- Our Blog
- Heather’s Nettle Basics
- Where to Find Nettles in the Wild
- When to Harvest
- Passive Harvesting Techniques
- Harvesting Nettle Root: Uses For Stinging Nettle Root
- Uses for Stinging Nettle Root
- How to Harvest Stinging Nettle Roots
- Nettle guide: where to find, how to pick safely and recipe ideas
- Our guide on how to forage for nettles in Britain, with a few key details regarding where it can be found, characteristics and recipe ideas, plus how to pick and cook nettles without getting stung.
- Nettles provide an important food source for wildlife
- Nettles help keep fruit fresh
- Nettle tea is anti-inflammatory and often used in medicine
- Health benefits of nettles
- Nettles are natural archaeologists
- Nettle fibres can be spun into yarn
- Nettles make perfect plant feed
- When is the best time to forage for nettles?
- Why do nettles sting?
- Where does the word nettle comes from?
- How to pick nettles safely
- Nettle recipe ideas
- How to Make Your Own Super Healthy Nettle Powder!
- Stinging Nettles and the Best Ways to Eat Them
- Blanched Stinging Nettles
Spring is the time of year when many plant lovers head into the woods to wild-harvest fresh Urtica dioica—affectionately known as “stinging nettle”. This versatile and popular herb has been utilized for centuries across the globe.
Stinging nettle is mildly astringent and is often used as a nourishing and tasty food, as a strengthening and refreshing tea, and as a promoter of healthy urinary function with a mild diuretic action*. It contains antioxidants (like phenolic compounds, Vitamin E, and melatonin). And, based on data from the USDA, nettle leaf powder is probably one of the richest sources of minerals among edible plants! Its fibers can even be woven into a cloth that is as high in quality as flax- or hemp-based fabrics.
If you want to enjoy nettle year-round, we offer a dried organic nettle leaf that is organically cultivated in the U.S. as well as leaf and root that is grown abroad. You can also find it in capsules, tinctures, and many of our herbal teas. Happily, it’s easy to grow, but it’s also easy—with a little guidance—to wild-harvest!
We asked herbalist Heather Irvine to share her passive collection technique for wildcrafters, so you can find the best nettles and avoid the sting as you harvest this spring.
Heather’s Nettle Basics
You might know nettles. You may have encountered the plant while hiking, for instance, and found yourself with a short-term, tingling rash from the accidental encounter. It’s the sort of introduction that makes you wonder how this prickly perennial can also be a silky, enriching powdered nutritive.
If your harvesting tools or technique are imperfect, you’ll have to be ready to accept a tingle. I may reduce my credibility by saying I sort of embrace this prickly relationship with Urtica, the genus of flowering plants of which many species have stinging hairs. However, by using proper passive harvesting strategies, you don’t have to get too close to nettle plants and can usually avoid irritation.
The “stinging” part on nettles is composed of thin, hollow hairs on the stem and the underside of the leaves, called trichomes. For some people, the “tingle” (often described as an itch or a burn) may last for up to 24 hours. However, the duration of the “sting” can often be much shorter: as little as 15 minutes (which is what I have experienced). Reactions vary highly with each individual.
The task of the wildcrafter or nettle eater is to subdue these trichomes. Fortunately, you don’t actually have to get close to the plant if you use the right tools and techniques. And, once harvested, the trichomes wilt to harmless hairs when the plant is dried even slightly, or when it’s crushed.
There are a few plants that can be mistaken for Urtica dioica. There are at least two related species, both of which are considered useful, as well as the wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), which is almost a dead ringer for stinging nettles. While the wood nettle is just a little rough (not “stinging”), the leaves are larger and more rounded, and they are arranged alternately on the stem. Wood nettle is also used as an edible and traditional remedy, although I have found it to be only partly as useful as stinging nettle. Another plant you might confuse for stinging nettle is clearweed (Pilea pumila). It’s in the nettle family, but it is smooth, not prickly. As it matures, its stem becomes notably translucent.
The easiest way to identify Urtica dioica from these lookalikes is by its sting.
Where to Find Nettles in the Wild
Do you ever get irked by herbalists who tell you what to do with nettles, but not how to find your own itchy oasis? Here are some clues about where to look:
Where nettle is prolific, it is quite prolific. Also, it grows vigorously. However, this may not be the case in every patch. In the wild, it may not be as abundant (particularly in forests), as it is in gardens, meadows, lawns, or in less wooded areas. The edges of farms and meadows are a good place to keep your eye out for it. Venturing into the woods on hiking paths is another good plan. Low areas, or descending paths beside or leading to streams or other small bodies of water, are also excellent areas to search.
