"You sure you want to eat that, Bean?" Questioned my grandmother as I took a heaping spoonful of, what I believed to be, cooked spinach.
"Yeah, why? Don't you like it?" I replied. She just gave me a look and turned back to the stove. "I like spinach." I continued, "We never eat it just plain, like this." Then, as I caught Mum smiling at me, something clicked. "Oh! Is that nettles?"
Funny as it seems, it occurred to me to be a very likely possibility. After all, Mum had recently printed a Swedish recipe off the internet for nettle soup, and just that morning had commented on how the dangerous weeds were popping up in the strawberry bed. And I was right. She had harvested them that morning.
I smiled, pleasantly surprised, and sat down to eat. Yes, I was nervous...I'd been stung by nettles enough to know that eating one that had not been properly cleaned would result in a rather unpleasant experience, but I was curious, none the less. Dad then entered the kitchen, and started fixing himself a plate. "Spinach!" Mum whispered urgently at me, pointing to the green heap on my plate, "spinach!", so I nodded and played along.
We went through dinner quietly, with only small talk, until Dad finished and leaned back in his chair. "That was good, Mom." He said.
"How'd you like the spinach?" She inquired.
"Good, different. We don't usually eat that."
"Good." She replied with a straight face, "Because it wasn't spinach. That's nettles."
"No sa!" My Dad laughed, "Really?"
We all agreed that they tasted, and certainly looked, exactly like spinach. Although certainly not the best thing you'll ever eat, the nettles didn't taste as bitter as we would have initially thought. We can't wait to try them in something, like a quiche. And so, that was our first experience eating nettles. But how did Mum actually prepare them, you ask?
To harvest nettles, pick the top leaves off the plant (make sure to wear gloves! They are called Stinging Nettles for a reason). Then rinse them in water, and boil for ten minutes. This will be enough time to rid the nettles of their sting. Rinse the nettles again in cold water, which will ensure they keep the bright green color! You can either eat them plain as a side-dish, or as a substitute for spinach in your favorite recipe. If you will be freezing them for future use, make sure to squeeze as much of the water as you can out, because they do hold a lot of moisture.
The water you boiled the nettles in will have turned a brown color; save this water and use it on your plants, or to prepare nettle tea. Directions on tea making will come soon!