Saturday, November 7, 2009

Getting Nettled

It’s not what you think. But yes, it's a drug.

You can’t quite see them, but I am holding thousands of tiny hypodermic syringes poised to protect one of my favorite foods from, well, foragers like me. Among many other things, Urtica, stinging nettles, make excellent ravioli and delicious soup. Favoring the spring at the bottom of our property, rains and cooler weather bring it out in the spring and autumn, free for the taking. I just have to be careful when I pick it.

Whenever I see stinging nettles I also make sure to note where this plant grows. We call it curly dock in the States. The two are almost always found near each other. Which is handy if you happen to get an unasked-for injection. The oxalic acid in it neutralizes nettle venom.

Ever since I learned this trick camping as a Boy Scout, I've tried to "be prepared" and know where the dock is when nettles come into view. This has come in handy for me around the world. For instance, that time last spring when Sally waded inadvertently into our nettle patch in shorts. She said her legs were on fire. I get a kick out of how rubbing a woman's legs with weeds can cause her to swoon with relief and utter the phrase “my hero.”

Considered a noxious weed by the US Department of Agriculture, stinging nettles are the highest plant food source of iron there is, and they deliver 40% protein, very high for any leafy green. Their taste (after boiling to remove the irritant) is somewhere in the spinach range, but greener, herbier, weedier. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “A weed is just a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Spinach was a weed once, too.

Did I say nettles are a drug? They have anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory qualities, among others. But above that, they are the reason your Mama said "eat your greens." They are just plain good for you. Isn’t food an excellent drug?

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