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It's nettle time!

And while most people have no use for stinging nettles, I do. It goes with the territory of being German; we find a use for what many others just call weeds. With rubber gloves, foraging for this stuff is no problem. Right now it's at its peak of potential usefulness.

Actually, I have a couple of recipes. One is for beauty, the other is food.

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Soothing Nettle Hair Rinse

4 litres boiling water

1 litre apple cider vinegar

4 3-litre baskets fresh, young stinging nettle tops, loosely packed

Wash nettles in cold water, rinse, and let drip-dry for about an hour. Then place them in a large pot and pour boiling water over them until they are covered. Cover pot and let steep for 3 hours or so, occasionally stirring and poking down the nettles, until the mixture is cooled and the nettles are soaked. Then strain the mixture through a cloth, discard nettles, and bring the liquid to a boil again. Add vinegar, then pour immediately into sterile glass bottles and cap 'em. Makes approximately 5 or 6 litres of solution.

Use this rinse to combat dry, itchy scalp conditions, and keep hair healthy and shiny. You can use it full strength or dilute it in a bowl of water to the desired strength. Use it last thing as you rinse your hair after shampooing and/or conditioning. You can also pour some into an applicator bottle and use it between washings for a scalp lotion if you suffer from dandruff or psoriasis. Store unused portions in refrigerator.

My mom used to rinse my hair with vinegar in warm water when I was little, and this is my own souped-up version of that old home remedy, based on something I found in an old German fashion mag. My hair looked pretty good back then, and after trying this idea out, it looks great. Nettle tea seems to have a lot of good-for-the-skin properties, too, especially if, like me, you get dry itchy skin very easily at winter's end; applying it topically eliminates the itch fast and painlessly. What a convenient thing to find nettles growing right when you need them most! (But please, don't forget the rubber gloves when you handle them. Raw nettles can give you a nasty rash.)

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Nettle Stir-Fry

2 3-litre baskets fresh young stinging nettle tops, washed and drip-dried

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

4-5 garlic cloves, peeled and pressed

Crushed red chillies to taste

Soya sauce

Sesame oil

Add enough oil to your wok to cover the bottom; heat on High until smoking. Add onion; cook until transparent. Add garlic, making sure to stir well so it doesn't burn. When onions and garlic are lightly browned, stir in the nettles. Toss frequently as they cook so they get done evenly. When nettles are emerald-green and tender, remove from heat; add chillies and soya sauce to taste. Serve with rice and any meat you like. Serves 4 to 6.

This is a delicious, quick and easy springtime supper; the sesame oil's smoky flavor, along with the spices, takes the edge off the rather gamy greenness of the nettles.

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I'm also drying nettles so I'll have some for tea throughout the winter (to mix with cider vinegar and rinse my hair, naturally.) I imagine the usual rule applies: 1 teaspoon dried herb per cup of water; one part cider vinegar to four parts tea.

For more fun facts, remember: It's Be Nice to Nettles Week! (Yes...really.)