• Jonathan Till

Nothing compares to you (nettles)

Acai berry, Avocado, Kale.......All good but nothing compares to the nettle

As a kid I would play along the banks of streams and creeks where I would in inevitably run through a patch of nettles. The stinging and itching were unlike anything else. Ahhhh to be a kid again. I bet you've felt it to and wondered "what can a plant like that be good for?" Well, the answer is a lot!

In the early part of the spring (February in the DC area where I'm at) you'll find this type of nettle growing along streams, creeks, lakes and weedy forgotten places. When they're young the stinging hairs, located mostly on the underside and stem, are small and don't pose much harm. As they get older the hairs harden and the hollow hairs loaded with formic acid and other painful wonders stand at attention ready to mildly irritate any passerby (a little ice will help the pain BTW). Funny story, I once had a intern unknowingly pop a couple of these into her mouth raw....she came running out of the walk-in tears streaming down her face, looked me in the eyes and with 100% sincerity ask "am I gonna die?!" Oh The joys of being an intern in the culinary world, and no she didn't die.

So, how do you eat these if they are annoyingly painful? Not to worry, blanching, grilling or a simple blow torch will take care of this. Heat destroys the hairs and toxins, and makes the plant truly delightful. Nettles have a list of vitamins and minerals in them A, B, C, Calcium, Potassium to list a few. Nettles have remarkable antioxidant properties, and have been proven to reduce inflammation and help relieve arthritis. There's study that suggest it lowers blood pressure and can help regulate in blood sugar control. And that's just to name a few.

So, knowing all this you maybe saying "yeah yeah, but what do the damn things taste like"! Beyond delicious! It's like spinach, artichoke and avocado had a leafy baby. The implements for nettles is just as about as endless as their benefits. Puree soups, tempura leaves, simply sauteed, or even brewed as a tea. I've even seen recipes that call for it to be dried and ground up and used as a flour.

I'd love to hear how you have used stinging nettles. If you haven't tried them yet, be adventurous! See if you can find some near you, or if nature isn't your thing, ask at a local farmers market. Chances are there's either some being sold there, or a farmer or forager there would be happy to get some for you. Happy Hunting!

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