I only recently discovered that Stinging Nettles grow in Southwestern British Columbia (not that I’d honestly given it any thought before). Last summer while visiting a friend’s farm in Fort Langley they spied some on the side of their country road and pointed them out to us. My friend explained that they make an excellent and nutritious tea when dried, and you can prepare them as you would spinach or kale (they lose their potent sting when cooked). Apparently they are packed with vitamins and other good stuff.
Recently, a discussion on my fave parenting board included the harvesting and preparation of Nettles. It was around that time that I happened to go on a walk through our property and noticed some plants growing in abundance in a certain section of the woods. Could it be?…I went home, did a Google Image search, and then went back out to that spot. Yup, we’ve got Nettles. Quite a large crop of them, in fact. It’s a good thing we bought this place during the colder season – I can only imagine how painful the discovery would have been were we not clad in long pants and high rubber boots!
And so, very excited, I perused my favorite Soup Book to find a recipe. They had one for traditional nettle soup but I was out of potatoes and hoping not to have to go into town before lunchtime. Instead I found a recipe for Spinach and Rice soup that uses arborio rice. I had all the ingredients and so I excitedly headed out to collect them (after watching this YouTube video for instructions). I didn’t have a paper grocery bag so I used an empty Club Pack box of cereal.
It took me only about 5 minutes to fill the box. I started harvesting the smaller plants (about 6″ tall) and then did some bigger ones thinking I would hang them to dry as I’d seen on this YouTube video. When I got back I began to trim the leaves off the stems and place them in my weighing bowl. The recipe called for 1.5 pounds of spinach, which translates to 680 grams. As the pile grew higher I was dismayed to see that I wasn’t getting close to this amount. I ended up using my tall plants and still only had about 250 grams when done. But wow, it sure seemed like a lot of greens, even though I knew they shrink when cooked down.
Well, I wasn’t going to go back out and it sure seemed like plenty so I kept going. I rinsed the leaves then placed them in a pan with some salt and cooked over medium heat until they wilted. I needed to do two batches there were so many, but they did shrink down just like spinach does. I noticed the smell was interesting, sort of reminded me of the smell of the forest after it rains. I was curious to know what they would taste like, and fascinated that something which I had to handle with rubber gloves was going to become a tasty dish.
I chopped the cooked greens and continued with the simple recipe. When it came time to add the greens I realized that yes, indeed, I had waaaaay too much! I thought about this afterwards and wondered if maybe I should have included the stalks in the weight. Regardless, I’ve made a note to halve the amount next time. Despite this, the soup was tasty and I decided it was true what I’d read, that they taste like a milder version of spinach. Sometimes when spinach is cooked (especially when overcooked) it gets a strong smell/flavour that turns me off. That flavour was absent in this dish. I have to say that the thrill of eating something I had just picked less than an hour ago really added to the dining experience. I didn’t expect to be harvesting vegetables just yet – and I didn’t even have to plant or weed them! I plan to go out and harvest some more and dry them so I can use them after they are no longer in season. Apparently they are only good when young, in the Spring. Once they have flowers they are no good to eat (some sites say they are mildly hepatotoxic at this stage). Since they are so prolific I might as well “make hay while the sun shines”, then I’ll have a jar of dried nettles to add to soups and other recipes when I am out of fresh greens, or when winter comes. Hooray for Nettles!