My introduction to stinging nettles was not nearly as pleasant as the recipes I’m sharing with you today. Filled with tiny hairs on the leaves and stems, nettles will give you a little (temporary) sting when they’re touched in their raw form. But don’t let these stingers scare you off! Nettles are easy to forage, super nutritious and really versatile in the kitchen.
Stinging nettle benefits
You may have come across these hardy plants in your own yard, local preserve or in transitional areas alongside roads. A part of the mint family, nettles spread underground through rhizomes and can grow in just about any condition. They are actually considered a weed in most circumstances.
Stinging nettles are most commonly used as a substitute for spinach, but they’re actually higher in iron than spinach. Many consider stinging nettles to be a superfood.
According to the USDA, 1 cup of nettles contain:
- 42% of your daily value calcium
- 8% of your daily value iron
- Vitamins B6, Magnesium
- The combination of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids, polyphenols and pigments act as antioxidants.
Many say that stinging nettles can help reduce inflammation in the body, including arthritis and allergies. With all the benefits of stinging nettles growing wild right outside my door, I’m happy to include them in my spring meals and preserving projects.
How to harvest stinging nettles
With a little extra care, harvesting stinging nettles is easy and pain-free. You’ll need:
Garden gloves: Unless you enjoy the stinging effect on your fingers and arms, wear a regular pair of clean garden gloves while harvesting.
Snips: Sharp scissors or garden snips work best for harvesting.
Colander: Harvesting directly into the colander makes washing the nettles before cooking easy and leaves out the extra step of transferring them again in the kitchen.
Harvest nettles responsibly from pesticide-free areas. The tops of the nettles are the most tender and nutritious for cooking. Snip the top few inches of each plant and collect any larger leaves separately. The stems will get woody the further down the plant you go.
7 ways to use stinging nettles
The sting is taken out of the nettles when they are crushed, cooked, heated, blended, etc. You wouldn’t want to try a raw nettle salad, but just about any other preparation will work. Think of them as a substitute for spinach.
Here are my favorite ways to use stinging nettles:
- Pizza: Nettles are so good on pizza! Use as either whole leaves right on the dough, or in a pesto smothered on top.
- Pesto: For your pizza or for your pasta or just to dip with a crusty slice of sourdough. In a high-speed blender or food processor, blend nettles, garlic, olive oil and salt until creamy.
- Green smoothie: Sub out the spinach with nettles in my recipe for Overwintered Spinach Smoothie.
- Nettle dust: AKA nettle powder! Place nettle tips and/or leaves in the dehydrator at 110 degrees for 4 hours. When crispy and dry, blend in a food processor or blender until a powder forms. Add this to soups, smoothies or anything that could use a little superfood kick.
- Nettle tea: Throw a few nettle leaves in your mug and pour over boiling water. Steep for a few minutes and then remove the nettles. Sweeten with honey and lemon and enjoy warm.
- Pasta: Sautee nettles with onion, garlic and salt until soft. Season with some chili flakes and a splash of dry wine. Toss into your favorite cooked pasta.
- Nettle chips: Like kale chips but the wild version! I just recently picked up this dukkah-inspired spice mix from Ami Ami and it was super delish with this recipe.
Stinging Nettle Chips
- 1 cup stinging nettle leaves
- glug olive oil
- dukkah spice mix
- Heat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, toss clean nettles with a glug of olive oil and a pinch of salt.
- Using tongs or gloves, gently arrange the nettles on the baking sheet making sure they are not touching. They won't crisp if they are overlapping.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until nettles are crispy like kale chips.
- Sprinkle with dukkah or your favorite spice mix.
Questions about stinging nettles
Is stinging nettle poisonous?
Nope! Stinging nettles are not poisonous but they will irritate your skin if you touch them without gloves on.
Oops, I touched nettles without gloves on! How long does it take for the sting to go away?
It depends on the sensitivity of your skin and how much exposure you had, but generally you will feel relief within an hour, maybe two. Luckily, stinging nettles tend to grow right next to jewelweed, which when applied topically, can help relieve skin irritation. How amazing is that?
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