In other words, places where you have to cross a little footbridge of tippy stones, or where your boot gets sucked in close to the creek, are perfect places to look!
When to Harvest
I prefer to harvest nettles in the springtime. There are a couple reasons for this:
- The plant still has nearly the full season to regrow and produce seed.
- The leaves are said to be darker, more tender, and especially nutrient-rich at this time of year. The plants become taller and leggier, even a bit pale and bug-eaten, as the summer progresses.
If you have a dense, healthy nettle patch—either in your garden or a wild patch that you steward—I’ve learned to give the entire patch a harvesting trim early, in the spring or early summer. The nettles will grow back uniformly, and appear even healthier afterwards.
Passive Harvesting Techniques
So what do you do once you get out there?
If you are harvesting nettles from woodlands or generally wild places, it would be kind of you to select only part of what you find in any patch, so other plants don’t encroach on its territory and so you ensure the plant has a chance to produce seed. Many opinion pieces on wildcrafting give an adage of never taking more than one-third of any single plant in an area, not taking more than one in 10 individuals in a patch, and not taking the best looking or the worst looking plants. This is generally good practice.
Bring the proper tools with you to avoid touching the plant with your bare skin. These include:
- Gloves—not flimsy, but thick canvas
- Thick pants and a tightly-woven, long-sleeved shirt
- A pair of garden snippers, pruners, or scissors
- A paper bag, bucket, or burlap sack to hold your harvest
Once you identify the right nettle:
- Always wear your gloves when handling the plant.
- Cut the fresh nettles at one of their nodes, snipping directly into the bag, bucket, or burlap sack.
- Allow the cut nettles to wilt slightly before handing.
The cut nettles will wilt fairly quickly, and the hollow trichomes will deflate, so you’ll have nary a prickle. Though to play it safe, keep gloves on when you garble. (In case garble is not regularly in your vocabulary, it is derived from an old Italian word with similar meaning to the word “sort”, and we use it to describe the motion of running one’s hands over stems, which is an efficient way to harvest the leaves from many soft, upright, perennial plant stems. In most cases, we do this after cutting the stem where we want to harvest.)
You can then process the leaves in any of the usual ways you would process herbs: make them into a tincture, vinegar, or glycerite; dry them for tea; or powder the dried herbs loosely in a coffee grinder. Fresh nettle quickly blanched is also a great substitute for cooked spinach in any number of culinary recipes, especially in lasagna, pesto, or atop pizza.
Excited To begin harvesting?
You may also be interested in:
- How to Make Nettle Chips
- Nettle Pesto Recipe
- Herbal Hair Care
*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. For educational purposes only.
Harvesting Nettle Root: Uses For Stinging Nettle Root
The benefits of nettle root are unsubstantiated but may be useful in relieving symptoms associated with enlarged prostate. The above ground portions of the plant are also a tasty forage food. Harvesting nettle root requires finesses and caution, as the stems and leaves are covered with fine hairs that deliver a histamine jab, resulting in a painful rash and sometimes blisters. The effects decline over a short period but can be excruciating at first contact. Some tips and tricks on how to harvest stinging nettle roots without getting bitten by the stingers can help keep you safe as you collect this potentially troublesome, yet beneficial, plant.
Uses for Stinging Nettle Root
If you have ever been hiking in North America near streams, lakes and other areas with rich soil, you might have encountered stinging nettle and it isn’t a meeting you are likely to forget. However, this plant is one of the most tasty forage plants available, in spite of its sting. Young shoots and leaves are delicious edibles, and tea from the dried foliage is a traditional medicinal as well as plant fertilizer. There are also many uses for stinging nettle root that rely upon historical health knowledge. But first, you need to get a hold of the root without causing yourself considerable distress.
Nettle root is available at many natural food and holistic medicine stores. It comes as a tincture, capsule, tablet or even a tea. You can easily make your own tea by drying the leaves and steeping them in water to harness the flavor and healthful benefits.
The root is said to assist sufferers of enlarged prostate by reducing the urge to urinate. In addition to this use, stinging nettle may also assist with muscle and joint pain abatement and to help with urinary tract infection symptoms. Modern medicine is studying the plant’s use as an arthritis treatment to reduce inflammation, but the primary parts utilized are the leaves.
Native Americans also used root decoctions for dysentery, to reduce bleeding, and to relieve asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments. It was also applied externally to soothe hemorrhoids and other swollen skin tissues.
