A lazy day of doing not much of anything sometimes makes me feel guilty. It requires that some evening activity take place – something which gives one the satisfactory feeling of accomplishing something of use during the block of waking hours. Today I chose to spend the evening in the woods. I thought I might practice some knife skills, or just sit and read a book. Arriving at my spot I was unpleasantly greeted by a thick swarm of mosquitoes, greatly annoying me and foiling my plans for peace. I decided to start a small fire with a bit more green wood than usual. The smoke from a fire usually drives mosquitoes away and the green wood would put out more smoke than dead wood. When I was out collecting wood, I noticed a large patch of Stinging Nettles in the gully below where I was. The two thoughts of Nettles and fire brought to my mind an episode of Wild Food where Ray Mears picked a few fresh Nettles and wilted them over the fire to neutralize their sting and improve the flavor. I eat a lot of Nettle raw, crushing the leaves to break the needles and get rid of the sting, but I thought I might try this new method.
After the fire was going (and the mosquitoes buzzing off elsewhere), I put a small measure of dead wood on a corner of the fire to get a bit more flame than the smokey green wood was providing. This accomplished, I went back to the gully to collect a few stalks of nettle and return them to the fire. It took only about 15 seconds of holding one plant over the flame for it to become limp and drooping. I tested it a bit with my fingers to see if the sting had been neutralized. It had. Tearing off a bit and munching it around a bit in my mouth, I was greeted by quite a surprise: these wilted Nettles were, without doubt, the best Nettles I had ever tasted, perhaps even being the best wild weed I had ever enjoyed! I ate about a dozen tall plants, until I was quite satisfied with my evening snack. Occasionally I would leave a stalk hovering over the flame a bit longer than needed, but that would impart to the leaves a slightly toasted flavor, which I also found to be agreeable.
I’ll certainly be enjoying wilted Nettles again. It’s a bit more trouble than just eating them raw, but, even on the move, it takes very little time to start a small fire and prepare a few picked plants in this way. The improved flavor greatly pays back the small investment in time.