pollens? Nettle tea to the rescue! Pregnant? Nourish with nettles! Gathering this particular weed, then, brings me great joy.
By their sting, nettles teach us to be fully present, fully aware of our bodies in space. If your mind wanders, and your shirtsleeve doesn’t entirely cover your forearm, nettle will bring you back with a sting that lasts and lasts. I was reminded. Thank you, nettle. If you are thinking about gathering nettles yourself: wear long sleeves, long pants, and gardening gloves, and make sure to pull the gloves up over your sleeves!
Because I was harvesting near home in a well-used public park, I happily engaged in quite a bit of impromptu herbal education. I answered people’s friendly queries as to why I was choosing to pick a stinging weed with musings on potential recipes I could choose for dinner, and I expanded on some of nettle’s uses in addressing inflammation, seasonal allergies, pregnancy, and more. I learned from one woman passing by that she grew up eating nettles in India (different species, same idea), and another couple paused their workout to tell me about a raw nettle eating competition in England (don’t do it. Remember, it stings!)
Wildcrafting guidelines teach that one should never harvest things that are endangered or rare in the area in question. Pick plants that grow abundantly, and then take no more than 30% of the stand in that place. But please, harvest only what you will use. Depending on the plant, a little may go a long way. Lucky for me and the other urban harvesters, nettle is prolific. I harvested nearly the maximum I could fit in my bike’s panniers, which in this patch was maybe 2%.
While in the past I have preferred to dry herbs spread out on a screen, our current space doesn’t allow for this. Hanging herbs in bunches is another easy, reliable way to dry them in any (indoor, ventilated) space. I strung some twine across the bay window in my treatment room, and tied bunches of 5-9 stalks across it. When that row was full, I moved onto the hallway.
Gather any loose leaves and put them aside for dinner. If the loose leaves don’t add up to enough for your pesto or soup or frittata or sauté plans, keep some stalks aside. Wearing your gloves (you always wear gloves when handling raw nettles!), grasp the stalk near the top and strip off the leaves from top to bottom. They should come off easily this way. Strip as many stalks as you & your crisper drawer need. If you aren’t using them all right away, store fresh nettles in the fridge in a plastic bag, like most produce.
Wild Nettle Pesto with Rice Linguini
- ~5 cups fresh raw nettles
- 2-4 cloves raw garlic, finely chopped or pressed (4 was intensely garlicky)
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup walnuts or pine nuts (or sunflower seeds or almonds)
- 1 tsp celtic sea salt, or to taste
- juice of ½ a lemon
- Pasta of choice (I used organic brown rice “linguini-style” noodles, and made enough for two generous servings of pasta. We have pesto leftover)
Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Wearing gloves, add your nettles to the water to blanch them. Simmer 1-3 minutes, then remove and drain off excess water. Reserve the nettle-blanching water to cook the pasta. Add pasta to the boiling water. While pasta is cooking, roughly chop your squeezed out nettles and measure them. You should have about 2 cups now. If not, adjust other ingredients as needed. Dump nettles into a food processor along with pressed garlic, olive oil, sea salt and nuts/seeds. Process until smooth-ish. Add lemon juice and process again. Taste it. Isn’t it delicious? Adjust seasonings as desired. I ran out of olive oil so I increased the nuts, and then had to add salt to balance out the bitterness in the walnuts. Delicious results, though!
Dump cooked, drained pasta into a big bowl, and toss with pesto to generously coat. Add more pesto. People never use enough pesto.
Top with whatever you fancy and have on hand.
My choice today: chopped leftover grilled organic chicken breast and sliced sundried tomatoes. Would also work with other leftover meat, grilled veggies, marinated tofu.
I gathered weeds instead of going grocery shopping today, and I had a delightful day. I highly recommend taking a week-day afternoon off from your to-do list, and getting to know a local weed. And your neighbours 🙂