How to Harvest Stinging Nettle Roots
If you are trying to harness the benefits of stinging nettle root, you are going to have to dig a bit. In most cases, gloves are a good idea, as some contact with the leaves is likely to occur. Casual contact with any above ground part of the plant can cause a dermatological incident that is painful and persistent.
Be cautious when harvesting nettle root, as the process will kill this valuable plant. Make sure there are plenty of other specimens nearby and you are not reducing the population significantly. You can remove the leaves before digging up the roots, save them and use them in a stir fry or dry them for tea. Stems are bitter and fibrous unless the shoots are very young.
Dig outside the foliage area and under the plant at least a foot to get the roots without damaging them. Once you have your roots, thoroughly clean them in fresh water. Change the water several times and use a vegetable brush to help remove all the grime. Chop the roots into small pieces. The smaller the size, the better you can harness all the juices and benefits from the roots.
To make medicine, place the roots in a Mason jar and cover with pure grain alcohol at a rate of 1 part root to 2 parts alcohol. Cover the container and store it in a cool, dark location. Shake the jar daily. In approximately 8 weeks, the medicine of the roots will have leached out into the alcohol. Alternatively, you can blanch and mash the roots before storing in the alcohol, but some of the benefits will be lost in the process. Drying the root pieces and making them into tea is another method of harnessing the healing powers of stinging nettle.
As with any medicine, consult with a professional healer to determine amounts to ingest and the perfect ratio.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before using ANY herb or plant for medicinal purposes, please consult a physician or a medical herbalist for advice.
Nettle guide: where to find, how to pick safely and recipe ideas
Stinging nettles are more than just needled irritants, the Cornish make a delicious cheese using them, the Nepalese make curries and some people even use them for clothing. Nettles in the UK are often known as common nettle, stinging nettle or leaf nettle.
Our guide on how to forage for nettles in Britain, with a few key details regarding where it can be found, characteristics and recipe ideas, plus how to pick and cook nettles without getting stung.
Nettles provide an important food source for wildlife
Red Admirals and Painted Ladies, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Commas are particularly fond of nettles. With butterflies on the decline generally, the plants provide an important food source for these pretty insects. They in turn help to pollinate our garden flowers and crops.
Ladybirds live on nettles before they reach maturity (Getty)
While many green fingered folk see nettles as nothing more than weeds, they can actually provide gardeners with a vital tool to protect their plants.
Young ladybirds live on nettles as they grow and develop, using their foliage to hide from predators. When the ladybirds reach maturity, they venture further into the garden to eat the aphids that suck the sap from young plant growth. If you’re not keen on nettles running wild in your flowerbeds, why not create a ‘wildlife corner’, perhaps behind the shed in your garden or by the compost heap if you have an allotment? Leave it untended and help attract these beautiful and useful insects.
More related content:
- Wild garlic guide: where to find, how to cook it and recipe ideas
- Elderflower guide: where to find it, how to identify and recipe ideas
- April foraging guide: best foods to find and recipe ideas
Nettles help keep fruit fresh
The leaves of nettle plants can, when used to pack fruit, help to keep it fresh and ripe, stifling and stopping mould from forming. Their high nitrogen content means they can also be used in compost, fuelling the bacteria to help them break down material more effectively and quickly.
Nettle tea has a refreshing, delicate flavour
Nettle tea is anti-inflammatory and often used in medicine
Boiling nettle leaves into a tea is a popular way to extract their subtle flavour and getting rid of the sting at the same time. They have an earthy, wholesome flavour similar to spinach and other greens. Nettles are used to coat Cornwall’s delicious Yarg cheese, and in Northumberland the leaves are ground and sprinkled amongst cheese during production by one cheese-maker. Horse breeders have long fed nettles to horses to help provide a sleek coat, and in Sweden nettles are grown by farmers, dried out (causing them to lose their sting) and fed to dairy cattle, as it increases milk production.
Nettles have traditionally been used for medicinal purposes by many cultures. Native Americans used the fresh leaves to treat aches and pains. European herbalists used the leaves in a similar fashion to treat gout and arthritis. Also, with the plant dried out to neutralize the acid in the sting, the leaves become a natural antihistamine. Some of these uses are now being scientifically tested, with some surprising results.
Health benefits of nettles
Nettles are packed with nutrients. High in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and full of calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium, they are also a good source of protein. Like spinach, when cooked, nettles reduce to about a quarter of their fresh amount when cooked, so a carrier bag full will yield about 500g/1lb when cooked.
Nettles are natural archaeologists
Nettles will grow just about anywhere, but they prefer rich soils and benefit from the waste humans produce. In this way, the presence of large collections of nettles in the wild can sometimes indicate where settlements once existed. The site may not longer be visible on the surface, but the nutrients in the rich soil still provide the perfect conditions for the nettles.
