First Foraged Food: Stinging Nettles
About a month ago, I took my first foraged walk with the intentions of finding plant food in the wild. As I strolled quietly with my eyes alert in a large, heavily wooded city park I started noticing vast patches of stinging nettles, they had yet to go to flower. I donned my leather gloves, unfurled my paper bag, grab the shears out of my back pocket and went to work gathering the top 6-8″ of the plant.
As a child playing in the 5 acre woods that enveloped our A-frame home I had numerous run in’s with the common stinging nettle. Often times my exposed legs or arms would come under siege by the stinging hairs of this plant. The itching usually waned into some bumps and welts that eventually passed a few days later. The sting was really nothing more than an annoyance. I only mention this story as it is a reminder of why I’d chosen to eat them. One, I can easily 100%, without a doubt, identify these plants. There are no opportunities for me to miss identify them. Two, in some odd way I think of it as me overcoming their defense mechanism and ultimately winning a battle. Lastly, they are a true superfood loaded with vast nutrients that are good for our bodies and best of all they are free—both in cost and from pesticides.
According to Wikipedia, stinging nettles have a flavor similar to spinach and cucumber when cooked and are rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. In its peak season, stinging nettles contain up to 25% protein, dry weight, which is high for a leafy green vegetable. In a Livestrong article:
A 1-cup serving of blanched stinging nettles contains 37 calories and 0.1 g of fat. One cup contains 6.6 g of carbohydrates and 2.4 g of protein. Including stinging nettles in your diet gives you a huge boost in vitamin A. A 1-cup serving contains 1,790 IU of this vitamin, nearly three times the amount you need in a single day. Vitamin D works with calcium to strengthen your teeth and bones, although its main role in the body is to normalize the amount of calcium and phosphorus in your bloodstream. Your body is able to store extra vitamin A, so the additional vitamins you consume are not wasted. Stinging nettles also serve as an excellent source of vitamin K, a vitamin your body requires for blood clotting. Each 1-cup portion contains 369 to 493 percent of the daily recommended intake. Like vitamin D, your body can store vitamin K for later use.
Over this past weekend, I took Hank Shaw’s recipe from his book Hunt, Gather, Cook and his blog to morph into my own. I created the nettle dough, but since I lack a pasta machine, I hand rolled out sheets and then tried to evenly space apart ricotta and spicy Italian sausage filling for ravioli’s. I put the second sheet on top, pressed the edges together, and adhered the dough between the rows to create the pillows. Then utilizing one of my pizza cutters I cut along the edges and in-between the rows to form individual raviolis. I boiled them up and tossed in some of my homemade, backyard pesto from last season’s garden. All in all this meal’s ingredients were pretty damn local. The salt for the flour was seawater that last summer I had boiled down, the nettles I had foraged from Seattle only 25 miles away, the eggs came from a local farmer, so as for the pasta dough only the actual flour wasn’t sourced locally. I’m challenging myself to find it local though and I think I know of a place up north. The basil in the pesto was from my garden while the pine nuts and olive oil where not. Lastly the garnished tomatoes, we’re organic, but not local.
I’m very proud of this meal and am aware of every ingredient that I put into it and ultimately what I consumed for my body. This mindful meal was, albeit time consuming, was so richly rewarding.