Due to prolonged periods of food scarcity, drought, and starvation, people in some highlands of the Amhara region use some wild green vegetables, the most common of which is stinging nettle, which is known locally as sama. The plant, which is primarily associated with the diet of the underprivileged, has also long been consumed for its many medicinal benefits.
Stinging nettle is a very tasty and healthy cuisine as many who have tried it attest. People used the leaves of stinging nettle after collecting fresh from the field, cut into slices, cooked in boiling water, and crushed into a stew. Sometimes the leaves are cooked with either potato or barley flour, and served with injera, though occasionally it is eaten by itself with injera.
The shrub-like plant, which is widespread in many highland areas of Ethiopia, is infamous for scorching stinging skin when it comes into contact with it. This is because of the sharp hairs on the leaves and stem that can easily irritate the skin. The leaves should therefore be picked up and handled with care.
In August 2022, RAISE-FS in collaboration with implementing partners conducted a rapid food system appraisal (RFSA) in different woredas. Angot is one of the food insecure woredas in the North Wollo zone of Amhara region, located at a high elevation, with some kebeles reaching 3,500 meters above sea level. The study allowed to have in-depth discussions with different sections of society including women, youth, adult farmers, and stakeholders of the food system in the woreda. The result of the study indicated that residents of the woreda have been experiencing long-time food shortages yearly, in some kebeles the food stress lasts between four and six months. In order to survive the food crisis period, it is common for most people to consume stinging nettle. Despite not being formally cultivated by the local farmers in the area, the study demonstrates how important stinging nettle has been in helping the local population to survive periods of extreme food stress.
Though the plant is considered the food of the poor, research has revealed that the leaves of stinging nettle contain substantial concentrations of dietary and health-relevant biochemicals. The leaves are discovered to be rich in minerals, carbohydrates, and vital fatty acids. Additionally, stinging nettle has a modest fat content and nutritious food (Koju et al, 2020, Journal of Chemistry). What is more, a study in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition revealed that Urtica simensis, a species of stinging nettle, has a significant amount of tocols and can be a rich source of vitamin E, far better than spinach (Tibebeselassie, 2020).
With its multiple important characteristics such as the fact that it is a resilient crop that can grow anywhere in the highlands, its ease of access, its ability to withstand various climatic conditions, and most importantly its nutritional values, RAISE-FS believes that it is crucial to further evaluate the importance of this crop and the team set out to delve deep and further examine the significance of the crop in the area and see whether this crop can be integrated into the formal production system as a food security crop.