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Wild-Harvesting Nettles: Taking the Sting out of Nature’s Greens

Rain or Shine Blog

Nettles, known as a nuisance, are also readily available and nutritious.

After Punxsutawney Phil failed to see his shadow this year, the extension of winter was expected to be cut short. However, consistent rainfall the past six weeks may have proven him wrong. In spite of the weather conflicting with the forecast, daffodils and crocus have begun to push up out of the ground, showing budding signs of optimism that can mean only one thing. Nettles are out!

Okay, so it also means that spring is near. The late winter downpours and warmer climate encourage lots of green growth, even the kind of plants with annoying syringe-like trichomes filled with histamine and other irritating compounds that can cause visible welts on the skin and painful stings.

Mostly known for their negative attributes, nettles are underrated. Their use in developing textile fiber is commonly overlooked, regardless of the fact that they don’t require the same pesticides as cotton. They have a long history of being used in herbal medicine to treat everything from arthritis and dandruff to benign prostatic hyperplasia and promotion of lactation.

The best part of the good news is that if you don’t have any of those issues, cooked nettles resemble flavors of sweet spinach when prepared properly and can be potentially very tasty.

Microphotography of nettle trichome by Charles Krebs
Microphotography of nettle trichome by Charles Krebs

Wild-harvesting nettles takes a little care to conduct without stinging yourself. You’ll need a good pair of solid constructed gloves made with something like thick latex rubber or leather, a pair of long scissors and a container they will not able to sting through like a tupperware or small bucket.

Hold it below the plant and trim the leaves directly into the container. You’ll find them growing just about anywhere, but near a body of water is a good place to start. Early spring is the best time to pick them as the leaves are very tender and full of flavor. Once the plants get taller the leaves become less palatable, tough and even gritty. Keeping them in a tupperware container will help keep them fresh for when you are ready to cook with them.

When you’re ready to bring the nettles into the kitchen, put some olive oil or butter along with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. The steam will melt the trichomes and dissolve the irritants from the plant’s natural defenses. You can then use them in just about any dish where you would normally add sauteed greens.

Other culinary uses for the plant include tea, soup, pesto and even flavoring beer. Nettles are high in calcium, vitamin A, C, iron, manganese and potassium much like spinach and other leafy greens. Happy harvesting, rain or shine.

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Wild-Harvesting Nettles: Taking the Sting out of Nature’s Greens