Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Herbata Pokrzywowa (Nettle tea)

Lamium Album, White Achangell from Gerard's Herball (The herb discussed below is stinging nettle, or urtica. Gerard does not provide an illustration of stinging nettles, but they look just like these harmless guys, so watch it.)

Pokrzywa is the Polish word for stinging nettle; one of my favorite words and one of a very few words I knew in Polish before English. The nettles themselves are fearsome; they cause a painful burning reaction upon contact, and I was at first surprised to learn that they highly valued and sought-after for their flavor and putative healing properties. Even if it is true that they are disarmed and delicious when cooked or dried, how did anyone ever get close enough to find out?

According to Gerard’s Herball of 1597, revised 1636, Nettles are

covered with a stinging down, which with a light touch only causeth a great burning, and raiseth hard knots in the skin like blisters, sometimes making it red.
I don't know if the last four hundred and nine years have yielded a better description of the effect of nettles. They have among their “vertues”:

Nicander affirmeth, that it is a remedie against the venomous qualitie of Hemlocke, Mushroms, and Quicksilver.
And Apollodorous saith that it is a counterpoison for Henbane, Serpents, and Scorpions.
Pliny saith, the same Author writeth, that the oile of it takes away the sting that the Nettle it selfe maketh.

Well, possibly, but I will not be trying this at home. I will be continuing to make nettle tea in the evenings. Even if it doesn’t cure your henbane poisoning, it is a tonic and restorative tipple on its own.

The only Yiddish word for nettle with which I am familiar is "פּאָקשיװע" or "pokshive," clearly cognate with the Polish. Mordkhe Schaechter's Plant Names in Yiddish provides "קראָפּעװע" or "kropeve", and "בריעכץ" or "briekhts"

Herbata Pokrzywowa (Nettle tea)

Scald a teapot with boiling water. Place dried nettle leaves in the pot (one teaspoon per cup), and pour boiling water over the leaves. Allow to steep for about three minutes

Optional: add dried mint leaves and/or dried violets to the nettle leaves.

For Weekend Herb Blogging. I expect Gerard might be back.

Gerard, John, and Marcus Woodward. Gerard's Herball: The Essence Thereof. New York: Crescent Books: Distributed by Crown Publishers, 1985.


Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

Very cool. Where did you find it?

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stinging nettles grow everywhere in Mississippi. When I was a child living there, I often stepped on them with my bare feet--and it was really painful! Almost like an electric shock. I've never seen them here in California. Thank heavens!

12:32 AM  
Blogger the chocolate doctor מרת שאקאלאד said...

Kalyn, Where did I get the book, or the nettles? I picked up a 1985 edition at a used bookshop. You can find nettle tea at some health-food stores and at groceries in Polish neighborhoods. The also grow wild, as Sher points out, all over the east. I first met up with them on my grandmother's farm in New York state. Hi Sher, They do indeed pack quite a wollop.

3:09 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

This plant isn't actually a true nettle; the genus Lamium is in the mint family, and in English it is usually called "Dead Nettle" because even though it looks vaguely nettle-like, it doesn't sting.

My guess is a tea made with true nettles (Urtica) would be terrible, but I don't want to be the one either to verify or disprove this.

Plants that are in the Nettle family in addition to nettles, include hops, and hemp and mulberries (although there is some controversy about this, especially regarding mulberries).

11:05 AM  
Blogger the chocolate doctor מרת שאקאלאד said...

Ben, You are correct, Gererd had a woodcut of the dead nettle, not the stinging nettle, and they look very similar to me, so I included that image. I believe the teas and recipes are made with stinging nettles though. Maybe I can find another 16th century nettle illustration somewhere.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Isil Simsek said...

Hi Chocalate Lady,
We also use nettles a lot, usually with other plants like mallows or spinachs, since they have a strong taste.
Though I haven't eaten any this year, it's somewhat hard to wash them ;)
Btw. thanks for the link.

5:12 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I wonder if there are any green grocers anywhere who are crazy enough to sell nettles. I had amazing nettle stuffed ravioli in a Tuscan restaurant some years ago. Nettles are delicious!

And that same day on a walk through a field, I too had mistakenly brushed the tops of what I thought was mint. Ooowwwwwwww!

11:22 AM  
Blogger Ilva said...

When I was out there gardening this weekend I saw a lot of nettles, fortunately I saved them because I thought that I might use them for cooking something... My father always made nettle soup and I think it's delicious!

2:22 AM  

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