Friday, April 29, 2022

Malicious, Magical, Green Leaves

When I was about six or seven I accidentally discovered one of the diabolical properties of stinging nettles. One minute I was laughing and chasing my big cousins. The next minute I was crying and stinging from my finger tips up to my elbows. I’d scrambled through a patch of something and I felt like I was on fire. My dad swept me up, threw me under cold water and consoled me that the burring would go away soon. An hour or two later all was fine and I could now identify those malicious, stinging, green leaves. I’ve done whatever I could to avoid them ever since.

Sixty years later I’m discovering the positive, magical properties of this multitalented plant.

When we moved to France I quickly noted that stinging nettle is everywhere. But, here it is not just along the roads and riverbanks, it’s in magazine articles, on the shelves at the organic stores, and in my neighbor’s plant gathering baskets.

As an invasive weed it still has a bad reputation. If you weed it comes back even stronger. If you crush it it stings. If you just let it go it takes over. However, here in France there is a lot of positive press about the almost magical virtues stored up in this one powerhouse herb.

Wandering the nearby nettle congested fields you come home with a basket full of nutritious greens loaded with—

Vitamins: A, C, and K

Minerals: calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium

Fats: linoleum acid, linolenic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, and oleic acid.

It’s free for the picking from spring until the end of summer. Some folks have learned the trick of stripping the leaves so they don’t sting. I haven’t mastered that move so I use gloves. Pick the top four to six leaves, wash in a basin of water with a drop or two of vinegar, and use right after picking as the leaves oxidize quickly. You can even plant it in a pot on your patio if you aren’t surrounded by it like we are.

In the kitchen you can cook up pesto, tarts, quiche, bruschetta, tea, caramel, or simply sautéed greens. In nutrition, 200 grams of stinging nettle can replace a steak. There’s a local cheese maker that has a nettle flavored cheese.

You can even chew the leaves raw if you roll them around between your fingers first. Three to four leaves have as much nutrients as an energy bar. Quite the handy snack while taking a hike.

I have read that you should consume nettle in moderation. Seems you can get too much of a good thing.

There’s more! Let’s move out of the kitchen and into the medicine cabinet. Nettles contain histamines. The plants begin to emerge in the springtime, at the same time many allergens are getting blown around. Nature works like that. It is a detox that also facilitates digestion and decreases water retention. It’s an anti-inflammatory that helps reduce arthritis and rheumatism (if you are willing to be stung). You can concoct pastes to strengthen your hair. reduce acne and eczema. Or brew up a detox to perk up your body for summer. The dried leaves make a tasty and healthy tea to keep you tuned up all year long. 

Tucked in the way back corner of their gardens my neighbors all have an atrociously stinking garbage can full of liquid gold. This is a macerating mix of nettle leaves and water. They swear it is the only fertilizer worth using even if you do have to hold your nose to apply it.

In Tom’s current murder mystery the detective looks for patches of stinging nettle to locate the body.

Who knew that something that could make you cry and tingle miserably could be so magically helpful?!

Here are a couple of “recipes” I enjoyed from recent magazine articles:

A Michelin star soup recipe from Philippe Hardy of the restaurant Le Mascaret -

300 g young leaves

1 liter water

1 garlic clove

2 potatoes 


Cook together until the potatoes are soft

Add a nutshell of butter

parsley and mint

blend and adjust seasoning

—-Yep - so simple and yet a Michelin star!

Home brewed fertilizer -

Macerate 500 grams of nettle leaves in 5 liters of water.

Cover and stir every other day.

After 10 days filter the liquid through a sieve. 

Store where the smell doesn’t bother you.

Dilute with 9 times the water when watering plants.

Better than the hairdresser’s goo - 

mix 2 grams of dried nettle in 95 ml of neutral wash

add 15 drops of citrus essential oil 

Mix and store in a sealed container

Use as a rinse for strong, glossy hair


Jeanie said...

Fascinating. I have had nettle soup at one of our local restaurants (I suspect it is seasonal). It was delicious! But I'm not sure I've ever seen these in the wild, or encountered them personally. Fascinating!

Lynn mcbride said...

Interesting! But…When we came to France, I wandered into a patch of stinging nettles with shorts on. I didn’t know what they were, and I was far from a place where I could wash them off (as I now know to do). I had 24 hours of absolute agony. I have since read that they have medicinal qualities and that they can be cooked, as you say. But personally I am not going anywhere near them!

Anonymous said...

Incroyable ! En lisant cet article tu arrives à nous faire aimer cette malheureuse mauvaise herbe. Personnellement je ne veux pas essayer ces recettes. Je préfère les pizzas de Tom !