I’ve been reading more about the health benefits of certain foods and found that stinging nettles happened to be one that I recognized. If you’re unfamiliar with nettles, they sting. I’d like to distinguish the difference between what thorns do, “prick”, and what nettles do, “sting”. They’ve got these nasty little hairs on them that go into your skin and then irritate you for a couple hours. You can buy stinging nettle supplements online, but I was pretty sure that they grow in Ohio, and after some very brief research, I confirm they do, and have “weed” status to boot, so they should be easy to find. Where to find them was trickier, because the places that immediately came to mind were places like state parks, which probably have issue with a guy bringing in a bucket and stealing their plants. So I asked my dad, who I defer most Ohio nature questions to, and he seems to know what they look like, and the family farm seems like a good place to look. He tells me about eating them when he was a kid, which I had sort of remembered when I started reading about these things. I had remembered him telling me that they’d boil them and eat them.
So, I use Google Images to find pictures of them, get out into the field on a fantastic Friday afternoon, and realize that I’m horrible at identifying one plant versus the next. I take a picture and e-mail my dad at working asking him if what I’d found were nettles. While I wait, I realize that I’m in a field in the sticks and I’d just-
- Taken a digital photo
- Cropped it
- Sent it to someone a hundred miles away
All from the same handheld device in the middle of nowhere Ohio. This whole process would have been inconceivable a quarter century ago.
Dad e-mails me back and tells me he thinks they’re Canadian thistles, not nettles. He tells me that nettles don’t have woody stems (which I’d read, but I trust my dad on this more than my faith in the Internet), they regrow every year, and I should probably check the tree line or fence lines for them. I wander around in the woods, scare some does, find a skeletal cow, get my boots very muddle, and spend a lot of time trying to decide if a large patch of another plant is nettles or not.
I give up, find my way out of the woods, bump into my uncle, who immediately walks me over to a patch of nettles and tells me that his dad (my grandfather if you’re not paying close attention here) used to cut them when the plants were much younger and have my grandmother boil them, then they’d turn out just like spinach. Then he leaves to do his work, and I start pulling up the nettles and collecting them in a bucket I brought. While I am pulling them up, and getting my right arm stung many times, I think about how these plants I’m about to eat are the decedents of the ones my grandfather cut from the same soil. I found that moving.
The did turn out like spinach and with a sprinkling of garlic powder and a dash of soy sauce, they were pretty good.