The onset of incredible weather has me venturing beyond my typical morning dog routine and into the woods for wild edibles.
Usually I just take Oli, the official dog of T&F, down to a ball field near our apartment, but neither of us are content to run around on manicured grass with so many exciting things to smell, chase, roll in, and eat out in the brush.
I've found all sorts of trail nibbles, like faintly sweet dandelion flowers and not faintly onion-y onion grass, but this morning I decided to assess the stinging nettle situation. I thought I'd seen them once, except they didn't sting me. I did a little research and learned that not everyone experiences the sting, however I did recall feeling a faint tingling sensation on my upper thighs as I chased the dog through a particular thicket, wearing fairly short running shorts, as it were.
This morning I went back to the same spot, snapped some pics of the plants in question, pinched off a few samples (at this time of year only the tops remain worth eating), and whacked the leaves against my bare, upper thighs. No, I was not immune everywhere. Yes, these were stinging nettles.
Note the old bottles: I always take something bad out of the woods when I take something good. Back home I compared my samples with a few guides and realized why I'd had a hard time identifying the plants. There were two varieties, slender nettles ...
...and wood nettles.
While there I also grabbed some curly dock (a nettle remedy) and Japanese knotweed.
I never eat anything I can't be sure about, and after consulting the guides and my burning thighs, I concluded that I had the right plant(s). I blanched all four of my finds separately. I felt no sting when handling the plants, though if you look carefully you'll see one of the tiny hairs sticking out above the curve of my knuckle.
I like knotweed as a rhubarb replacement (we made a nice crisp with it recently) but disagree with its reputation as an asparagus stand-in: asparagus is just too sweet, too ethereal, to be swapped with this stuff. My sense is that it would be best to cut the acidity (think sorrel -- both smack of oxalic acid) with something rich, like cheese. However, if you think of it as its own thing, you can get into knotweed as a distinctively squishy, tangy, hollow, tubular vegetable.
The dock and the two types of nettles were all fairly beefy: the texture was on the meaty side as far as greens go, the flavor quite hearty, like spinach and even more like calaloo, aka amaranth. The dock had a bit of acidity but nowhere near the knotweed, and I found the slender leaf nettles to be a little lighter and sweeter than the wood nettles. However all were superb.
Once I'd tried everything plain, I felt I could move on. I squeezed the dock and nettles dry and slipped them into the center of a chive blossom laden one-egg omelet along with schmear of ricotta. God, it was good.