Friday, March 27, 2009

Nettle Time -- Part 2, Drying

In Nettle Time -- Part 1, I mentioned that these wild edibles are coming up right now all over the Pacific Northwest (and elsewhere), and gave a few tips about gathering. Now I'll talk about storage and use.

The most common way for people to store nettles is to dry them.

The equipment needed to dry nettles is minimal -- you could do it by hanging them over a line in a shady but well-circulated area, for instance. But this time of year the ambient humidity is so high that I would be concerned about mildew if you did it outside. If you dry them inside, make sure to hang them in an area that folks won't brush up against them as their stinging quality is still up and kicking throughout most of the process.

I chose the quickie route -- The Dessicator [hear as Monster Truck Rally announcer for full effect]. The reason I call my cheapo grocery store dehydrator The Dessicator is because driers like these seem best at absolutely desiccating something, as opposed to drying to a particular moisture level as is required of most dried fruits, fruit leathers, and jerky. But for drying the living hell out of things, it works great. I use it for seaweed, mushrooms, and nettles. No moisture subtlety needed, just dry the dickens out of it, and store.

One note on storage of dried nettles. Even when fully dried, the stingers (especially on the stems) can still be moderately active. Consider wearing gloves when packing up your dried nettles. The second your dried stuff hits hot water or cooking food, those needles will be safely de-activated, so no worries. If you are worried despite this assurance, clean the nettles of all stems, and then powder them with a few pulses in a food processor.

What to do with dried nettles? Well the most common answer is tea. For use in tea, folks tend to leave the nettles in dried form and not powdered. Folks use nettle tea not only as a general health tonic (lots of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C and Iron), but to help with allergies. I even have a friend who is serving it to her dog for allergies, and it's working quite well. There are plenty of sources of information on the intartubes regarding nettles as medicine and I'll leave that conversation to those folks.

Another use is as a flavor and nutritional supplement in food. In this case, the powdered form is preferred. You can add the powder directly to food, or create a condiment out of it. I know of folks who use it in soups and stews, but also in smoothies, and sprinkled on top of just about anything that could use a fresh, "green" flavor.

You can make a Gomashio-type condiment by mixing the powder with salt, or even better add freshly-roasted sesame seeds to the salt and nettles and grind the mix up a bit in a mortar and pestle. Best done when the seeds are still warm, it blends the flavor nicely. In this manner the nettles are replacing the seaweed normally used.

Next episode will cover freezing, methods and uses.

Enjoy free wild spring produce,


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