20 Nettle Uses: A Forest Superfood

There’s likely no other wild plant that marks the beginning of spring growth than the wild nettle, urtica. Urtica is a forest superfood, full of vitamins and health benefits that can alleviate allergies, dry scalps and skin, and a long list of diseases that I’ll simply link you to here since Mother Earth News has it covered.

We all know that nettles come with an unpleasant sting if you brush up against the leaves. But with some care, a.k.a gloves and tongs, you can harvest wild nettles, steam them (this removes the sting in about 6 seconds), and have the foundation for one of the most nutritious greens you’ll ever have in your kitchen. Go forth and harvest these stingers, dry them or steam them up, puree them, bake them, or just put them in jars in your freezer for future use in the recipes I’ve collected below.

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1) Drying Nettles and the Basics: For starters, I want to link you to this great article on how to safely forage for nettles and also dry and store them. I’m a big believer in using all the naturally-edible natively-growing greens around you, rather than going to the store and buying greens grown elsewhere.

2) Nettle Beer: From what I’ve read, this is more like a wine. Easy to make, and quite tasty.

3) Nettle Chips: Move over kale! It’s time for us to embrace stinging nettle chips. These. Are. To. Die. For. (And I promise, you won’t die, you’ll just want more.)

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4) Stinging Nettle Fritters: These look incredibly delicious. I don’t have to say much more.

5) Stinging Nettle Mayonnaise: Want to add a bit of zing to your mayo? This is a recipe worth trying.

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6) Fermented Nettle Kimchi: We’re big kimchi makers and eaters. I just can’t wait to try this recipe this weekend. It’s right up our alley.

7) Black Strap Nettle Syrup: This ought to cure what ails you, yet another recipe that I know will come in handy for my family as we grow ever-closer to living off our land.

8) Wild Nettle Mini-Cakes With Strawberry Lemon Icing: If the name of this recipe doesn’t have your mouth watering, just check out the photos from this beautiful blog.

9) Nettle Recipes For Hair, Skin, & Nails: If you’re looking for a deep infusion of green to help bring you back into balance while providing nutrients for your hair, skin, and nails? This article is for you.

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10) Portable Allergy Tonic: Have troubles with seasonal allergies? This tonic promises relief.

11) Nettle Vinegar: This one caught my attention because we make all our own vinegars. Adding nettles makes a lot of sense, given their health benefits.

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12) Nettle and Lemon Cake with Blackberries and Lemon Icing: If you’re planning a birthday party for a child, this might be a great way to sneak in some greens! The lemon icing adds just the right zing to match the nettle color.

13) Wild Onion and Nettle Soup: We make this every spring and freeze as much as we can. This soup is just about as close as you’ll ever come to “drinking spring.”

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14) Fermented Nettle Tea: If you’re into all things fermented, why not nettles? Kombucha, move over!

15) Lentil and Nettle Curry: Seeing as Nepal is covered with nettles in spring, this dhal curry with nettles didn’t surprise me.

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16) Pizza with Garlic Cream and Nettles: OMG, you guys! This is so delectable, you have to try it. Just replace your hankering for basil with nettles here and you’ll want to repeat this recipe every week. I now freeze our excess-harvested nettles so we can have this all year round.

17) Nettle Crisps: Ok, so these are the same as the nettle chips, but it doesn’t hurt to try a slightly different recipe.

18) Nettlekopita: My friend, Rebecca, who is an amazing cook, makes this every spring and so I know it’s delicious. I just need to get over my sense that it’s time-consuming to make, because it doesn’t look like it from this recipe. My husband is Greek and I’d love to try this out on him.

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19) Wild Nettle Beer: I couldn’t resist linking you to another great recipe for a nettle home brew. This one was so well thought-out, I think a novice could make it.

20) Nettle Wine: I’m calling this one wine because, reportedly, it tastes more like wine. I love this article as it really spells things out clearly.

