If you think that gathering stinging nettles is not your cup of tea, I really hope to change your mind. Nettles are one of the first things that can be foraged, at the first sign of spring, and they are extremely plentiful. Stinging nettle has a long list of health-enhancing properties, and is good for eating, drinking, and use as a medicinal tonic (both internally and externally.) The stems of the plant have also traditionally been used for making fibers– twine and linen-like materials. And to think that we generally regard them as weeds!We hadn’t gone to gather anything for a long time– since we had ventured into our neighbor-woods and came home with baskets full of elderberries (which we turned into elderberry wine!) After a couple days of mild weather, we thought that maybe there might be some nettle making their appearance nearby. We all grabbed thick gloves, scissors or clippers, bags and baskets, and headed out to our nearby greenways. I really wondered if we might be too early, but it was nice to get out for a walk, and the end of winter has such a unique beauty. Plus, it’s always exciting to spot some of the first signs of spring!
There were nettles growing back, after all. At first, I was a little unsure, since there were so many varieties growing together. I did a quick google search to make sure that everything was nettle, and of course did the old sting test on myself as well. Sure enough! We’ve all been stung by nettles before, and it does really hurt. Amelia has become an expert at identifying them. I had stopped to point them out to her many times last year, but it wasn’t until she put her face into a bunch to smell them that she really developed an eye for the plant! No problems ever since, as you might imagine! We were all gloved and wearing long sleeves, so besides my voluntary test and a couple other minor pricks, no one got hurt.
We were good foragers, and only snipped the tops off of about 10% of each section we found. It took a long time to gather the amount we were after, but it couldn’t have been more pleasant!
There was so much to see, all within a mile from our house (and yes, we live inside a city!)
There were clusters of snowdrops, warty tree trunks, and algae-coated swamps…
I loved seeing the remains of last summer’s bounty…
And watching my two favorite people hunt for food.
After a couple of hours, we realized that we would, indeed, have enough nettles for making beer!
As if having two bags stuffed full of nettles wasn’t enough, we had a wonderful visit with a flock of very friendly sheep on our way home. I think they wanted some of our bounty.
We weighed our haul when we got home, and it was almost a kilogram. That is a really good amount! Stings were minimal, and we all had such a relaxing afternoon. I started the process for making Nettle Beer as soon as we got home, and it’s bubbling away in a demijohn nearby as I type this. I’ll write up a full post on how to make it in about a week or so, when I have the finished product. (Update: It turned out great, and now you can read about Making Wild Nettles Beer.)