Last week, I spent a glorious afternoon in an ancient hawthorn grove. Amongst the grasses, the ground was carpeted with cleavers and stinging nettle. Filled with love for these nourishing beings, and gratitude for the chance to experience their energy and health-giving harvest, I dedicated my day to this place, to these plants.
My favourite way to harvest nettles is to lay out a lightweight, natural-fibre cloth in the shade and toss the plant tops onto it. This requires minimal handling; the nettles have plenty of room to breathe and stay fresh; the corners can be tied criss-cross to create a handy, lightweight sachet whose size is perfectly suited to your harvest; and hey, you could even hang the parcel over a long stick, swing it over your shoulder, and have your very own bindle.
At home, using tongs, I blanch the nettle tops whole, until they are wilted and softer; plunge them into a clean sink of cold water; transfer to a strainer; and then take a handful at a time and squeeze out some more water, creating a tightly packed green ball. I then fill up freezer bags with these nettle balls and keep them in the deep freeze to use as needed. This method also works well for preserving other greens. Last night we made nettle pizza, however usually I make pesto, with one ball making enough pesto to cover a package of pasta. It is such a quick and yummy meal, it's become one of our weekly staples. Pesto, by the way, is a great way to get reluctant kids to eat greens. The blanching water will turn a deep, thick green; we drink down this delicious and nourishing brew, hot or cold, over the following days. The cold-plunge sink-water also turns green, and I water the houseplants with it. One more fun fact: this season, the processing time at home pretty much equalled harvest time.
Big, big love for stinging nettles. When I think of nettles I think of untamed beauty, nourishment, abundance, strength, support, stimulation, and embracing things (or persons) for what they truly are, prickles and all.