On a final note, I wanted to link you to a fascinating article, now that you’ve immersed yourself in mouth-watering nettlemania. It appears nettles have been used for millennia. Around 800 BC, nettles were used to make a silk-like fabric. Like flax, nettles were employed for their strong fibers for use in cloth-making. What uses have you come up with for this underdog wild stinging plant? We’re in awe of its properties and many uses, and excited to learn more about this superfood’s talents. Share what you know, and we’ll add it to the list.

Fastest Caesar Salad Dressing, Plastic-Free

Fresh Salad Dressings Made in Bulk in Glass Jars Will Get You to Eat Your Greens. Photo © Liesl Clark

We’re big on salads, growing greens for 12 months of the year. And often, the only thing hindering us from making a salad for lunch or dinner is…the dressing. If you don’t have one ready to just throw on your greens, chances are you’ll skip the salad on a busy day. Solution? Make a big batch of the most delicious dressing you can cobble together so it lasts several weeks in the fridge.

So, get out your favorite bottles or jars because we’ve got a fabulous dressing that’ll keep you and your loved ones wanting salad at all meals:

Liesl’s Faux Caesar Salad Dressing:

Plenty of Garlic. Photo © Liesl Clark

Crush about 4-6 cloves of garlic. We use a garlic crushing stone.

A Garlic-Crushing Stone is Fast and Easy. Photo © Liesl Clark

Place in your favorite jar and add 1/2 Cup extra virgin olive oil.

Olive Oil is Always at Hand. Photo © Liesl Clark

Add about a tablespoon of fish sauce. Fish sauce? Yes, fish sauce, as found in Thailand, Vietnam, and in the Philippines is a savory seasoning staple in our household. It serves as an easy alternative to anchovies in this recipe. Be sure to buy it in a glass bottle.

No Need For Anchovies! Get Fish Sauce in a Glass Jar. Photo © Liesl Clark

Add about 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Fresh Salad Dressings Made in Bulk in Glass Jars Will Get You to Eat Your Greens. Photo © Liesl Clark

Add a tablespoon or 2 of red wine vinegar or homemade vinegar from your fruit scraps.

Adding Vinegar to Taste is Best. Photo © Liesl Clark

Done! Every time you use the dressing, you can add a little more parmesan cheese for added flavor. Also, it’s easy to adjust the amount of vinegar and fish sauce to taste. Every fish sauce tastes a little different from the next brand and vinegars, too, can be stronger than others. We use anything from our homemade red wine, cider, and blackberry vinegars to malt vinegar. Our children just love this dressing. Enjoy!

Stone Garlic “Press”

If you’re a lover of kitchen gizmos like garlic presses but just haven’t enjoyed the clean-up factor, get yourself a big stone to use in your kitchen. Skip that gizmo that’s a pain to clean up, is going to eventually break, doesn’t give you all the garlic from that clove since it gets stuck in weird places, and simply use a pestle-shaped stone instead.  I’ve used one in my kitchen for 10 years now and I couldn’t live without it. In Nepal, my friends use stones in their kitchens: One flat one and one cylindrical one for crushing, mashing, and grinding either garlic, chili peppers, whole grains or whole spices. I brought a stone home with me and would recommend you look for one, too. Maybe there’s a pestle-shaped on out in the woods, in your garden, or on the bank of the nearest river or stream. Think cave man, not Pottery Barn. One hit on the garlic and it’s peeled. Another smash and it’s crushed. Easy.

Leftover Wine And Fruit Scrap Vinegar

Wine aficionados claim that a bottle of wine should be consumed within 36 hours before the perishable liquid inside starts to deteriorate. Once oxygen is introduced, the wine begins to change. Recorking or sucking the air out of it will only deter the deterioration by a matter of hours. Putting the bottle in the refrigerator might help keep it for up to a week, but after that, it’s time to make wine vinegar!

