| May 12, 2005

Feature article,May 12, 2005

Feature article May 12, 2005

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Ah, Nettle, where is thy sting?

by Inie Platenius

Foraging for food makes you eat according to season, and eating seasonally connects you to the past. It wasnt that long ago that come the end of March, people in our climate were salivating at the thought of any fresh vegetable, and the appearance of edible greens was surely a special cause for celebration. The rich taste of fresh wild greens trumpets the presence of important nutrients that had slowly leached out of the settlers winter diets. People eagerly sought the burgeoning plants, and no spring green is richer in taste and in vitamins than the common nettle. Vitamins C, E and beta carotene (a vitamin A precursor), as well as a number of minerals, enrich the nettle leaf. In fact, nettles are still a part of European spring celebrations from Lapland to the south. In Ireland, theyre even a special feature at Beltane, the first of May celebration. On this continent, our first nations used nettles more as a fibre and a medicine.


Ah, but what about the sting? In each stiff little leaf hair lies an ingenious hypodermic mechanism that injects a cocktail of chemicals guaranteed to deliver a painful payload. It is said that a vigorous rub with burdock or rhubarb leaf can ease the pain, but Ive found that only time alleviates the full shock of a nettle sting. Fortunately for our spring cravings, the stinging stuff is de-activated by heat. So, put on your rubber gloves and find a good nettle patch for a tasty and nutritious spring treat. You can sautthem, puree them, quiche-ify them or do anything else that you would do with spinach (except the raw salad part), but my very favourite nettle meal is a rich soup.

Pick only the small tops of young spring nettles. Older nettles or summer nettles wont hurt you, but they pack a bit of a punch, and theyre stringy. Wash them thoroughly and strip the leaves from the toughest of the stems (which make wonderful compost). This recipe uses only ingredients that were available to a settler in late winter.

Cream of Nettle Soup

2-3 Tbsp. butter or olive oil

1 medium to large onion, chopped

12 15 small wild leeks, chopped

1 large potato, peeled & sliced

2-3 cups nettles, washed and firmly packed

5-6 cups chicken broth

1 2 Tbsp. sherry

-1 cup 18% cream

Pinch of nutmeg

Melt the butter and/or oil in a heavy pot. Add onion and leeks (if you have them) and begin to saut Add potato and continue to sauttill onion is translucent. (This sweetens the taste.) Add the washed nettle leaves and chicken broth and simmer till nettles are very tender. Potato will be cooked. Puree and return to the pot. Add cream, sherry and nutmeg and heat to not quite boiling. Serve with good bread, and toast the spring. Oh, and while youre at it, toast the people who lived here before you, for whom nettle was the first taste of healthy green after a long winter without fresh vitamins.

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