Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Foraging Stinging Nettle and Garlic Mustard

Zach foraging garlic mustard

Last year when we were HelpXing in Idaho, our hosts took us out foraging. We were looking for mushrooms (unsuccessfully), but also gathered a lot of horsemint and stinging nettle growing in the bottomlands around a creek. I had already learned to identify stinging nettle early on in my life (playing in the woods, you need to know what stuff will poison/sting you), and had even dabbled in drinking it as a tea, but had never actually foraged it before. Using gloves and long sleeves, we harvested the stalks and trucked them back to the house. Kate chopped them up and baked them in a lasagna, which added a delicious spinach-like element to the dish. After taking my first bite of lasagna, I knew that I had to find some stinging nettle to forage back home.

Several weeks ago, Zach and I found stinging nettle in the woods near our house (and even dug up a small start to plant in our wildflower garden). In fact, it was everywhere! I hadn’t remembered seeing it before, but now it was cropping up all over the place. With such a plentiful supply, we knew we could forage it without damaging the ecosystem. So we just bided our time until it was large enough for a good harvest.

Me foraging nettles (note the long sleeves, even though it was hot out)

In the meantime, Zach began researching a plant that was everywhere in the woods, with large leaves and small white flowers. He was able to positively identify it as garlic mustard, a highly invasive weed with edible leaves and roots. So we added this to our list of foraging targets.

One morning, we grabbed some plastic bags and gloves, and walked to the woods to collect the bounty. We clipped the nettle sparingly (next time I’ll clip closer to the top, since the tips can grow back), but harvested a bunch of garlic mustard, since conservationists all over the country are fighting to eradicate it. 

Once back home, we packed some of the nettle into our dehydrator, and blanched the rest in boiling water, followed by an ice water bath. Then we blanched the garlic mustard (not strictly necessary— it’s supposed to neutralize some of the semi-toxic compounds, but honestly I think we’d skip this step next time, since we’re not going to be eating it every day). I mixed the blanched greens in the food processor with some wild onion from our backyard, garlic, almonds, olive oil, and parmesan, and gave it a whirl. It formed a smooth paste (with little chunks of almonds; I’ll use walnuts next time), which we spread over our pasta. It was delicious! It had a mild herbal-garlic flavor, but wasn’t overly “green,” as I expected it to be.

I made some tuna wraps with the pesto (which was a wonderful combination), then froze the rest for later use. In the meantime, I dehydrated the rest of the nettle for several hours, then crumbled it into a mason jar to use to make tea.

I’m happy with the results of our foraging adventure, and I look forward to going out again! It’s amazing how much free, nutritious food is available for the taking. For more information about these two plants, check out these helpful identification guides:

How to Identify Stinging Nettle: https://www.wikihow.com/Identify-Stinging-Nettle


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