By Erin Hill
How to harvest nettles, as documented by two Friends of the Farms Board Members at the M&E Property on Bainbridge Island in March of this year, 2019:
Before she was stung in the leg by a nettle…
Gird thy loins. And ankles. And wrists. And basically any exposed skin, or even skin covered with light clothing. Just, be impenetrable. Long sleeves and pants are a good place to start.
Grab some gloves. No, not those. Not those either. Full on plastic or latex gloves are best. Yup, the ones from your kitchen sink that reach to your elbows.
And scissors! Grab those too. And a bag. OK now you’re set.
Find some nettles. Check near water, or disturbed edges. Public farmland is a great place to start (and nettle hunting is a great excuse to visit!).
Unsure what a nettle looks like? Take off your shoes and roll up your pant legs and stroll through the verge! You’ll quickly know it by sight. (Or just check out Wikipedia)
Using the aforementioned scissors, cut off the top 2 or 3 whorls of leaves, snipping the stem between nodes. Drop in your bag. The remaining plant will continue to grow, sending out new leaves, able to survive and return next season.
Bring a friend! Or your kids! Nothing says cherished memories like rubbing fern leaves on your sweet child’s leg while reassuring her that nettle sting doesn’t last forever.
Bribe said child with ice cream if she’ll just smile and hold this nettle up near her face so we can get some good shots for the newsletter... But not that close! Careful! OK! That’s good.
Retreat carefully, since now that you stop to look there are nettles all around you.
Take your hard-earned treasure home and feast!
Revel in your well cemented status as a Pacific Northwesterner, giddy and joyful at the emergence of nettles, grateful for the return of spring, and contented knowing your sustainable harvesting ensures a steady supply for years to come.
Enjoyable ways to consume nettles include, but are certainly not limited to: pesto; tea; blanched and seasoned with olive oil and salt; a filling for lasagna; stuffed into enchiladas; anywhere you’d use spinach or other tender greens.
Nettle Pesto Sauce
A sack full of fresh nettles (approx. 10 cups loosely packed)
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
*2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
(* for freezing pesto sauce, see note below)
Blanch the nettles in boiling water for approx. 1 min, then move to an ice water bath. They should be bright green. Be daring! Grab a handful and squeeze out the water, praying the whole time that you really cooked them enough to take out their sting.
Put squeezed out nettles, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt into blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Add Parmesan cheese and pulse to combine.
*For freezing pesto sauce:
Blend all ingredients above except cheese. After putting sauce in freezing container (8 oz freezer jars work nicely), carefully pour in just enough additional olive oil to completely cover the surface. This will prevent air contact which will turn the pesto very dark. Do not add Parmesan cheese before freezing.
When ready to use frozen sauce, defrost in a bowl of hot water or at room temperature. Add Parmesan cheese and mix. If necessary, thin slightly with hot water from boiling pasta.
-adapted from Rebecca Slattery of Persephone Farms’ Basil Pesto Recipe