This guest blog is written by our friend Zoe Gardner, a self-proclaimed herb nerd and plant lover with over 20 years of experience working with medicinal plants. A specialist in the quality and safety of medicinal plants, she is the author of the 2nd edition of the American Herbal Products Association Botanical Safety Handbook, a reference text on the safety of over 500 medicinal plants. Zoe helped found the Medicinal Plant Program at UMass Amherst, spent seven years overseeing product development and product safety at Traditional Medicinals, and now splits her time between working as a research consultant to herbal companies and creating botanical pottery. You can find more about her pottery on Instagram and Etsy. She is proud to be a member of the Real Pickles Advisory Board.
I am so excited for Real Pickles’ new small batch Organic Nettle Kraut! If you’ve spent any time learning about herbs, or if you have friends who love using herbs or foraging for wild foods, then you probably share my excitement. But, if you haven’t heard of nettles as an edible plant, and especially if you’ve brushed up against nettles and experienced its famous sting, the idea of nettle kraut probably sounds a little crazy to you. When nettles are prepared properly, they make an amazing addition to food or tea, with a level of rich green goodness that’s hard to top.
Herbalists and wild food enthusiasts get *very* excited about nettles. Here in the Northeast they are among the first plants to come up in the spring, providing rich edible greens after a time when greens are traditionally in short supply, and, perhaps most importantly, signaling the end of winter. For wild food enthusiasts, nettles provide the first chance to go foraging and eat fresh local greens. For herbalists, nettles are one of the most widely used herbs in the Western herbal tradition. They are considered a nutritive tonic that contains a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, providing nutritional support to benefit the health of all the systems in the body. Nettles are one of the many plants that blur the line between food and medicine. I often think of them as super-kale, so wonderfully full of nutrients that in order to persist in the wild they need to protect themselves with stinging hairs.
Each spring I try to find the time to harvest, cook, and freeze nettles so that I’ll have them around throughout the season. The greens are a wonderful addition to soups, stews, and many other dishes where spinach or kale are used. Some people even make the savory Greek spinach pie, spanakopita, with nettles instead of spinach. But I don’t always get around to preserving fresh nettles, and when I do it’s a bit of a production – chopping leaves with gloves on so that I don’t get stung by the fresh plants. So, I’m very grateful that the Real Pickles crew took the time to preserve some nettles in kraut so that I can enjoy the taste of fresh nettle in the fall and winter.
The timing of nettle and cabbage harvest seasons don’t usually coincide very well, with the main cabbage harvest in New England running from September to November, and nettles being one of the first plants up in March or April. Nettles do stick around all summer, but they get tougher and more prickly as they grow, especially as they start to flower. When nettles are properly tended and repeatedly cut back over the course of the growing season, the new leaves can be harvested several times in a season and are just about as tender as that first spring harvest. Real Pickles worked with a Vermont farm, Foster Farm Botanicals, to get the timing just right, receiving a wonderful fresh and tender delivery of nettles to ferment with the first of this year’s cabbage crop.
This small batch Organic Nettle Kraut is a simple and delicious blend of cabbage, fresh nettles, sea salt, and scallions. It’s all the fermented and probiotic benefit of kraut with the addition of the green goodness of nettles to help keep you well-fed and healthy through the winter, until you can go pick some fresh nettles in the spring.
RECIPE: Nettle Kraut Pancake with Herbal Schav (cold vegetable soup)
Serves 4, Vegetarian and gluten free.
- 1, 15 oz jar Organic Nettle Kraut, strained, liquid reserved for schav
- ¼ t baking powder
- 1 clove garlic, finely grated
- ¼ cup flour (gluten free: blend 2 parts cornstarch to 1 part rice flour)
- 2-4 T nettle kraut brine
- clarified butter for frying
Strain sauerkraut, reserving liquid for both loosening batter and for schav (below)
Combine flour and baking powder, whisk
Grate garlic and mix with kraut
Add dry ingredients to the kraut and garlic mixture and fold together
Add kraut brine a little at a time to achieve a slightly stiff, cake-like batter
Fry on a medium-hot pan in clarified butter until crispy
Serve hot alongside room temperature schav
- 3 hard boiled eggs
- approximately ½ lb. mixed greens (such as swiss chard, kale, collards, nettles, brussels sprout leaves, pea shoots, turnip or beet greens, sweet potato leaves)
- approximately ¼ lb sorrel
- approximately ¼ lb herbs (mint, parsley, dill, nasturtium leaves, etc.)
- 2 cups greens cooking liquid for thinning puree
- 2 cloves garlic
- brine from one, 15 oz jar Organic Nettle Kraut
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt to taste
- 1 ½ cups creme fraiche, sour cream, or yogurt
Blanch greens in well-salted boiling water then shock in an ice bath, reserve cooking liquid.
Puree cooked greens with garlic, nettle kraut brine, and some of the cooking liquid
Add the sorrel, puree to smooth
Add raw herbs (mint, parsley, dill, nasturtium leaves) a little at a time, pureeing, and tasting/adjusting for desired flavor, reserve a handful for garnish
Slowly add olive oil to puree while blending to thicken
Strain puree through a fine mesh sieve *
Salt to taste
Stir in creme fraiche
Finish with a squeeze of lemon, chopped herbs, boiled eggs (halved) and serve alongside nettle kraut pancakes
Recipe contributed by Bill McKerchie.