Have you noticed those purple, fuzzy looking weeds with square stems that are popping up lately in the sidewalk strips and lawns around Portland? That is Lamium purpureum, a mint family plant known as purple dead nettle. You may wonder: Why eat it? For one thing, the little pink flowers taste like nectar. And the rest of the plant is reported to be high in a number of nutrients including antioxidants, those cancer-busting compounds we can all use more of! I have been into putting it in my smoothies ever since I read this piece by a Tennessee homesteader. I blend it because the fuzzy texture and bland, grassy flavor does not make for awesome eating as a whole plant. (That said, with a little creativity, anything is possible.)
You may also wonder: Why is a living plant called dead? Good question! It’s called “dead” nettle because it won’t sting you, as opposed to stinging nettle, Urtica, which infamously will. The two plants are not closely related but they do look sort of similar, whatwith the square stems and opposite leaves and so on. Urtica is that formic-acid wielding superfood that zaps you with little stingers when you get too close. Within two weeks, it’s going to be Urtica harvest time, and I’m going to attempt to make some delicious raw stinging nettle pesto. But I digress — let’s return now to purple dead nettle, whose annual 15 minutes of fame is upon us. Hurry with this one — it does not stick around and will be gone before late spring!
You can harvest dead nettle with abandon because it is an invasive weed from Europe that spreads like mad, much to the chagrin of landscapers and gardeners. Some botanists will dispute whether a given plant that appears to be purple dead nettle might actually be henbit, Lamium amplexicaule, but in terms of edibility there is no meaningful distinction, so munch away and call it whatever you like.
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