Gudang.xaal (Stinging Nettle)

Haida Gwaii is an island whose residents are self sufficient. And need to be. With produce delivered once a week – foraging, learning and feeding off the land are a way of life. And if you’re new, you quickly learn the value that the land has for your health, your community and everything else that relies on it.

During my first week on Haida Gwaii I had heard rumours of a delicious leafy plant with a nutritional content that surpasses kale and a taste that surpasses spinach. Skeptical of its existence, with a few new friends, I tried my hand at foraging.  We started scouring the ditches on a Sunday afternoon searching high and low for this pokey, apparently quite common plant,  but had no luck.

The next day I was grateful to come home to a welcome-to-the-island gift tied around my door knob, thanks to the generosity of a new neighbour. Inside the bellowing bag of greens, were the sought after…stinging nettles.

I had heard how to cautiously handle these ancient pain-inducing plants, but naively tried to pick one up. As the name implies, stinging nettles WILL sting you. The leaves and stems are laced with stinging hairs that if touched, leave a burning paper cut feeling pain that can last for hours, or even days. I learned later that the stinging was due to a combination of chemical compounds including histamine and serotonin. Oops.

BUT, if they are baked, blanched or boiled for a matter of minutes, their defences are lost and you’re left with a nutrient dense, flavour rich green.

I tried to use the nettles a few different ways (and later purchased nettle tea at the farmer’s market). In the end, my favourite was a nettle pesto pasta.

Once you get past their exterior the nettles are a vitamin rich plant, packed with medicinal properties primarily for the urinary system. Depending on whether you use the root or the leaf, stinging nettles are a gentle herbal remedy that can promote the excretion of uric acid and can be used for the treatment of muscle pain, UTI’s, internal/external bleeding and kidney stones. Historically it was used to reduce pain during labor, restoration during menopause, and relief for PMS.

Though I will likely never live entirely off the land,  harvesting wild plants has been a refreshing way to develop a new found appreciation for the history of the island, First Peoples and the ecosystem. As best said by the Haida Nation:

“Our culture, our heritage, is the child of respect and intimacy with the land and sea. Like the forests, the roots of our people are intertwined such that the greatest troubles cannot overcome us. We owe our existence to Haida Gwaii.”

So thank you neighbour for the welcome to the ‘hood gift, keeping me healthy and opening my eyes to abundance of nutrients that fills this island.