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In the Mix with Karl Blau

The inevitable raised abrasions from the slightest brush of this plant is enough for most folks to say “I don’t need to have anything to do with this plant.” And/or “this forest hates me.”

by Karl Blau
Feb 21 2012, 5:00am

Our idea for this new music column was to find a person "in the industry" who could act as a life coach of sorts for all those people out there unable to function as humans. I'm thinking specifically of men and women in bands, or not in bands, who cannot care for themselves at a level above a wee pissy baby. There is no better specimen to act as your guide through life than Karl Blau. We can all learn a lot from Karl, and here, in this first installment of In The Mix, he teaches us how to feed our bodies and minds with nettles. 

“This Weed Could Change Your Life”

My childhood took place nestled in the woods on Samish Island, jutting out of the Skagit Valley at the very top of the Puget Sound. In the early 80s my 3 brothers and around a half dozen other boys my age would roam around the forests of the skinny, 3 mile long peninsula on any given weekend/Summer day, but it wasn’t until I lived in the forest of adjacent Fidalgo Island (home to Anacortes) as a young adult that the bountiful forestland of the Northwest began to reveal itself to me - and it initially did so as I got to know the charitable side of the stinging nettle.

Perhaps the most notorious “weed” to the Northwest is the stinging nettle. The inevitable raised abrasions from the slightest brush of this plant is enough for most folks to say “I don’t need to have anything to do with this plant.” And/or “this forest hates me.”  However, that one may carefully roll up a nettle leaf from the underside and administer its own antidote by squeezing the juice onto the sting, may be enough to make a person think again. Alternatively the underside of the common sword fern is among many reliefs to this biting and lasting pain.   

To you who ask if there may be more to this plant, I say it’s probably the most delicious vegetable I know of with its earthy spinach-like taste. They grow in abundance around these parts, and much of the world. And stinging nettles are one of the most nutritious foods with high levels of vitamins A, C, calcium and iron. Feast your eyes upon these tacos I prepared for my family just the other night:

Nettle gathering is a family event for us and a pastime in the early Spring. In some patches as early as late January we start to see these tiny furry folded-hands-in-prayer begin to breach the soil. They grow right where their dead stalks of yesteryear poke up like radio antennae. Generally, the tender tops of the plant are picked or snipped off.  

My wife will wear gloves and pick, while I prefer scissors and snipping them off straight into a bag.  Preparing nettles by boiling or soaking takes the stings out. You may use them like spinach, often we have stinging nettles on rice which is just delightful. Blending them into green smoothies is a good way to quickly and wholesomely take advantage of nettle's nutritious properties while removing the sting.

Like listening to Hot August Nights for the first time finally allowed me to “get” Neil Diamond, the stinging nettle was my gateway plant, my foot in the door to enjoying eating directly out of the forest. The nettle appeared so mean-spirited at first, collectively dolling countless lashings to my arms and legs, but those days are behind us.

Aside from giving so much - the association of so many platefuls and the message that winter is finally over - the stinging nettle has made me question to the woods and to life in general “what other surprises are out there that I once thought nasty, irritable, common?”