Nettles are available during the later spring and deep into summer, as long as you know where to find them (and you have a pair of gloves!) You may have come across nettle before- a small plant that leaves your feet and shins stinging, burning and itching with small bumps- hence the name, “Stinging Nettle!” Despite the name and reputation as a “poisonous plant” nettles are a delicious wild food that offers beneficial medicinal properties!
Nettles often grow along larger rivers. If the young shoots are less than 6cm in height, you can gather these without gloves and can eat them raw (added to salads, etc in the early spring.) As the summer progresses, the plants get taller and the stinging hairs appear. This is when you’ll want your gloves to harvest!
Nettle can grow to about 2-4 feet tall. The somewhat tear-drop shaped, dark green, opposite leaves are a few inches long, with very coarse teeth. The leaf tip is pointed, and its base is heart-shaped (as pictured.) The stalks, stems and leaves contain tiny hairs and look fuzzy. The stems and leaves are both edible when prepared correctly (stinging compounds deactivated.)
It is quite easy to remove the stinging from the nettles so they can be consumed safely.
Instructions for Collection and General Preparation:
1. Collect your nettles. Be sure to practice sustainable foraging methods as to allow future nettle crops to continue to flourish! Use gloves to prevent stinging and burning from the nettles. (Also consider your arms, as you’ll likely be reaching into bushes of nettles!)
2. Rinse the nettles in a strainer.
3. In a large pot, add the nettles and enough water to cover them. I like to add a pinch of sea salt as well.
4. Bring the nettles to a boil. Allow them to boil for about 10 minutes. (When I strain the water from the cooked nettles, I like to save some to add to soup broths!)
You can can the cooked nettles (follow instructions for canned greens.) You can freeze them for longer storage or refrigerate them for more immediate use.
Nettles are often called a “super food” because they rich in chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, protein and amino acids. Nettles are 29 times higher in Calcium and 9 times higher in Iron than spinach (which is typically touted as a superfood!) Nettles are tonic to the liver, blood and kidneys, aiding in a necessary process of detoxification of the body; they are a reliable diuretic that balances blood pH and filters waste from the body, including uric acid. This process can be especially useful in the treatment of arthritis, gout, eczema and skin rashes and irritations. Nettles contain homeostatic properties, or a remedy to stop bleeding. A strong decoction (boiling to make a tea, for example, or steeping to make a tincture) is traditionally used to treat wounds and hemorrhage. This can assist with building blood after menstruation, birth or other blood loss. When nettles are fresh, tinctured or freeze-dried they have anti-histamine qualities that may be effective for acute allergic reactions. Nettles are both astringent and anti-inflammatory, which help with the symptoms of allergies and many other ailments.
I prepared my first nettle recipe last spring after collecting a small bag full along a river- Nettle Pesto, aka Nesto. Here is my recipe:
1 bunch of nettles (approx 6 cups raw, approx 2 1/2-3 cups after boiled- instructions above)
2 garlic cloves, raw
Pinch of sea salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 small bunch basil
1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts
1/4 cup olive oil
Optional: 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
(I have also made this with goat cheese added- delicious!)
1. Prepare the nettles according to the boiling directions, above.
2. Strain the nettles and allow to cool for a few minutes before proceeding.
3. While the nettles are cooling, add all other ingredients to a food processor. I like to save a few nuts to top the nest when plated.
4. Add the nettles and blend until the mixture is the texture of pesto.
Enjoy the Nesto as a dip to your favorite vegetable, add a spoonful of Nesto to more olive and a bit of vinegar for a delicious salad dressing, or use on top of your favorite meats or grilled vegetables!
You can opt to use this Nesto in place of pesto in mostly any recipe.
For additional information on spring foraging, check out Arthur Haines’ Youtube video on Spring Foraging.
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