Foraging is about much more than just harvesting plants for their nutritional or medicinal properties, it’s the outcome of an adventurous learning journey with skills that can be transferred to many aspects of life. In order to successfully forage you must get to know your environment intimately which breeds a deep respect and love for the landscape and nature, and expands your knowledge of the geography and biology of your lands.
Spring has arrived here in the UK and with it comes a new bounty of edible plants and flowers that our wonderfully varied eco-system offers up. Fields, hedgerows and gardens are coming alive with a variety of healthy and sustainable alternatives to the mass-produced foods, drinks and medicines on offer in the shops; and they’re all completely free! Here I will share with you some of our family’s tips and tricks for a plentiful foraging session, and some recipes to make the most of your haul. There are far too many plants to list in one post, so I will break it down into a series to be posted every Monday and Saturday – starting today with the wonderful stinging nettle.
Nettles are a truly underrated plant in the UK. Mostly viewed with fear and disdain as ‘those nasty stinging weeds’, these hardy little plants are actually an abundant source of iron, vitamins C and E and fiber. Nettles come in a few varieties, each of them easily identifiable and found in gardens, fields and hedgerows across the country. This post and recipe relates specifically to the stinging nettle. While these plants are available throughout the year, spring is a particularly good time for harvesting. The new top shoots of the nettles are less bitter than the lower parts of the plant and make a fantastically refreshing and healthy tea, the tops can be snipped with scissors – just wear some close-knit gloves to avoid the stingers. Nettles can be harvested any time of the year and from pretty much anywhere, just try to avoid roadsides where the plants will have been heavily polluted and areas that are subject to chemical/insecticide spraying. When brewed as a tea nettles have excellent cleansing properties and also make an absolutely brilliant alternative to shop-bought antihistamines that can be of benefit to both people and animals – the following recipe for nettle and turmeric tea worked wonders for treating our small dog’s severe reaction to a spider bite when the veterinarian prescribed antihistamines failed.
Recipe for Nettle and Turmeric Tea
- 1 cup of nettle tops (or whole nettles if preferred)
- Enough water to cover the nettles in a small pot/pan
- 1\2 to 1 tsp ground turmeric (to taste)
- Small pot or pan
- Jug or bowl
- Cup (or jar for storing)
- Rinse the nettles in cold water
- Place your nettles in a small pot or pan and cover with cold water
- Bring the pan to a gentle simmer, not quite a boil
- Strain the nettle water into your jug or bowl and add turmeric powder, stirring well
- Pour into a cup for drinking or clean jar for storing (in the fridge for a few days, or freeze for months)
- Enjoy your healthy, vitamin fueled, cleansing, antihistamine
The above recipe (with or without turmeric) can be sweetened with honey, syrups or fruit juices to taste – and when sweetened and frozen make excellent ice lollies – just pour into a suitable mould or small container (with a stick for holding on to!) and pop in the freezer for a few hours.
As with any food/drink/medicine, there is a risk of intolerance or allergy, for this reason it’s advisable to start with a small quantity. Once you have ascertained it’s suitability for you and your needs you can safely drink 3-4 cups per day in addition to your usual water consumption.
Nettle tea is a great staple and can be used to treat many, many ailments; including hay fever, anemia, skin conditions (including the dreaded acne!), type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. With added turmeric the benefits are further enhanced – turmeric has been widely studied and shown to effectively treat arthritis, heart disease, depression and certain cancers; along with a plethora of other illnesses, diseases and disorders.
Recipe for Savoury Crispy Nettles
- 2 cups nettle leaves
- Sesame oil
- Garlic powder
- Sea salt
- Heat the sesame oil and a pinch of garlic powder on high heat in a frying pan
- When the oil is very hot, add the nettle leaves
- Fry on high heat for approximately 2 minutes, until leaves have darkened and curled
- Transfer to kitchen roll for draining
- Once drained, transfer to a dish and season to taste with garlic powder and sea salt
This recipe can be adjusted to suit preferences – try using different oils and seasonings to create your own signature nettle snack.
I hope you enjoy foraging for and experimenting with the wonderfully versatile stinging nettle – let me know in the comments how your concoctions turn out!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor! This post is not meant to take the place of medical advice. I do however work with many aspects of mental health and can attest to the benefits of turmeric for depression.