Nettle fibres can be spun into yarn
The fibres in the nettle plant are similar to linen and can be spun into yarn – nettle fabric was used to make German uniforms in World War I. Scientists at De Montfort University in Leicester have used nettle fabric to make dresses in the past. Nettle yarn was often used to make tablecloths and bed sheets in Scotland and in Russia the juice from the plat has traditionally been used to create a green dye. A yellow dye comes from the roots.
Nettles can be turned into a liquid fertilizer
Nettles make perfect plant feed
Like comfrey, nettles make perfect liquid plant food. Fill a bucket with nettles and top with water. Within 10 days you’ll have a thick dark brown liquid – rich in nitrogen and smelling like a heap of manure. Diluted with water (10 parts water to 1 part nettle juice) it makes a fantastic fertilizer, but be warned, it stinks!
When is the best time to forage for nettles?
Nettles are best eaten when tender so early to mid spring is when they’re at their seasonal best.
Why do nettles sting?
The British nettle carries its stinging barbs on the stem and the underside of the leaf for protection from those animals that might eat or uproot it.
Native British nettles inject a cocktail of formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine and serotonin, and that is what causes the bobbly swelling and itchy skin we suffer when we brush up against it.
However, that is nothing compared to the effects some more exotic nettles have at their disposal. On the island of Timor in south east Asia, one species of nettle causes lockjaw and a painful burning sensation, both of which can last for days or weeks.
Elsewhere, a native species on the Indonesian island of Java produces similar, but more potent results that can last for months and have even caused the death of some of victims.
Where does the word nettle comes from?
The Latin for the nettle plant is ‘dioica’. It means ‘two houses’ and is a reference to the fact that the male and female flowers are carried on separate plants. It has been suggested that the term ‘nettle’ is derived from the Old English for needle – a reference to the stinging leaves.
How to pick nettles safely
Fancy an easy foraging adventure? Nettles may not be the first thing you’d plan for dinner, but these prickly plants are surprisingly tasty when cooked, and have a long history as a foodstuff. Native Americans would harvest the young plant in spring, and nettle cordial can be traced back to the Romans. Stinging nettles taste similar to spinach and are very good for you – they have an unusually high protein content for a vegetable and are rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium and calcium.
Nettles grow in abundance everywhere in the UK, and are easily recognisable. Take thick gloves!
Wear protective gloves to avoid a nasty sting (Getty)
Nettles are best when very tender, so pick them in the spring when the nettles are just coming up or later in the season when they’re growing well, but before they are flowering.
Use rubber gloves or pinch the leaves hard, so you don’t get stung. Pick the young leaves from the tips.
Lay the nettles out on a tray to wilt or wash them in hot water. Once wilted they can no longer sting you. The sting relies on erect hairs to penetrate the skin and inject the stinging formic acid. When wilted strip the leaves off the tough stems.
Always cook nettles to destroy the stinging acid. Nettles are not suitable for salads! and collect the biggest leaves, then wash them in very hot water, neutralising the stinging chemicals and making them safe to eat.
Nettle recipe ideas
Easy nettle soup
Make this easy nettle soup recipe – perfect for a light lunch.
Nettle soup served with fresh cream (Getty)
Nettle pesto can be made very simply – all you need to do is substitute cooked nettle leaves for the basil or baby spinach you’d normally use.
Crispy fried stinging nettles
Light, crispy and delicious, eat as a snack or serve with a main meal. Especially good on top of a spring or summer salad.
- A cupful of stinging nettles
- Pinch of salt
Heat a frying pan with one tablespoon of butter. When the fat begins to bubble, throw the nettles into the pan and add a pinch of salt. Cook for two or three minutes, turning frequently until the leaves start to turn golden and crispy. Place the nettles onto a paper towel to cool and dry.
I’ve been experimenting with stinging nettle since I was a little girl in Germany. At that time, it was used as a test of stamina between my siblings and me, whoever touched the most stinging nettle before crying out won. As the youngest I often cried out first and quickly learned to give stinging nettle a wide berth!
About 8 years ago, I started to look at stinging nettle differently and it soon became one of the first wild edibles I experimented with. A course with Botanist Laura Reeves of Prairie Shore Botanicals and one of my favorite wild edible books – The Boreal Herbal by Beverley Gray had me making tea and soup with this versatile yet prickly plant.
Despite it’s stinging nature, this nutritional powerhouse is well worth donning a pair of gloves and harvesting.
