Thursday, October 13, 2011

Getting Nettled

       Nettled? My dictionary says this means being irritated, or arousing a sharp but transitory anger.This works for me. I can't begin to count the number of times I've been innocently pulling weeds or harvesting veggies, and been attacked by this vicious plant.
        Okay, it's just a plant. Plants aren't vicious; they just are. But still....
        The stinging nettle grows everywhere on our farm, often to a height of six feet or more. For a time I was merciless about ripping it out and tossing it on the compost pile. Actually, this is an excellent place to toss it, as its high nitrogen content aides composting. But I've mended my ways. Stinging nettle is a genuinely useful plant to have around.

Dried nettle, no longer stinging.
       First of all, it's food.  When my kids were young and game about experimenting with wild edibles, I cooked up a potful, boiling it like spinach. Cooking destroys the stinging properties. The kids ate it so it must have been reasonably tasty. I suppose I tasted it too at the time, but the experience must not have made much of an impression on me. I can envision eating it now in a quiche. First growth in the spring, to about ten inches, is supposed to be best for human consumption. Can't you imagine pioneers watching for this after a hard winter, eager for the first greens since the previous fall?
       The entire plant is used to make a soft gray green dye.  It has cosmetic applications and is said to stimulate hair growth. The stems provide a flax-like fiber for making fabric. It's rich in iron and useful in low-salt diets.
       But the main reason I hesitate to get rid of all of it, is that dried nettle is an excellent winter addition to stock feed. Wearing gloves and a long-sleeved shirt, I've gathered several bushels of nettle leaves, dried them in our commercial-sized drier, and buzzed them into powder in my Vita Mix. It makes a very fine powder; so fine that I let it settle for several minutes before I very carefully decant it. Half a bushel grinds down to only two cups or so. Seems like a lot of work for little product to me too.
       If you plan to gather stinging nettles for any reason, keep in mind that bruised dock rubbed on the sting serves as an antidote. And if you don't already have enough of this wonderful plant on your property, you can order seeds and plants from Richters Herb and Vegetable Catalogue.  Really.


No comments:

Post a Comment