Vinegars are so easy to make, it’s almost a crime to not make them with your leftovers. In a glass jar combine 2 cups of leftover red wine with a cup of distilled water and some “mother” from a previous organic vinegar you’ve finished and cover the jar with cheese cloth or a clean piece of cotton cloth so air can get in and dust stays out.

“Mother?” You ask.

If you look closely at the contents of the bottles above, you’ll find my 3 mothers. They’re from blackberry, apple, and pear vinegars, respectively, and I’ve been hanging on to them so I can use them as a starter for the next vinegars I make. A vinegar’s mother is a gelatinous mass that usually sits at the bottom of your vinegar bottle. It’s a sign that your vinegar is likely organic because it houses a lovely live culture. The mother is actually a type of acetic acid-producing bacteria called “acetobacter” and it consumes the alcohol in your wine, converting it into delicious vinegar.

If you don’t have a mother with which to start your homemade vinegar, you can find some in the bottom of a jar of Bragg’s Unfiltered Raw Organic Apple Cider Vinegar. Until I started making my own apple cider vinegar, this stuff was an essential ingredient in our home. It’ll cure you of any cold and is an excellent rinse for your hair. Save that mother and you’re ready to start making your own vinegars.

What about fruit vinegar? I make my own throughout the year from scrap apple peels and cores when making pies and apple sauce. Blackberries from our vines also make an incredibly delicious vinegar. Simply put your fruit scraps in a jar with some water and a “mother” from another vinegar and cover with cloth so the vinegar can breathe.

If you get mold because your fruit is on the surface and exposed to air, take the offending mold out and make sure your fruit is totally submerged in the water/mother mixture. Check on your jars periodically, but it’ll take a few weeks for the fermentation and culture to reach its peak. I always go by feel. After about a month I run the vinegar & fruit mixture through a cheesecloth, separating out the fruit but I retain the mother and place it and the filtered vinegar into a pretty bottle and cork it. And as the vinegar ages, like me, it only gets better.

Vinegars make great gifts, so you can never make too many bottles! Do you make your own vinegars? Please share your thoughts and let us know what your favorite fruit or wine varieties are.

Swiss Chard Is Two Veggies In One

Don’t throw those swiss chard stalks out! We’ve discovered a delicious thing or 3 to do with them.

Swiss Chard Stalks are Pretty and Delicious. Photo © Liesl Clark

I’m ashamed to say our swiss chard has been languishing in the garden because our family just hadn’t taken to these easy-to-grow greens, until now…

Swiss Chard From the Winter Garden Being Washed in the Farm Sink. Photo © Liesl Clark

First, separate your chard leaves from the stalks and cut your stalks into 4″ long pieces. Save them in  a bowl. Aren’t they pretty?

Chard Stalks in a Bowl Awaiting Further Instructions. Photo © Liesl Clark

Spicy Swiss Chard Chips:

We all know what kale chips are. Well, try making chips with your swiss chard, too. They’re a delicious and nutritious substitute for potato chips. By adding a little garlic powder, salt, and some chili powder, you won’t be able to eat just one.

Turn your oven to 275 degrees. Place your chard pieces on a baking sheet or glass baking pan. Add a tablespoon of olive oil per baking pan and toss the chard leaves with equal amounts of sea salt and garlic powder and chili powder. That’s it! Add your spice to taste and be sure to not make it too salty.

Bake for 20 minutes and then turn the leaves over and bake another 10 minutes if needed. Your bake time depends on your baking dish.

Spicy Swiss Chard Chips Disappear Quickly. Photo © Liesl Clark

Enjoy!

Chard Stalk Pickles:

Now take your stalks and if you have a bottle of Claussen pickle juice waiting for something delicious to throw in, just stuff a few of your raw stalks in the bottle and within a few hours you’ll have delicious chard stalk pickles. My kids love them.

