We live in the woods where nettles grow everywhere. My kids have become pretty adept at spotting them but that does not mean we don’t have regular run-ins with these stinging weeds while tromping around. I know they are not everyone’s favorite plant, but I want to make a pitch for nettles because I have come to love them over the years! Now I look forward to spotting them as one of the first signs that spring has really arrived and sunshine is (hopefully) not far behind.
So every year when the nettles are perfect I have a dear friend who comes to visit and we make a spring weekend of harvesting and cooking with nettles. I love that now the kids remember and look forward to it. Maybe this will become your new family tradition too!
Nettles are so delicious! Another friend who used to live in the mountains but has since moved to the city recently confess to me that he bought nettles at the local food coop last week because he loves them so much and couldn’t find them growing near his house. That made me laugh because there are some things that it kills me to pay for at the grocery store – zucchini, rhubarb, nettles. If you find yourself tempted to pay for these delicious greens just come visit me and I’ll hook you up.
One of my favorite health benefits of nettles is that they help relieve hay fever symptoms. I just think it’s so magical that at a time of year when the pollen count is high and allergies are prevalent nature also provides this great remedy! Nettles are also an anti inflammatory and have been found to help reduce joint pain and the effects of osteoporosis. It is also used as a diuretic and to reduce eczema.
Nettles are also high in iron (I swear I feel stronger after drinking nettle tea) and a great source of bone strengthening calcium! A warning though – nettles are not considered safe for women who are pregnant as they can lead to uterine contractions.
The first thing you have to do when working with nettles is to find them! This can be a great spring treasure hunt to do with the kids – plus it helps them learn what they look like so they can avoid getting stung. Nettles often grow in the woods on the edges of disturbed areas like clear cuts or roads. If you are uncertain if what you are looking at is a nettle you can always ask for a volunteer to touch one and find out (just kidding. Don’t do that. Try looking it up in a plant book. This is my favorite one).
It is best to harvest nettles within the first couple weeks of seeing them come up. This is when they are most tender and scrumptious. Use gloves and scissors and maybe tongs if that’s helpful. Bring a bag to collect them in. Nettles will cook down a lot so you will probably want to gather more than you think you’ll need.
The first thing to do when working with nettles is to take the sting out of them so that you can work with them and eat them without getting hurt. There are two easy ways to to this – blanching or drying.
The first thing I like to do is give them a good soak in sink of cold water. This will wash off any dirt and soak off any little bugs that might have decided to journey home with you.
If drying nettles for tea at this point you can put them on your dehydrator in a single layer and just let them dry out overnight. In the morning put them in a container and you’ve got nettles for delicious nutritious nettle tea – just use them like you would loose leaf tea.
If blanching put a large spaghetti pot on the stove and bring the water to boiling. Next (remembering to use your tongs!) transfer the nettles into the spaghetti pot. They only need to be in the hot water for a minute or so to take the sting out. After that you can lift them out with the spaghetti strainer and place them in another bowl. I like to do it this way for a couple of reasons 1) because they will cook way down once their in the water so you’ll want to process more than one batch in the boiling water 2) the water that you blanch them in is extremely yummy and nutritious. You’ll see it changes to a deep brown color – don’t throw it out! Drink it like you would hot or cold tea.
What To Do With Them
At this point the options are endless. You can use the blanched nettles any way that you would use spinach. If you have more than you can use right away it freezes beautifully.
One of my favorite ways to use it is to make nettle pesto. My homesteading friend Corina has this delicious and simple recipe. Other ideas are to use it in place of spinach for lasagna, blend it in green smoothies, use it in baked goods, use it as an omelette filling. Or just saute them with a little butter and garlic and they are delicious on their own. If you do this last one no need to blanch first – cooking them over heat will also remove their sting. Have fun and get creative! I’d love to hear if you have other ways you love to use this delicious and oh so healthy plant.
Be happy, be healthy, be well!
Want to be part of the conversation about how to live a healthy, happy life? For lots more tips and tricks and some great conversations come on over and like the Wellspring Facebook page and sign up to receive Wellspring’s monthly newsletter.