In New England, spring comes slowly. Very slowly. February seems like it will never end. By the time the tired mounds of snow finally thaw and make way for mud, we are all yearning for signs of life, and as the world greens around us, spring brings us tender herbs.
The stinging nettle is an overlooked and underappreciated herb. Nettles are prolific where they grow in the wild. As a kid, my husband remembers playing with his friends in the woods behind his house and getting stung not by bees but by nettles. They were everywhere, like weeds. Their tiny hairs carry a potent punch of toxins that leave your skin irritated and red. Luckily, you can avoid tromp-ing into the woods to harvest nettles. Farmers markets sometimes carry them in the springtime, typically beginning in early May.
Stinging nettles are rough on the outside and can be difficult to work with. But once they let their guard down, nettles are full of character. All it takes is a little warmth and, voila, the stinging nettles become just plain old nettles. Sort of like us New Englanders.
Nettles are incredibly rich in minerals and delicious not only in food, but in libations. They are also sure to be a conversation starter. (Remember that time you wore a hazmat suit to make a cocktail?) In all seriousness, invest in new, clean kitchen gloves to handle them. Until nettles have either been heated up or steeped in alcohol long enough, they really do sting!
We hope you enjoy exploring this unexpected ingredient and its versatility. The nettle molasses syrup and the basil simple syrup are also great bases and additions to nonalcoholic beverages. Think basil lemonade, nettle-mint iced tea.
PAIGE MCKISSOCK is part-owner of Hive along with her husband, Graham McKissock, and their friends Lance and Alexis Davis. Hive is a mobile bar service that operates out of two Airstream trailers that Graham and Lance renovated into full bars. www.hive-events.com