Stinging nettle is rich in Vitamin A, C, D, K, iron, calcium and a protein. If you like spinach and kale for their nutritional prowess, you’ll love stinging nettle!
It’s the perfect plant for anyone just beginning to explore wild edibles. It can be found in every province and state, can be picked for free, is relatively easy to use (just wear gloves!), is mild flavored, is hard to mis-identify and can be used in multiple ways.
Here’s what I’ve learned about finding, harvesting, drying, freezing and using stinging nettle.
Yes, stinging nettles really do sting. It’s a combination of tiny spines and a chemical mixture made up primarily of formic acid that causes the stinging or burning sensation when our skin comes into contact with the leaves or stems. The sensation may last just a few minutes or a couple of hours. If need be, it can be calmed with a paste of baking soda and water.
Wearing long pants, long sleeves, solid shoes and gloves is highly recommended when going on a stinging nettle harvest!
But don’t worry, cooking, drying or even crushing stinging nettle will disable the stinging. As long as you don’t make stinging nettle salad – there are many safe ways to eat and use stinging nettle.
I’ve only ever used the leaves and stems of nettle plants although the roots and seeds can also be used and many people pick them for medicinal uses. In this article, I refer only to the leaves and stems.
Personally, I use stinging nettle now and then for pleasure. I appreciate it’s nutritional properties, but do not use it in prescribed amounts for any specific medicinal purposes. If you’re interested in using stinging nettle or any other plant for medicinal purposes, I strongly encourage you to consult credible, trusted sources before doing so.
With that said, stinging nettle is one of the most well researched wild edibles and has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient Greek times. The University of Maryland Medical Center says “Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of an enlarged prostate (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH), for urinary tract infections, for hay fever (allergic rhinitis), or in compresses or creams for treating joint pain, sprains and strains, tendonitis, and insect bites.”
Where To Find Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle can be found across the globe. It loves rich, moist soil high in nitrogen. Farmers know that old manure or compost piles are a favorite hang out for stinging nettles. They prefer sunlight, but will tolerate some shade. You’ll find patches in disturbed soils, along streams or river banks, on old homesteads and along the edge of clearings or forest pathways where the sunlight comes through.
When to Harvest Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle is a cold season perennial plant, meaning it is early to pop up in the spring. It grows rapidly and will reach it’s typical 3-5 foot height quite quickly. The optimum time to pick stinging nettle is just before blossoms develop in spring and early summer. Once nettle has gone to seed, the leaves will become a little bitter and develop gritty particles that may irritate the urinary tract of some people.
How to Harvest Stinging Nettle
Armed with a basket or paper bag, scissors, gloves, long pants, long sleeves and closed-toe shoes, you’re ready to head into the nettle patch.
Cut about 2 -3 inches above ground level just above where there are leaves branching off.
By cutting just above that spot, like most garden herbs, you actually encourage new growth. In the photo below, you can see the two leaf sets on either side of the cut, both of these will grow into new shoots. By mid summer, you should be able to harvest these again.
Store your cuttings in a paper bag or basket. Plastic bags don’t breath as well and may cause condensation which will cause mold to grow if you don’t empty the bag right away.
How to Use Stinging Nettle
Cooking, drying and crushing stinging nettle will disarm the stinging. If you have a recipe that accomplishes one of those things, you can use stinging nettle in just about anything. Here are two recipes that are an excellent place to start cooking with stinging nettle:
Stinging Nettle and Cheese Biscuits
Stinging Nettle and Potato Soup
Sauteed Stinging Nettle with Garlic
Also consider using stinging nettle in any cooked recipe that calls for spinach or kale. It goes particularly well with eggs and nutmeg.
You can also make tea with stinging nettle. When I had a couple of friends over for the first nettle harvest of the season, we brewed up some nettle tea with fresh leaves and stems (a handful of leaves and stems steeped with boiling water for 3 -5 minutes). We all agreed that it was too potent to drink on its own and enjoyed it much more after we added some dried Hyssop to the brew.
My favorite way to make nettle tea is to dry it and blend it with other ingredients. I find dried nettle tea has a much more subtle flavor. I like how it rounds out the flavor of other ingredients and adds all the other benefits of stinging nettle.
How to Dry Stinging Nettle
Start the drying process by washing your stinging nettle. Actually, whether or not you wash your nettle before you dry it is up to you. I decide based on where I’ve picked it from, the condition of the leaves, the number of insects I see, how dirty or sandy it is and so on – it is rare that I don’t wash it.
To wash it, put on a pair of gloves to dip and swish the nettles in a bowl of cold water, repeat in a fresh bowl of water, then drain. Water droplets can cause dark spots on drying herbs, so it’s always a good idea to remove surface moisture by laying it on a clean towel. You can even dab the leaves dry with another towel if you’re in a hurry.
