[Nyerges is the author of "Guide to Wild Foods," available at Amazon, or www.ChristopherNyerges.com. He has led Wild Food Outings and survival skills outings since 1974.]
Often during this time of the year, I get an allergic reaction when I’ve been under and around the trees that produces lots of pollen and cottony-fluff, like willows, and cottonwoods, and cattail, and oak. I’ve tried numerous remedies over the years to combat the allergy, but all with limited success. It just won’t work to stay out of the woods.
But finally, one of the natural remedies seemed to have good results. Nettle tea. I’ve long heard of the many health benefits of eating nettles and drinking the nettle tea. I’ve eaten the greens like spinach for decades. But once I heard about using an infusion of the nettle leaves (dried or fresh) for allergy, I’ve starting drinking it pretty regularly in the evenings. It has helped to relieve congestion and improve my ability to breathe. It seems to work even better than my old standby, Mormon tea.
Since I’ve used up my limited supply of dried nettle, and since I don’t want to keep paying high prices for the tea packages at Whole Foods, I went out to collect a large bag of it. I know of a field that gets mowed down every year, so I knew that the nettle was not valued. I went there with my cloth bag and my scissors. I found it easiest to clip off the tender tops with a pair of sharp scissors, and just let the nettles drop into the bag without touching it. After a while though, I was simply cutting with scissors and putting the tops into my bag with my other hand. I got nettled a little but they don’t seem to bother me that much anymore.
It felt good to be alone in the field where it was quiet and green and misty. But I wasn’t totally alone. There were people walking by. One woman just looked at me as she and her friend walked by, and it was a very telling look. “Wow, I really pity you!” was written all over her face. Oh, well. I’ve heard worse.
A guy wandered over and wondered what I was doing. Collecting nettles, I told him, and maybe if David Letterman ate them, and changed his diet, he wouldn’t have needed a quadruple by-pass surgery. Ok, so the man, Harold, wasn’t so interested in what I thought about Letterman. But he just watched a bit, perhaps amused, and then he told me a story.
He said that he’s collected nettles before for food, because he liked to eat them. He didn’t know they were good medicine too.
Anyway, one day while picking nettles all by himself, someone wandered over and wanted to know what he was doing. Not knowing who the man was, Harold just said, “picking nettles.” And then he added, “to eat.” The stranger looked closely and finally said, “You think I’m dumb, don’t you? That’s marijuana you’re picking.” Harold was a bit dumbfounded, and wanted to say “You really are far more stupid than you look,” but instead, said, “of course not.” The stranger just smiled a knowing look, and then hung around. Harold soon wandered off and then hid behind a tree. He saw the stranger pulling up bunches of nettle and walking off with it. Harold laughed, thinking that the man would probably go home, dry the nettle, and try to smoke it.
I finally left with my very full bag of nettle greens. Some of the tops went into our evening soup, and the rest I cleaned and set out to dry for future tea. The soup was very enjoyable and tasty, and I realized that nettle is one of the tastiest wild greens out there, and widely under-rated.