We hadn’t lived in Belgium long when I decided to weed the back fence area. If you’ve ever had a brush against a nettle, you know the surprising shooting fire that burned my hands when I encountered this weed. The exact path of the leaves ran in red welts across my thumb and up the wrist. There was a pain that held on, longer than any bee sting I ever had. The rest of our days in Europe, I kept a sharp eye for these stinging plants.
What I didn’t know then was how nutritious those painful plants were. Potassium, dietary fiber, even a bit of protein are there, not to mention almost half your daily calcium and 40% of your vitamin A. How did this come to my attention?
I met a remarkable woman named Irene who was born in the same year as Anne Frank and lived under the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. She made it through World War 2 only to be caught behind the Iron Curtain under Soviet Russian oppression. Hidden as a boy for three years, she provided for her family. One item they could find to eat, eating to survive, was nettles.
Nettle soup. Nettle tea. Nettles were sometimes all they had.
When I read Irene’s memoirs I knew her incredible story had to go public for future generations. She escaped from East to West Berlin in 1953, and today lives in Maryland where her doctors and dentists are always amazed by how strong her bones are. I can’t help but think it’s all that Nettle calcium she had in the lean years as a child and young adult.
February foodies try out the nettles when you get a chance. I’ve got mine in a baggie with the other loose teas–the same baggie Irene gave it to me in.