Raw Claussen Swiss Chard Stalk Pickles. Photo © Liesl Clark

I found another recipe for delicious pickled swish chard stalks at Cookistry. But if you want to read my entertaining version with home-grown photography, here we go:

Blanch your stalks in boiling salted water for about 3-4 minutes. You want them to stay crunchy so be sure to not overcook them. Drain the stalks and try a few at this stage. Aren’t they delicious? We loved the slightly salted cooked stalks so much we saved a few and had them as a side dish with dinner.

Find a mason jar or 2 and put your stalks in them.

Then, bring the following ingredients to a boil and make sure everything is completely dissolved:

2 cups water
3/4 cup white vinegar
1  1/2 teaspoons salt
2  1/2 teaspoons sugar

Pour your water into your mason jars with chard stalks in them and screw the tops on. Put them in the refrigerator when they’ve cooled and you can enjoy these pickles for a few weeks.

Pickled Chard Stalks. Photo © Liesl Clark

Do you have a favorite chard stalk recipe? I was so excited to find a way to save them from the compost bin or chicken yard I’d love to learn of other chard stalk rescue recipes.

Water Cress Pesto

Feeding my family by way of mid-winter foraging always feels like a triumph. Although there’s little in the garden these days, when we go on hikes on our hill, we find water cress in the places where the springs are running freely. The winter rains have been incessant, so this year the cress is abundant.

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We collect handfuls of it each week and turn it into a spicy pesto the kids love on pasta. It’s a quick dinner for a busy mama to make.

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Water Cress Pesto (a.k.a. Water Cresto)

4 Cloves Garlic

1/2 Cup Walnuts or Pine Nuts

(put the garlic and nuts in your food process or and run it until they’re completely turned into small bits) Add:

1 1/2 – 2 Cups Water Cress, washed

1/4 Cup Olive Oil

1/4-1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese (in small chunks)

Process the rest of the ingredients together until you have nice green paste. Toss it with your favorite pasta.

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Enjoy!

DIY Plastic Bag Dryer

Here’s an admission: We wash and dry all of our used plastic bags and then reuse them. Since the polyethylene in our bags will still be here in 2516, it’s hard for me to think of these things as a single-use product. Since plastic bags will still be here, but in tiny micro-pieces out in our environment, in 500 years, why not use them as long as we can? With a little water and soap, they’re ridiculously easy to clean. The drying of plastic bags just takes some thought.

My mother uses her refrigerator magnets and then sticks her bags to her fridge for drying. I think it makes her fridge look like the bag monsters we see at environmental events. Other folks just stick them onto the water faucet for drying, or on a nearby plant (the bag serves to then water the plant, yo!)

Well, I like to have a little drying station right near the sink where the bags can be hung easily. To that end, my sister gave me a wooden Gaiam plastic bag dryer a few years ago and this thing is now an everyday-used staple in our kitchen.

Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

Gaiam Bag Dryer on My Sill © Liesl Clark

But here’s the thing: You can make your own from items you have in your house right now. Take a toothbrush holder (or if you don’t have one of those, just use a mason jar) and stuff some pebbles into it. Then poke chopsticks through the toothbrush holder holes and lodge them into the pebbles to set them firmly apart. If you’re using a mason jar, drill some chopstick-width holes into the top and insert chopsticks. Place your bag-holder by your sink and wash, hang, and reuse your plastic  bags with glee!

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DIY Bag Dryer © Liesl Clark

I’ve used a pretty vase, too, for this purpose as well, making sure I have a method for firmly setting the chopsticks in place. If you have some pretty sticks to use, like curly willow, rather than chopsticks, you can make an artistic-looking bag dryer for your sink that looks beautiful at all times. Jewelry trees are also cool to use. Have fun with it, because the end game is to create a space for drying plastic bags, like Ziplocs, so you never have to buy them again. We haven’t bought any in about 10 years and although we mostly use glass these days, the reusable bags come in handy for all kinds of projects the kids have at school or at home for holding things.

