Janell Blacketer, and the rest of the staff at the Nisqually Tribe's community garden, prepares nettles for use by tribal members.

Janell Blacketer, and the rest of the staff at the Nisqually Tribe’s community garden, prepares nettles for use by tribal members.

Thanks to a concerted effort by staff at the Nisqually Tribe’s community garden, tribal members can have regular access to nettles, an important traditional food.

Nettles – despite their stinging reputation – are a highly nutritious and seasonally important plant to the tribe’s culture.

Nettles begin growing in early spring. Until then, tribal members would have subsisted on diets mainly made up of dried salmon and other hardy plants. Nettles start growing just as tribal members need to restore themselves, said Janell Blacketer, a staff member at the tribe’s community garden.

“Nettles start growing in the spring and help cleanse the body after our winter diet and help us build strength,” she said.

Nettles are high in calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and Vitamin A, and can be used to treat high blood pressure and diabetes.

The community garden is on the site of a former cattle ranch the tribe purchased along the banks of the lower Nisqually River. Most of the site has been returned to the estuary it once was, but the tribe dedicated the upland portion of the property for a meeting hall and community garden.

In addition to providing fresh produce to tribal members, the community garden also allow access to culturally important plants, such as berries and nettles.

Tribal members can come out to the tribe’s garden facility to pick their own nettles.

One method the Nisqually garden staff uses to prepare nettles is by boiling them briefly, then plunging them in ice water. After blanching, the nettles are dried in racks and packaged for tribal members.

Blacketer and other garden staff also dry nettles for elders and deliver them. “Sometimes we have more requests for nettles than we can actually keep up with,” she said.