By Leah Larsen
On Mother’s Day I got to do something I have been wanting to do for many years but always miss the seasonal window. We often walk along a path on Bidwell Creek and at one bend in the creek, there is a large willow with low hanging branches over a patch of stinging nettle mixed with golden currant. It is a shady and peaceful place that we always take care to step around to avoid the sting of nettle. I have always wanted to harvest the nettle and now thanks to our approaching Local Food Experience, I had a good reason to make it happen.
My mom, my two daughters, and I set out along the creek in the evening around 5:30 armed with collecting baskets, clippers, and gloves. We reached the nettle patch and everyone joined in the gathering. Even though we were protected with gloves and long sleeves and pants, my girls both quickly started complaining about the sting coming right through their thin pants and sleeves. They soon realized it wasn’t that bad and maybe even a little fun to feel the sting.
We cut approximately the top 6 to 12 inches of the stems and filled our baskets. When we got home, we submerged the stems with leaves into a tub of cold water. We took them out of the water, wrapped them in a dishtowel, and placed them in the refrigerator for later processing. This was just a temporary solution so that we could sit down to enjoy our Mother’s Day dinner.
Later that night, I bunched the nettle and hung them to dry on my front covered porch where there is a lot of air flow but no direct sun. I noticed that already the sting from the plants was diminishing. The next morning as I tightened the drying bundles I felt no sting at all. Because the stems are the thickest part, I will wait for them to dry and then store the dried nettle for tea, soups, and even pesto.
Although the Local Food Experience doesn’t officially start until June 21st, when our family and others are committing to a year-long of eating local food, I find myself preparing and preserving spring foods for the year to come. Who knows, maybe it has even created a new family tradition – Mother’s Day Nettle Collecting!