Now you’re ready to dry your stinging nettle in the dehydrator or by air drying.
In a dehydrator…
- Spread stems and leaves on the drying trays of a dehydrator. Set the temperature at its lowest setting (95°F or 35°C) and dry for 12 to 18 hours.
- The stems will take longer to dry than the leaves, so always test them instead of the leaves to determine if the drying is done.
- If you want, you can also separate the leaves and the stems and dry them separately.
To hang dry…
- Gather 5-6 stems and tie together with kitchen string. To allow for good air circulation, do not tie too many stems together.
- Label your bundles and hang in a clean, dry and dark place – or on your dining room light fixture!
The length of time it takes to dry your stinging nettle depends on the size of your bundles, the humidity level and maturity of the nettles. It could take as little as one week or as long as three weeks. Just be sure that the stems are completely dry before you take them down.
To store your dried stinging nettle, keep the leaves and stems in big pieces to retain as much flavor and essential oils as possible. Store in paper bags or glass jars (avoid plastic bags as they may lead to condensation).
I used dried stinging nettle in various tea blends.
How to Freeze Stinging Nettle
Start the freezing process by washing your stinging nettle as indicated above.
For best results, blanch the stinging nettles. Just like any vegetable, the enzymes that age vegetables will remain active in the freezer without blanching. Your veggies and your stinging nettle will have better flavor if blanched.
To blanch stinging nettles, simply add the nettles to boiling water and boil or steam for 2 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and immediately soak in ice water for 2 minutes. You can use the blanching water for cooking pasta or soup.
Squeeze and drain as much water as possible from the nettles.
Chop and fill freezer bags or containers in 1/2 cup or 1 cup portion size for easy use.
Add frozen chopped nettles to soup, casseroles, pasta dishes, stir fries, stews, egg dishes, dips, spaghetti sauce, gnocchi, etc.
I’m excited about this year’s stinging nettle harvest and plan to expand my list of nettle recipes. Do you think you’ll try stinging nettles this year? Do you have a favorite recipe?
Interested in learning more? Get Getty for a wild edible hike, kitchen workshop or group presentation. Getty Stewart is a freelance Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and avid veggie gardener. She loves growing, preparing and preserving food and has been doing so forever.
Fresh stinging nettles are only in season in the spring, which means that if you want to enjoy them and their nutritional benefits year round you need to preserve them. Much of the below is inspired by a recent foraging trip led by Langdon Cook. Thanks, Langdon, for making our life a little more delicious.
Here are the methods we recommend:
Blanching & Freezing
Blanch, shock, and wring out your nettles as you normally would before cooking with them (see how to prepare nettles for details), then freeze them in zip top bags as you would cooked spinach. We like to chop ours prior to freezing, because it makes for less work later (unchopped nettles can be stringy when cooked), but you could also chop after thawing.
Make Nettle Pesto & Freeze as Ice Cubes
Turn your nettles into pesto using our nettle pesto recipe, then portion that pesto in ice cube trays. That way it’s easy to thaw just as much as you want later on. Once the cubes have frozen, move them into a zip-top bag in your freezer for long term storage.
Freeze Nettle Stock/Nettle Tea
Dried Nettle Leaves for Tea
If you just want to make nettle tea later, first give the leaves a rinse and pat them dry (avoid touching them with bare skin). A salad spinner would work even better.
Wear gloves and lay each leaf out in the dehydrator tray so it isn’t touching the others for best drying quality and speed. Set your dehydrator to 115 degrees and dry them until brittle (ours took roughly 1 1/2 hours). You can tear the leaves off the stems while they are still fresh, but we found it easier to put the whole leaves and stems together in the dehydrator and then the brittle leaves break away from the stem effortlessly once dry. The drying process neutralizes the sting, so it’s safe to handle stinging nettles without gloves once dried. Discard the stems.
When you’re ready to make nettle tea, just steep them in hot water as you would tea leaves (or use a french press, as we have here). And, for the record, nettle tea with a teaspoon of yuzu marmalade is to die for.
Wild Produce Recipes
How to Make Your Own Super Healthy Nettle Powder!
Nettle has been used for centuries to treat a wide variety of health conditions. Nettle is amazingly rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, especially the critical trace minerals: anti-cancer selenium, immune-enhancing sulphur, memory-enhancing zinc, diabetes-chasing chromium, and bone-building boron.
