Stinging nettles grow like a weed in the wet woods and countrysides of Northern California, perhaps so prolific because the sting wards off would-be predators. They are best when gathered early in the season, from February to mid-April. Our friend and forager extraordinaire Connie Green of Napa’s Wine Forrest Mushrooms often sources them for us using her vast network of regional foragers.
The Stinging Nettle is an herbaceous perennial flowering plant with a rich history as a source of medicine, food, and fiber. As a food source, stinging nettles are rich in vitamin A and C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. They can be used in soups, polentas, purees, pestos and more, and are found in dishes the world over.
Care must be taken while foraging, since as its name indicates, the hollow stinging hairs of the nettle inject histamines that produce a stinging sensation in humans and animals. However, cooking the nettle destroys its stinging properties and renders it ready to offer up its flavors reminiscent of spinach with a hint of cucumber.
Medicinally, stinging nettle tea has been used for centuries to relieve allergies, particularly hay fever, as well as for a host of other ailments like gout, influenza, rheumatism, skin conditions and hemorrhage. It is also said to promote lactation. Alcoholic nettle beer is a favorite in the British Isles as well, although we’re not sure if that’s medicinal or not!