Gather your nettles while you may – the season is short.
Why on earth eat stinging nettles? Well, nettles rival spinach – and beat spinach, too – for easily-absorbed iron. A daily cup of nettles tea gives you energy and boosts hemoglobin – “nourishes the blood,” as old herbalists used to say. But that’s not the only reason to eat them. I like their singular, salty, dark taste, and my favorite way to savor it is in soup. A handful of dried nettles give an umami boost to all kinds of soups. But when they’re fresh and tender, which in Israel happens during our brief winter, that’s when to put up a pot of nettles soup, enriched with leeks and thickened with a little rice or potato.
It’s a very old-fashioned dish. In fact, eating nettles is an old-fashioned thing to do. But folks knew to appreciate the benefit of springtime greens once, especially after a long, cold winter when the only vegetables on offer were the cabbages and root vegetables carefully stored in the cellar. Come the season, everyone was already craving greens, and wild greens were out there for the taking. Today, we buy all the greens we want in local markets. But many of those vegetables come with a long carbon footprint trailing behind them, having been trucked or airfreighted over. Why not view nettles, and other wild edibles that sprout in gardens and empty lots, as the delicious green food that they are? It doesn’t hurt either that they cost nothing – only a few minutes to harvest them.
Granted, it takes a little wisdom to forage nettles without getting stung much. (To learn how to harvest those fabulous weeds, read About Nettles.) But the sting goes out of them when they’re cooked or dried. You know the good feeling when a stranger turns out to be reliable and trustworthy? You can rely on nettles to deliver health and flavor, every time.