Gather Ye Nettles While Ye May, or, if you are a Permaculture person feeling inspired by the Design Principles, “Catch and Store Energy: Make Hay While the Sun Shines.”
When you look around, especially in Britain, nettles grow wild, inspiring a thousand culinary uses as a free vegetable. March, April, early May are the best months for gathering, before the plants grow too big and minerals crystallise in the leaves, causing potential kidney issues. (Of course, you can “manage” a patch to keep the tips young and soft.) There are so many things I want to cook with them, but I also have a love for nettles as a herb, and so forage as much as I can in early spring for use throughout the year.
I just go out with scissors and snip the tops into a bowl or bag. I might use gloves if I didn’t enjoy the pleasure of the sting. I put them in a large bowl and toss them around in the open air until they are fully dried, then they go into a jar. Maybe there are more official ways to dry herbs; for nettles in spring, this seems to work. (Not so for Nettle Seeds in autumn– one’s i’ve gathered have always gotten mould before being fully dry, maybe because of the moisture content. On my to-do list to figure out.)
Nettle tea: Here’s a list of potential health benefits. I drink a cup of nettle tea every night before bed, because I find it delicious and relaxing. I throw a few leaves into soup stocks. And last year, I made some Nettle Salt, and plan more for this year.
The idea occurred to me reading the 101 Cookbooks instruction for Celery Salt . I’d been given a load of slightly sad celery and decided to use the leaves for this. So easy– basically dry the leaves in a slow oven, crumble, and combine with an equal quantity of sea salt. I could have added Kale, anything green really. Vegetable Salts, why not? The celery stems, fibrous and aged, I fermented, for a kind of soup stock– I will re-enact this for a blog at a future date. And in fact, one could use these kind of salts in one’s lacto-fermenting; they are pretty much all-purpose, and mineral rich.
The idea for Nettle Salt just occurred right there and then, and I made it with nettles I’d gathered and dried for tea.
Really nice at the table, but somehow especially simple and poetic on a hard boiled egg. Or on popcorn.
So under a blue sky on this spring day, my children happily occupied, with only a million other more important, in fact urgent, work-related tasks to accomplish, off I go to gather my nettle tops while I may, to catch and store (herbal) energy while the sun shines, from untended, abundant edges.