“In the Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” ~Margaret Atwood
The other day, a young friend of ours brought me a bag of fresh-picked spring nettles. A few days later, he brought me a bucket of horse manure for the garden. He’s a good scavenger, a sort of urban feral child, and it’s not unusual for him to bring us good finds. After these last two gifts, my husband said, “I should be worried – he’s obviously courting you. Weeds and poop? The boy knows what you like.”
I love weeds. I love their tenacious determination to live. I love the way even the most barren vacant lot will become covered in green within a few weeks. I love it that my neighbor’s dooryard, which he decided to cover with gravel to avoid the bother of gardening, is now covered with beautiful mugwort that has grown right through the gravel. I’m sure my neighbor doesn’t love it, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a huge improvement over the gravel. I love it that the weeds that grow in scrubby vacant lots and along railroad tracks, in those areas we call “waste” places, include some extremely potent herbal medicines. Plants like mullein, nettles, dandelion, violets, mugwort, shepherd’s purse, chickweed, purslane, dock, jewelweed [edit – ooh, I forgot to mention plantain! Plantain’s great, too] – the astonishing life force that allows these plants to be weeds and to grow in scrubby areas, to grow anywhere they can, is part of what makes them so powerful. You can go into any health food store or herb shop and find expensive preparations made from these plants – or, in season, you can go around back behind the parking lot and find them growing wild, offering themselves for free.
I don’t like living in the city. I’m not cut out for it – I don’t like being surrounded by people all the time, I don’t like the constant noise and smell of cars. I always feel like there’s not enough space around me. I’m stuck here for at least another few years, though. Weeds help get me through it. I have a little yard where I grow tomatos and various pot herbs, and my husband likes to grow flowers, but it’s the weeds I see growing through every crack in the sidewalk and along every street that really remind me that nature is not “out there somewhere,” but right here, all the time.
I made nettle frittata from what my friend brought me. There’s nothing like preparing stinging nettles for cooking to give a lesson in mindfulness. Cooking takes all the sting out of them, but they still need to be cleaned and sorted through before cooking, when they are still stingy. I’m terrible at recipes – I cook from the “little of this, little of that” school of cooking. I go by inspiration. Still, I’m going to give it a shot. Here’s my nettle fritatta recipe:
2-3 cups fresh stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
1-3 cloves of garlic
Other fresh vegetables (here’s the “inspiration” part. Or the “Use whatever is on hand that seems like it would be tasty with this other stuff.”) I used tomatoes, red bell pepper, and Swiss chard.
Cheese (Swiss, Chedder or jack cheese is what I usually use, but c’mon, it’s eggs and cheese – whatever the cheese, it will be good)
Rinse the nettles and pick out anything that’s not nettles. Be aware that they will sting you if you are careless. Treat nettle with respect and she’s your best friend; be careless and she’ll sting the hell out of you. Ahem. Heat the olive oil in a big flat-bottomed frying pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Chop the garlic and the veggies. Don’t chop the nettles – it’s more trouble than it’s worth and I’m about to tell you how to get around that. Once the oil is nice and hot, saute the nettles and the garlic together for a few minutes, until the nettle is all wilty. Break the eggs into a food processor and add the nettles, garlic and cheese to the egg. Turn on the food processor and swirl it all around until you have a green eggy cheesy mixture. Meanwhile, in that same hot frying pan, be cooking the rest of your vegetables. Don’t cook them too much – bright colored and crunchy is just right. Pour the egg/nettle/cheese mixture over the almost-cooked veggies, and put the whole frying pan in the oven for about 7-10 minutes, until the eggs have set. Dish it out in pie-shaped slices and enjoy.
If you did this with a crust instead of the pan you could call it nettle quiche. I don’t eat wheat and gluten-free pie crust is just sad, so I skip the quiche concept altogether – but it would make a tasty quiche as well. If you don’t have a food processor, or don’t want to use one, beat the eggs by hand, grate the cheese into the eggs and chop the nettles AFTER they have been cooked (all the sting will be gone by then.) I use the food processor because it’s easy and I’m lazy, but it’s not really needed.