Benefits of stinging nettle
Regular use of stinging nettle not only increases energy, it brings a shine and swing to the hair, strengthens fingernails, clears and firms skin, restores elasticity to blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, counters incontinence, improves digestion, reduces cancer risk, and strengthens the lungs.
How to dry nettles:
Alternative 1 – hang them upside down :
- Wear gloves and wash the leaves.
- Bundle them and hang them upside down in a dark dry place.
- Strip the leaves off the stem and store away from sunlight.
- Crumble the dried leaves in a blender and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Alternative 2 – dehydrator:
- Wear gloves and wash the leaves.
- Lay each leaf out in the dehydrator tray so it isn’t touching the others.
- Set your dehydrator to 115 degrees and dehydrate for 8 to 10 hours or until the leaves are completely dry. Remember to turn the leaves periodically so that mold doesn’t begin to grow due to trapped moisture.
- Tear the leaves off the stems once dry. The drying process neutralizes the sting, so it’s safe to handle stinging nettles without gloves once dried.
- Crumble the dried leaves in a blender and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Dried nettles in my dehydrator.
Put the dried nettles in blender and puree for a few minutes until you get a smooth powder.
Examples of how to use nettle powder:
DIY Hair Growth Serum Recipe from Wellness Mama
DIY Hair Detangling Spray from Wellness Mama
Nettle And Lemon Cake With Lemon Icing And Blackberries from Veggiedesserts
How To Use Nettles For Seasonal Allergies…
Stinging Nettles and the Best Ways to Eat Them
Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: Cardoons aren’t the only vegetable with built-in armor. Meet a green that can put up a fight.
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Like some of our other vegetal friends, stinging nettles are considered a weed, and in some areas, not just a weed, but an invasive species. Livestock consider it unpalatable. Oh that that “stinging” bit? The little spines or hairs (1, below) found on the plant’s stems and underside of the leaves are very irritating to human skin. If you brush up against them, expect an intense burning sensation (and maybe welts), thanks to toxins like formic acid, which you might be familiar with if you’ve ever met a fire ant. Why are we suggesting you eat this for dinner? As Michael Ruhlman says, “There’s a visceral pleasure to eating dangerous or forbidden food.” Plus they taste good, and are nutritional powerhouses — so you should get to know your new favorite superfood.
More: If you have a few bunches of stinging nettles, you’re well on your way to 5 dinners.
Like chickweed, you can (responsibly) forage for stinging nettles, but don’t harvest nettles (or anything, really) near a well-traveled road (unless you’re going for an essence of exhaust fumes). You’re looking for the young nettles, ideally just the top bits of plants (2, below) that are less than knee high. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall offers further specifics, and suggests that you pick only the top 4 to 6 leaves, and he mentions not to eat stinging nettles once they begin to form flowers, because by then they’ve become “coarse and hoary.” If you miss out on perfect specimens right now, not to worry — the plants will produce fresh growth again later in the summer. Or visit your neighborhood farmers market and pick up a bag: We’ll never tell.
To prep your nettles, Hank Shaw recommends blanching in water that tastes like the sea, shocking them in an ice bath, then draining and drying them. (Don’t forget the gloves when you’re handling them — but once cooked, their stinging powers are wiped out.) From there, you can freeze some for a taste of spring later on, or you can use them for dinner tonight:
It seems like a vegetable cliché, but you can use your cooked nettles anywhere you’d use spinach. Try stinging nettles in pasta, either as a filling, or right in the dough. Use stinging nettles in spanakopita or a soup. Go for asparagus benedict on quinoa nettle cakes or use them to top a pizza like Chad Robertson does in Tartine Bread.
Sauces and Sides
Served stinging nettles creamed, in a gratin, or simply sautéed with butter, salt, and pepper. You already know you can turn almost any greens into pesto, and stinging nettles are no exception. Try stinging nettle salsa verde, or for extra credit, uses stinging nettles to make vegetarian-friendly rennet, and then make your own cheese.
Tell us: How do you like to use stinging nettles?
Photos by James Ransom
Young Nettles, can you see the spines?
In Europe, cooking stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) is common right of Spring. There aren’t many American’s that crave them, but that’s slowly changing. They’re a special plant, and the first thing I look for after a long Midwestern winter. Why would you want to eat them? Because they’re delicious, and incredibly healthy.
In the kitchen, they’re versatile, you can treat them like a vegetable, or like wilted greens. The key to getting nettles that are good to eat though is getting them at the right age. In a nutshell I like nettles that are young, and less than a foot high.
Nettles that have begun to make seeds are getting mature, you can still eat them, but I like to use a scissors to clip off only the tender new growth. After a few months of growing the stems get tough and fibrous. Of course you can always pick the leaves off, but the tender stem is half the fun.