I posted a link to this article on my Facebook page and, what do you know, so many of my friends are willing to admit they, too, wash their plastic bags and dry them. There were so many different ways of drying the bags, I had to share them here. Check this out:

Anahata: I use, wash, dry and reuse. To dry I just slip half of a clean dishtowel into the bag and fold the other half over the outside. Then, I roll it up and the majority of the surface moisture is absorbed in the towel.

David: Liesl, bit mundane – decline plastic bags when offered but stuff used bags into my back pocket for picking up dog shit later [not sure about the energy cost to me or the planet of washing and drying] the trash hereabouts is incinerated and turned into heat and, as far as I know, toxin-free compost.

Jake: We’ve been doing this for years – not a problem at all! Yes, our cleanliness police love to think it’s dangerous, but like you said, no different than washing and reusing a pan or a plate. We wash lightly – depending on what was in it – sometimes just a rinse, and then hang on a wooden drier like in your pic. We also reuse other bags from food items, so rarely if ever need to buy plastic bags, etc. Frighteningly, I still have a tube of Saran wrap in our drawer from college – it’s now become a bit of a pride point. Thanks for sharing and encouraging us all to be a bit more friendly to the planet, and to ourselves!…Such simple things that make a big difference if everyone does it!

Melissa: I have seen too much plastic in the ocean, during dives, to be able to stay unaware. I source food not packaged in plastic to the best of my ability and if we do end up with plastic packaging, it had to be reusable if not recyclable. Plastic zip bags of hemp hearts or wild rice, for example, get rinsed and just turned over atop of utensils in their drying basket beside the sink where the drip dry for reuse. They tend to hold up significantly better than the zip lock type bags that are made with the intention of being used once and then tossed (shudder).

Jeanne: I have always washed them out with sudsy water, rinse, then I hang upside down on a wooden spatula smile emoticon I was lucky to grow up with resourceful Scot father. We didn’t use paper towel much either, and when we did, it also hung on the wooden spatula! So I’ve been doing this my whole life. I applaud all you do and you inspire!!!

Lissa: I used to use clothespins to pin them to a thin curtain rod in my kitchen window, but there was never enough room for all of the bags. Now we use a baby bottle drying rack.

Of course I got the baby bottle drying rack from my Buy Nothing group.

Ann: I put a pair of tongs in them and put them on the dish drainer, facing up. They dry out nicely that way.

Robynn: We wash them and then air dry on a mitten rack. I found it yeears ago in some crazy catalog and thought is would be perfect for bags. It makes me crazy to have them dry on the cooking utensils since they always seem to be in the way. We can get 10 bags (or 5 pairs of mittens!) on the rack!

Caroline: I dry them on slotted spoons, single chopsticks of varius sizes (missing their mates), I loved drying them on a mitten wrack as Robynn mentined but said wrack is in use for drying doggie raincoats & such nowadays.

Robynn: I dry the doggie rain coats & dog towels on a quilt racks that seem to pop up at the Salvation Army iwth increasing frequency. Home carpenters made some great sturdy racks to hold those heavy handmade quilts – but now no one seems to put (have?) quilts on them any more! smile emoticon

Caroline: I also use a large glass vase I got from Value Village for 50 cents years ago. I use branches that fall from trees, ut them in the vase & use them to dry plastic bags.

Tammy: yup, turn inside out, wash and they stay up alone, drying on the counter. dont buy anything ,just turn inside out and wash” For soups and messy stuff, ziplock has some great containers

Sandie: I put mine over mason jars and let them dry out or use a large wooden spoon in a jar for the larger bags.

Deidra: I’ve been looking into the fabric/oil cloth type that are dishwasher safe. My boys tend to not save the plastic ones no matter how much I cringe.
Shanda: I reuse mine over and over. I rarely wash them, though. If it’s merely a little moisture from the produce, I just dry them on the fridge with magnets. I only wash if the produce goes bad, or if the bags contained meat.

Stephanie: We use our wine rack as a bag dryer.

Stephanie Browne's photo.

 

What does your bag-drying rig look like?