Yesterday I saw the world through new eyes. I got the same feeling that I got after my first botany class when I learned to see flowers in a whole new light. It was like putting on glasses and finally being able to see things I wasn’t able to see before. I had the kind of day where I wore a permagrin. No one had to ask me if I was having a good time. The enthusiasm I felt yesterday was the kind that made me send texts to loved ones with multiple exclamation points and phrases like, “SO awesome.” I learned to eat the weeds and “undesirable” plants around me. And for a girl set on eating as much from the land as she can, foraging just opened up a world of possibilities.
In a small group led by Becky Selengut, chef and author of the cookbook, Good Fish, and ecologist, Jeanette “Jet” Smith, we set off to Vashon to have a foraging, and later cooking, adventure. My love affair for Vashon, much like my love for Lopez, is a story for another post.
We made our way from one green space to another, finding treasures along the way, which included miner’s lettuce, stinging nettles, dock (the antidote to nettles), douglas fir, salmonberry blossoms, sheep sorrel (lemony goodness), peppercress, and chickweed.
We stopped by a local self-serve farm stand to supplement our foraged bounty and took a ride on a tree swing that made you feel as though you were flying above a forest canopy. The sun broke through the clouds and I was relaxed and happy. But I digress. As was comically declared yesterday as we lost ourselves in those little moments, “less talk, more forage!”
Of course, the idea of foraging is not new to me. I see foraged edibles at the farmers’ market and hear of people foraging all the time. But it was the first time for me. Taking on another level of culinary education like this would have felt overwhelming before, as I worked to turn my brown thumb green. Learning to garden and successfully make things grow felt like enough information for one time. But I think I may have been misguided. Because what I discovered this weekend was the opportunity to take advantage of edible resources that are growing all around without working a hoe or planting a seed. What I didn’t realize before today was that the weeds I had been feeding to the chickens or tossing into the compost could have been tossed into my salad bowl – permaculture at its finest! I may not have been ready for this information before, but I am certainly ready for it today. And you can be sure that I’ll be making up for lost time. You can expect to see future posts on this topic as I continue my foraging education and you’ll probably be seeing weeds on your dinner plate at my house too.
Foraging 101: Stinging Nettles
Why forage for nettles?
Nettles are delicious. We enjoyed them yesterday evening in a ravioli filling, in a sauce for fish, fried as a garnish, and steeped as a tea. They are also nutritious since they are high in calcium, magnesium, and iron. The tea is also said to provide a little seasonal allergy relief. Plus, nettles are abundant in the northwest – we might as well take advantage of them!
How do you harvest nettles?
With a good pair of rubber dish gloves harvesting (and cooking with) nettles is easy! I came home with a bag full of nettles and nary a sting. Just pinch off the top two or three rows of leaves with your fingers or some scissors, looking for the young and more tender plants (as opposed to the ones with thicker stocks). Once they have their flowers, you can consider your nettle-picking window to be over until next season because like most flowering plants, they just won’t be as good to eat.
Where should you forage?
Nettles like moisture and tend to grow in undisturbed places. If you spot a blackberry bramble, you have probably found yourself some nettles too.
Making Nettle Tea
I’ve wanted to make my own nettle tea for ages, but was always intimidated by the harvesting process and thought there was more to it than the simple process I learned yesterday. But there’s not. Simply put a few bunches of nettles into a pot, stocks and all, cover with water, and bring to a boil for at least 5 minutes to remove the sting and release the flavor. Pour the tea through a strainer and enjoy. I thought the tea was delicious just like that, very similar to green tea, but I imagine it would be delicious with the addition of ginger, lemon or honey. Strain the nettles from the tea and reserve them for later use in something delicious like a sauce or homemade ravioli filling.
More helpful nettle resources:
Stinging Nettle article, U of Maryland Medical Center
Northwest Foraging: The Classic Guide to Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Doug Benoliel
Classes like the one I took by Becky Selengut