Stinging nettles aren’t the only nettles I know of, there’s also wood nettle (Laportea canadensis) that has leaves that are more round than the pointed leaves of stinging nettles, both are good and give great results as long as you harvest them young. One thing to know is that wood nettles will cause more intense dermatitis if they happen to touch you though.
Harvesting and storing
I make sure to keep some gloves with me and a scissors when I’m out hunting in case I run into a good patch. I gently grab the nettles with my gloved hand, then snip small clusters of them using the scissors, and put them in a paper bag. Once I get home I immerse the nettles right away in cold water to refresh them in case they’re been in the car and have wilted at all. After they’re cleaned, I shake them dry (still wearing the gloves) then put spin them dry in a salad spinner or wrap them in towels to weep water. Once they’re dry, I put them in a bag that could be plastic or a paper grocery bag, along with a damp cloth or a few paper towels to keep moisture in with them since the refrigerator will dry out greens quickly at home. In a restaurant setting I store greens in large tied bags, or in plastic fish tubs until they’re needed.
Young nettles will be the best nettles, these are prime for eating.
Like most plants, the best nettle will be a young one. The entire shoot can be eaten like a vegetable and there is no need to pull off the leaves, just blanch or wilt them, then chop or use whole. If the nettles are older, you can cook with only the leaves but they can be stringy, especially if they’ve gone to seed. Occasionally I’ll make a puree or a soup out of older nettles if I can’t resist picking or if someone brings them to me and I can buy them on the cheap. Waste not, want not.
Sometimes I serve young nettles whole. When they’re very young they’re almost more like a young shoot than a wilting green. It’s fun to twirl them around a fork.
Are some of the easiest wild seeds to harvest I know of, along with cow parsnip, wild fennel and angelica. As the plants get older each year, they’ll start to bolt and produce seeds, which makes the plant tough and stringy to eat. If you’re picking regularly from a patch near you or preferably in your yard, you can mow them to force them to keep making young, tender growth. Eventually they will go to seed though. The seeds can be ground into a primitive flour, but I typically just gently toast and sprinkle them on dishes like granola or yogurt, or add them to baked goods.
Of the two species I’ve had, wood nettles are much more, vegetal/green tasting, whereas stinging nettles almost have a saline/ocean quality to them, especially if they’re pureed. The difference is real. I’m not a food scientist, but I assume the stronger flavor of stinging nettles stems from the higher amount of chlorophyll they contain-they’re much darker after cooking or pureeing than wood nettle.
Nettle soup: a classic Scandinavian spring recipe. Pureeing nettles will strengthen their “oceanic” flavor.
Stinging nettles have been dried and used as tea for a long time, and can also be ground to powder in a blender after drying to be used as a coloring/seasoning. Freezing is also an option I use sometimes. To freeze I blanch nettles in salted water, then drain, squeeze out excess water, pack into labeled, dated ziploc bags and store until I need them. After freezing, they won’t have exactly the same texture as fresh, but they work well for soups, pasta fillings and purees.
I love nettles mixed in with grains and pilafs. PIctured are some I pulled from the freezer, they lose a lot of volume.
Cooking and removing the sting
To remove the stingers from nettles, soak them in water overnight, or blanch them in boiling, salted water and then blanch in an ice bath or cook immediately from there. You have to be careful though since nettles can overcook easily, after they’re wilted they’re ready to go. 90% of the time, if I’m serving nettles in a restaurant, I’m probably going to blanch them first, then roughly chop, which helps to distribute their texture and prevents them from looking long and stringy, if they’re very young though I will serve the entire young shoot.
Here’s a couple ways I like to enjoy them:
- Wilted with butter
- Chopped up in soup
- Made into a smooth puree after blanching by putting in a highspeed blender
- Tossed in with warm grains
- Dried and used to make great healthful tea.
From a restaurant perspective, nettles are expensive. Since not a lot of farmers cultivate them for sale, their price is steep, usually around 10$/lb, take that into account the next time you root them out of your garden.
Here’s a basic walk through of how I like to blanch them before adding to dishes at the restaurant.
Blanched Stinging Nettles
- Ice water
- Plunge the nettles into simmering, salted water for 10 seconds, then remove immediately to a container of ice water.
- After they are cooled, remove the nettles from the ice water, then squeeze out the water.
- I like to form the nettles into a ball with my hand, then I chop with a knife as if making a pound sign #, so that the stems get severed and they’re all in similar sized pieces.
- From here the nettles can be cooked, refrigerated for up to 3-4 days, or frozen in an airtight container.