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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you.  Snails, fish, insects, weather, meteorites, climate, birds and/or flowers.  All are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located.
February 18, 2013. Pacific NW.
Pot herbs, unless purchased at the grocery store, are in short supply at this time of year. Lettuce and spinach from the garden become so abundant later on we're giving the extra to chickens, but in February, we buy very expensive fresh greens from far away.

So when the stinging nettles emerge, it's a welcome fresh veggie, free and nutritious. Urtica dioica is a perennial wild herb native to both the Old World and the New. It's very abundant in wet places like the Pacific Northwest. They are about 4-12 inches tall right now here, as seen in this patch along a dirt road near my house.

apring nettles
spring nettles lining a ditch
Collect carefully, with gloves, as even the slightest brush against the hairs will trigger the injection of a cocktail of chemicals that makes your skin sting and ache for days sometimes.
collected nettles
in the bag, note the gloves
Nettles have been used as a herbal remedy since prehistory, though few studies show objective benefits. One use that does, is for arthritis, when the raw leaf is applied directly.
It is not known why the nettles work, but they contain serotonin and histamine, both of which are neuro-transmitters, and might affect pain perception and transmission at the nerve endings.

Other possibilities could be that the sting has an acupuncture-like effect, or that it acts as a "counter irritant" like capsaicin, an ingredient derived from peppers which is used in products like Ralgex.

I don't know if my arthritis is bad enough to try that though. You?

Regardless, the young plants can be rinsed and cooked, to make a nice mess of greens as a side-dish, or in soup. The stinging compounds are deactivated by heat.

rinsing nettles
cooked nettles
after a few minutes in boiling water, strained, in butter, ready to eat
Tastes much like spinach. Extremely nutritious. Free. Free range, local, no food miles.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This plant, Urtica, is the true stinging nettle. There are plants in other parts of the country called nettle, like the Bullnettle of the SE, which are not a true nettles, or edible. It seems any plant with poisonous stinging hairs may be called "nettle". Sorry you'll miss out on this delectable nutritious treat!

How about you? What's coming up where you live? Other observations to add to the bucket today?

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