Eating Weeds with Steffi

Guest Blog by Steffi Wehner

After attending one of her fabulous Zero Waste lectures at our local food coop, Siobhan and I thought it would be fun to write a guest entry for the other’s blog. A travel writer by trade, I wondered what unique knowledge, whimsical idea or interesting philosophy I could bring to One Glass Jar. I’m a card holding member of four food coops. I deeply care about the environment and where my food comes from. We got serious this year about our single plastics use. Whoop-de-doo, not all that unique, whimsical or interesting. But wait I forage. Isn’t that the ultimate zero waste way to obtain food?

My Mom, me in her backpack and my cousin running about, Bavaria, 1970

My mother grew up in the woods of Bavaria, the third oldest of fifteen children, after the end of WWII. There was never enough to eat. She supplemented the bread and sugar from the food bank with the wild things around her to feed her sisters. To this day, she can go into a field or forest any time of the year and come back with dinner. Mushrooms, fruit, berries and nuts, herbs, roots and the rejuvenating water of birches in Spring. She instilled in me to eat by the rhythm of the seasons and a deep believe, that our bodies need the bitter herbs in Spring to start the year properly and colorful berries in Fall to get ready for Winter.

Her way to eat and cook echoes through me decades later and 8,000 miles away from the Bavarian woods, when I bring two bags on every walk, one for trash and one for treasures. Treasures can be pretty stones, feathers, shells or boletes, salmon berries or sea asparagus. My treasures can also be weeds, invasive either because they aren’t from here or we as a society find them undesirable, like the Himalayan Blackberry or Dandelions. Today I’ll share my favorite of those invasive weeds: the Stinging Nettle.

From my German Wild Herb Guide

BEFORE YOU GO

Before you collect anything wild you are going to eat, be absolutely sure, the area has not been treated with herbicides or pesticides. Roadsides, rail road banks and parks are often sprayed and you can get very sick. Apropos of sick, any herein mentioned health benefits are my personal opinions and observations and are not intended to substitute any medical advice.

The common nettle, Urtica Dioica, emerges on the forest edge, along streams and in fields in early Spring. Originally from Europe, it was used as a healing and culinary herb since ancient times. The nettle’s leaves are rich in vitamin A, C and E, iron, potassium, manganese and calcium, as well as having blood cleaning and detoxing properties.

HARVEST

Harvest nettles in Spring and early Summer, by picking the top quarter of the plant. According to my mama, the healing properties of the plant are lost after it blooms. Bring gloves or cloths to avoid getting stung. Just like all leafy greens, you’ll need a bunch to make a dish or tea. I make sure I don’t accidentally harvest any grass, bugs or dirt, that way I can avoid the extra step of washing them, while they still sting.

PREPARATION
Bring a pot of water to boil and, using your gloves or cloths, transfer the nettles, stems and all, into the pot. Within seconds the leaves will lose their sting.

NETTLE TEA
Turn stove off, cover your pot and let sit for 15 minutes. Add honey to taste. Drink warm or cold as a kidney and bladder remedy, for gastrointestinal issues or as a blood cleanse in Spring.

NETTLE PESTO
Remove two cups of nettles from boiling water after a brief blanch. Dry well and throw in food processor with:

½ cup of walnuts
Juice of two lemons and some zest
½ cup of grated Parmesan
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
4 gloves of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Serve over pasta or with crackers.

NETTLE-POTATO-CREAM-SOUP
Remove two cups of nettles from boiling water after a brief blanch, set aside. Sautee in a soup pot:

1 onion
3 gloves of garlic

Add the nettles
2 cups of nettle water
1 bay leaf
4 large, peeled, quartered potatoes

When potatoes are soft, throw mixture in the food processor. Bring soup back up to temp after adding cream or coconut milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. This soup freezes well.

SKIN & HAIR REMEDY
Unsweetened nettle tea is a splendid skin tonic for oily or blemished skin. It strengthens hair, helps with dandruff and hair loss and makes hair more shiny.

So next time you see a patch of nettles, think of my sweet Mama and get harvesting, yes?

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