Taking a Bite out of Stinging Nettles
“Nettles consume the phlegmatic superfluities which winter has left behind.” herbalist Nicholas Culpepper, 1653
Stinging nettles is probably the last thing on earth that is thought of as appetizing. Most people remember nettles in a not so fond way, having stumbled into a patch unwittingly. (BTW, the juice of nettles actually is the antidote to their sting. Amazing huh?) Yet nettles have been eaten and used medicinally for thousand of years. Romans soldiers planted them on the roads that they built throughout England and used them for sore muscles and food. The secret truth about nettles is that they are a superhero in the nutritional and medicinal department. Oh, and they taste pretty good too.
Everything about nettles is intense, their flavor, color, working with them, finding them, and their nutritional and medicinal content. Nettles contain more iron, hands down than any other plant. They are also a whooping 40% protein content and 100% of your daily dose of vitamin A. Nettles contain all the nutrients in those dark leafy greens your doctor has been telling you to eat, but on steroids.
Interestingly enough, nettles, which are only harvestable in the early spring, are the perfect tonic for winter aliments. They open up your air passages and clear your lungs, relieve achy joints and muscles, remove toxins from your blood, control diarrhea, help eliminate uric acid, and clear up your skin. By eating nettles or drinking the tea you can shake off winter and move into a healthy spring.
Unfortunately finding fresh nettles in the store is virtually impossible, but roll out your back door and you are bound to find them, particularly if you are bare footed. Nettles love the wet, temperate weather of the Pacific Northwest. Suit up in your blackberry gloves and long sleeved jacket to collect them. Take scissors and snip off the tender young tops of the plant. It is best to gather them in the early spring before they bloom or they become tough eating and rough on your kidneys.
Some local farmer’s markets have nettles for sale in the early spring, but I hear they sell out quickly. Mother Nature’s has dried nettles available. Dawn Shears, a local forager, can harvest nettles and sell them to you. Her phone number is 503-368-6096.
To disarm the little beasties, simply immerse them in boiling water for a few minutes and they are transformed into regular greens, ready to eat. You can make tea with them all year long by using dry nettles. Just seep two tablespoons of crushed dried nettles in hot water for a few minutes, strain and add lemon juice and honey. Tonic for the soul and body.
This beautiful frittata is the epitome of spring, highlighting the nettles with the eternal symbol of new life, the egg. Spinach may be substituted for the nettles.
Spring Nettle and Leek Frittata
1 teaspoon of olive oil
2 to 3 leeks thinly sliced
A produce bag full of nettles
1 cup of cooked potatoes, cubed
4 large eggs
4 large egg whites
1/3 cup of low fat milk
½ cup of low fat cottage cheese or ricotta
2 tablespoons of fresh minced basil or
1 teaspoon of dried basil
½ teaspoon of salt
A few cranks of pepper
½ cup of smoked cheddar
First off, start with disarming that bag of gremlin nettles. Set a pot of water on to boil, and while that is heating up, wash the nettles in a sink full of water, using tongs or gloves to handle them. When the water is boiling, plunge the nettles, kicking and screaming into the water and let boil for 2 minutes or so, till bright green and limp. Drain the nettles, and pick the leaves off the stems. (no gloves at this point) Squeeze the juice from the leaves into a container to drink later, (remember those aching joints?) and coarsely chop them and set aside in a medium bowl. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Get another bowl out and mix together the eggs, egg whites, milk, cottage cheese, basil, salt and pepper. Heat up a non-stick skillet on medium heat and add the oil, leeks and potatoes. Sauté for a few minutes till the fragrance makes your tummy growl and add the mixture to the bowl with the nettles. Stir the egg mixture into the nettle mixture.
Clean your skillet nice and shinny and spray with a wee bit of cooking spray, and heat it up on medium heat. Pour the nettle/egg mix into the skillet and roll it around a bit to get everything evenly distributed. Lower the heat to medium low and cook for several minutes until the eggs have set around the edges and the middle is firming up a bit. Sprinkle with the cheese and slide the pan into the oven, and turn on the broiler. Here’s the tricky part, watch the frittata carefully! You can burn it so easy here. When the top is set and golden brown remove from the oven, being careful not to grab the skillet handle without a hot pad. Turn the frittata onto a beautiful platter and serve with a salad. Happy Spring!