Category Archives: Foraging

I am to nettles as Bubba Gump is to shrimp

I think I can officially add “urban foraging” to the list I use to describe how I spend my free time. Open my fridge and you’ll see things precariously stacked in order to make room for the huge bags (yes, plural bags) of nettles I have stuffed inside. I realized the moment I answered the woman who asked me, “What are you going to do with all of those?” I am the Bubba Gump of nettles.

I am going bonkers with the nettles over here. And for good reason – they’re super healthy and tasty too! I’m going with the general assumption that nettles will taste great in anything calling for spinach or leafy greens.

I’m dehydrating trays and trays of nettles like crazy, which I’ll use later for tea. The tea I hope will help me through this year’s allergy season. I may have succumbed to allergy shots, but I haven’t lost faith in nature’s remedies.

Last night, I discovered another winner – nettle pesto. Before we go any further though, you should know that I use the term “pesto” lightly. When I say I made pesto, what I really mean is that I made a super healthy puree that tastes delicious and looks like the real thing. Vegetables in disguise. You know I’m not afraid of eating my greens, but a little healthy in the form of something that feels like a splurge is fun every once in a while.

Nettle Pesto

The final consistency of my “pesto” was pretty thick and a little awkward to mix into the pasta, but with a little patience, it incorporates beautifully. A little extra olive oil would help the pesto mix in more smoothly, but I was going for the healthy deliciousness angle.

about 1 cup nettles (stems and leaves), blanched, wrung out, and fluffed up
1/3 cup walnuts
2 Tablespoons olive oil
squeeze of lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Put all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor except for the olive oil. Run until the mixture begins to become a smooth puree. With the food processor running, add the olive oil and process until incorporated and smooth.

Slather on anything needing a healthy dose of decadence. Enjoy!

Here are some other posts singing praises about nettles:

Five Things to do with Stinging Nettles – Freezing the tea in ice cube trays to use in soup stocks? Brilliant!

More Stinging Nettle Pesto

More Foraging Love by Seattle forager and author Langdon Cook

Stinging Nettle Paté

The Benefits of Foraging for Nettles and Dandelion – There’s a false Dandelion? I had no idea!

Video: Harvesting Nettles and Nettle Spanakopita

This Easter, I hunted for nettles, not eggs. Jeremy and I armed ourselves with paper bags and rubber gloves and headed to Discovery Park.

Beans came along for the ride.

He foraged too.

I wore a skirt. Yes, I know. I wore a skirt to forage for nettles. Not my smartest move, but the sun was out. And when the sun comes out in Seattle, you wear a skirt. Vitamin D levels are low these days.

So, I wore a skirt, foraged for nettles, and got stung. Luckily, I knew about the antidote plant, dock, that grows among the stinging beast and was able to take away the sting and enjoy the morning anyway. My knee didn’t look pretty, but I might have been a little bit proud to wear the welts. Foraging for nettles is hardcore. And we got it on video.

We came home with a baggie of miners lettuce, a bunch of Douglas fir, and two bags chock-full of nettles. Nettles that I can’t wait to use again for nettle spanakopita, the dish that I made twice last week, which ultimately depleted my last nettle harvest. So, here is my advice to you. Go have a foraging adventure, harvest some nettles and make this dish. Oh, and wear pants.

Nettle Spanakopita

Filo dough, thawed

olive oil

2 eggs, slightly beaten

Filling ingredients:

~ 1 cup nettles, blanched and wrung out (like after making nettle tea – see this post)
~ 1 generous handful fresh spinach, rinsed
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
salt and pepper, to your liking

Put all the filling ingredients into a food processor and pulse until fairly smooth and combined. Stop once or twice to scrap down the sides.

Add this mixture to the mixing bowl with your eggs and mix to combine. Set aside while you prepare the filo.

Generously oil an 8 x 8 inch baking dish with olive oil and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Unroll the filo and cut a good amount of it to the size of your baking dish. Carefully, take one sheet at a time, brush it with olive oil, and set into the pan. Continue this process as you layer one sheet on top of another. This process can be frustrating, but it’s worth it. Take your time.

Once you have five or six layers on the bottom, spread about half of the filling mixture onto the filo. Repeat the process with another 5 layers or so. Add the other half of the mixture and top with another five layers. Tuck the top layers down into the sides of the pan and brush the top with olive oil.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until the top filo layers crisp up and the filling feels mostly firm. Put under the broiler for a few minutes to make the top golden brown.

Let it cool for about 5 minutes, cut into generous squares and enjoy!

 

Less talk, more forage: Douglas Fir Fizz

Mine is the type of kitchen where it’s not uncommon anymore to hear a question like, “Why do you have Christmas tree in your fridge?” I was asked this question yesterday to which I replied, with giddy enthusiasm, “it’s my Doug fir!” They were the young pieces of Douglas fir branches I snipped off the tree while foraging two weeks ago. I had heard about making simple syrup out of the fragrant branches and was itching to try. Now I see, I’m going to have to go back for more. This simple syrup’s made me a Doug fir fiend.

Foraging 101: Douglas Fir

How do you know it’s a Douglas Fir?
The Douglas fir is a very common native. They have flat, single needles, which means each needle is directly attached to the stem rather than growing in clumps. They are conifers – their seeds are found in cones.

For me, identifying the Doug fir is all about the cone. Behold the mouse butt! Douglas fir cones have the distinctive 3-pronged bracts that extend out underneath each scale. They look like the back legs and tail of a mouse. Neat!

What should you harvest?
You want to harvest new growth – the tender, chartreuse needles on the tips of the branches. Those will be the most flavorful.

Why harvest?
Because this simple syrup is Amazing! (and yes, I meant to write amazing with a capital A – it’s that good) I made this as a cocktail and have since been enjoying a Doug fir soda every night since I made the syrup. I am hooked and clearly need to go foraging again.

Douglas Fir Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup water
a handful of young Doug fir cuttings (about the amount shown in the picture above)

Put the sugar and the water in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add the Doug fir and simmer for 3 – 5 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let the flavors meld and the syrup cool for about 20 – 30 minutes.

The biggest lesson I learned with this syrup is to be generous when adding it to my beverages. When I’ve used homemade flavored syrups in the past, I’ve always been really conservative when adding it to my drinks. But I see now, that a little more, goes a long way. The flavor cannot be beat.

Douglas Fir Fizz (alcoholic)

Put some ice into a martini glass.

Over the ice, pour 2 tablespoons syrup and 1 shot of vodka. Top it off with plain sparkling water and stir to combine. Garnish with a small piece of Doug fir – inverted, the needles will hook onto the side of the glass.

Douglas Fir Soda

Fill a frosty pint glass about half full with ice.

Add three tablespoons of Doug fir syrup and fill the rest of the glass with plain sparkling soda water. Stir to combine, sip, and feel refreshed!

Less talk, more forage: Nettles

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