Nettles Oh My!

I suggest pouring yourself a cuppa and curl up in your favorite chair for a few minutes.

I try to keep these missives short as I know everyone has a zillion emails to read and a million things to do. However, this is special. I was going to tell you about my sweet goat Maude and her pending birth, but I’ll do that later this week. She has 37 days to go.

I have been drying buckets of nettles for nettles salt (recipe All the way at the end!), And I have been making bucket loads of nettles tea for the garden. Jamie, who works with me has been singing praises for stinging nettles for as long as I have known her (11 years now on the farm with me).  As I function on an intuitive level most of the time, if Jamie says it’s good stuff, then I say it’s good stuff. I couldn’t tell you specifically what was so good about nettles. I just use it, my plants respond to it and the salt taste great. Wanting to offer you more than my version of “because I said so”, I decided to look around for a little more substantial information.

I hit a gold mine of information!

First:

The nitty gritty on nettle nutrition (from Healing Wise, by Susun Weed): Very high calcium, magnesium; high iron, potassium, zinc, Vitamin B’s and A; supply niacin, protein, vitamin C, D and K. Excellent for the liver, low back, and anemia.

And then, oo la la, I found this:

from frenchgardening.com

Perhaps it’s just another variation of making lemonade from lemons. But France’s most ubiquitous weed, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica, also naturalized through most of the U.S.), is made into soup, omelettes, sauces, and even wines and jellies. There’s usually a stand offering all these products at almost every festival or fair.

But more germane to the gardener, purin d’ortie, which is best translated as a concentrated tea of nettles, is the most popular organic fertilizer. Jugs of the stuff are industrially prepared and for sale in every garden center. Even nonorganic gardeners here are partial to using it.

Partaking of nettles in every possible way seems to verge on an act of patriotism for the French. There is an Association des Amis d’Ortie (Association of the Friends of the Nettle) who have annual meetings, and of course, the requisite Fête des Orties, or nettle festival, where you can listen to lectures, meet with other impassioned nettle users, and of course, indulge in nettle gastronomy.

Seriously, nettles offer extraordinary nutrition, both for plants and humans. This homely herb is extraordinarily rich in nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, oligoelements, encymes, and trace minerals, especially iron. For the landlocked, who can’t go to the beach and forage seaweeds for their compost, stinging nettle is the answer.

In France, bodies of serious research exist supporting the various benefits of applying nettle tea to your plants. Much as is the case for kelp emulsion, nettle tea seems to stimulate the “immune system” of plants, making them more resistant to insect and disease attacks. Perhaps this effect is due to no more than the fact that the plant is in a state of optimal and balanced nutrition.

Nettle tea must be diluted before using, and can be applied as a soil drench or sprayed on as a foliar feeding. Undiluted nettle tea can be used as an organic herbicide. Just spray the undiluted stuff on actively growing weeds. After two weeks, the ground will be ready for planting–and richly fertilized to boot!

Since American garden centers don’t stock this miracle product, you’ll have to make your own if you want to profit from this rich gardening resource. In areas of the country with regular rainfall, nettles are usually easy to find in the wild. They are partial to rich, moist to wet soil, but may also be found on roadsides or even in deep woods, as–being highly successful weeds–they tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. If you locate a wild patch, you can either harvest a big sackful for drying or immediate use, or dig up a couple of clumps to plant in an out-of-the-way corner of your property. Make sure to wear heavy long pants and thick gloves when approaching the nettle patch. Their sting doesn’t last more than a few hours, but is highly irritating.

Here’s how to make purin d’ortie:

1. Cut the nettles at about half their height. Remember, wear gloves!

2. Mix the cuttings with water in a large container such as a large plastic garbage can. You’ll need a lid, because nettle tea smells absolutely disgusting. Use a non-chlorinated source of water, such as water from a rainbarrel or cistern, as chlorine inhibits the fermentation of the tea. Mix 1 gallon of water with every pound of fresh or 2 ounces of dried nettles. Cover with the lid!

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