Posted by heatherwitch
It’s beginning to look a lot like springtime in the PNW which means one of my favorite plants, Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is starting to emerge! The young leaves of Nettle can be eaten like any other leafy green, with the proper preparation!
Many people think you can’t use this plant for anything because of the stinging hairs that cover the stem and leaves. Luckily for us there are a couple ways to surpass this, because it’s a delicious food and holds medicine as well!
Smashing. Carefully pick a leaf, fold it up as small as you can and smash all the hairs. Smash it some more, better to be safe than sorry. Now you can eat it fresh in the field!Heat. This neutralizes the sting! (I’ll talk about different forms of heat below)Drying. When dried, the hairs no longer sting but they can act like slivers and be irritating.
As with any food, start small and make sure you don’t react poorly to it. Before using it medicinally, please do proper research and ensure there are no interactions.
First things first, find a nettle patch. You want this to be away from roadways, somewhere you know people don’t spray it with insecticide and somewhere that it’s okay to harvest from! In an ideal world this would be a place you could return to throughout the spring and summer. When in doubt, ask around (friends and family)! A lot of folks have it growing in their yard and won’t do a thing with them.
Some things you may want to bring with for harvesting:
Leather gloves/gardening gloves. You typically only need them on one hand.Clippers/scissors. Use your non-dominate, gloved hand to hold the plant and the clippers to cut it.A basket or paper bag to place the nettles in.
Next, onto harvesting etiquette:
Like I said before, make sure it’s okay to harvest in that area and that they haven’t been exposed to any unwanted chemicals.Try to avoid trampling any fragile plants, including the nettles. Ask permission (from the plants) and listen to your gut feeling for the answer. Harvest what you need and will use.Leave the biggest, healthiest plants.Harvest with gratitude and respect. The general rule is 1 in 20 for harvesting, but with my method it can be more like 5-8 in 20, this method actually promotes growth and can produce a more robust patch of nettle!
Looking at the plant, the leaves come out opposite of one another, in sets. You want the top 2-3 sets of leaves, using your judgement. You want the newest growth and to leave the majority of the plant intact. In the picture above, I would clip the stem right above the leaves making the Y shape. Doing this promotes new growth and you can alternate which plants you do this with, making a sustainable patch.
You can harvest the nettles from the time they emerge from the ground to when they flower in late summer. Many believe that nettles form chemicals that aren’t good for your system after this time, and whether or not this is true - the leaves usually get tougher and the hairs sting worse. I don’t harvest nettles after they flower.
How to prepare the nettle:
I like to separate the leaves from the main stem, and chop the stem up into smaller bits so it cooks better. This is where those gloves come in handy! Once you’ve done that, release any insect friends you accidentally brought inside, then rinse the nettle. Now it’s ready to cook!
What to make?
Soup! I loveeee nettle soup, and you can add nettles to any soup that you would add greens to. Here’s a version for example. Boil potatoes, add carrots, onions and celery and let it cook until soft. When it is almost finished, dump in the nettle in batches and stir until it’s fully wilted into the soup. Bam! Nettle soup.
Boil, steam or saute them just like you would any other greens!!
Nettle chips. I’ve been wanting to make nettle chips, similar to kale chips, but haven’t given it a try yet!
Drying for teas. The best method I’ve found is prepping them like I mentioned above, drying them with a towel and putting them in a brown paper bag. Give the bag a shake every couple of days and make sure the leaves are getting rotated. Keep it someplace warm. After a while, they’ll be dry and good to go! There’s lots more recipes online, and I encourage you to get creative!