It’s my favorite time of year – nettle harvesting time!
Growing up, I loathed nettle because it would always sting (hence the name, “stinging nettle”) and put welts on my skin when I would brush against it when playing down by the Potomac River growing up. We would rub mud on our skin to stop the prickly sensation caused by the leaves.
Flash forward about 25 years and I revisited stinging nettle – my then-boyfriend (now husband) was the outdoorsy, nature-loving, foraging type (he still is) and would drive out to Sauvie’s Island (north of Portland, OR) to harvest bags full of young stinging nettle leaves. He would haul it home to make nettle pesto (“nesto”), nettle raviolis, and best of all, nettle wine.
Nettle wine is a type of “country wine” (i.e., non-grape wine). When I met my husband, he was adept at brewing plum wine, nettle wine, and hard apple cider – but the nettle wine was by far my favorite. There is something about it that is much more than a mere refreshing alcoholic beverage – it has tonifying, medicinal, properties. Which makes sense, since nettle in its raw form offers a wide variety of nutritional and medicinal benefits (a quick google search on “nettle benefits” or “nettle nutrition” will yield some insightful articles – it’s a good source of iron, calcium, potassium and vitamin A and offers a host of health benefits). So drinking nettle wine doesn’t just give you a nice buzz (my husband always aims for a high ABV), it’s invigorating. It feels about as healthy and energizing as any alcoholic beverage could possibly be.
While the flavor of nettle wine might not be for everyone (nettle has a strong, sort of grassy, taste that is only slightly tempered by the honey and yarrow which are added to the brew), I personally love it.
We (“we” being my husband, since I was busy running around after two rugrats all weekend) started our annual batch of nettle wine this past weekend.
First step was to pick a buttload of young nettle (just the top leaves, leaving the rest of the plant so it will come back next year – and yes, buttload is the official amount that we picked), then we rinsed them well, and made a strong batch of nettle “tea” (just nettle + water, simmer and steep) before adding the sugars (local raw honey) which will feed the yeast, some raspberry and oregon grape leaves for tannins (we didn’t have any black tea in the house), some yarrow and bay leaf for additional flavor and some raspberries for color.
We put the nettle/honey/yarrow mixture in large buckets where we “pitch” the yeast (we use champagne yeast) and let sit for about one week before transferring to a carboy where it will finish fermenting, clarifying, and become yummy alcohol. Once that process is complete we will bottle it so it will keep become more effervescent and keep through the winter (if it lasts that long – nettle wine is my fave go-to summer beverage).
Yay! I’ll post pics of the finished product later this summer! Many thanks to my husband for tackling this project – he’s a smart man who knows how to keep me happy (with wine)! 😉