Introduction: The Penultimate Nettle Guide
I used to hate stinging nettles. The first time I ever encountered them was only a few years ago but just brushing against the bush made my leg feel like it was on fire. It was an intense experience and it tarnished my feelings toward the plant. While my leg was on fire, someone explained the plant to me and that it could be used as tea, in soups and that sometimes people had contests to see how much they could eat raw. I learned about the proven and unproven health benefits and nutritional attributes of Stinging Nettle and I was intrigued. I started experimenting with the plant and now as March/April rolls around I crave the plant.
Step 1: What Is Stinging Nettle? How and Where to Pick It.
What is Stinging Nettle:
Urtica dioica often called common nettle or stinging nettle (although not all plants of this species sting), is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant, native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America, and is the best-known member of the nettle genus Urtica. The species is divided into six subspecies, five of which have many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals. The plant has a long history of use as a medicine, as a food source and as a source of fibre. - from Wikipedia
Bichu, Common Nettle, Feuille d’Ortie, Graine d’Ortie, Grande Ortie, Great Stinging Nettle, Nettle, Nettle Leaf, Nettle Seed, Nettle Worth, Nettles, Ortie, Ortie Brûlante, Ortie des Jardins, Ortie Dioïque, Ortie Méchante, Ortiga, Small Nettle, Stinging Nettles, Urtica, Urtica dioica, Urtica urens, Urticae Herba et Folium, Urticae Radix.
In just 1 cup of stinging nettle there is:
- No Fat
- 2g of protein (nettle contains up to 25% protein in its peak season)
- 36% RDI of Vitamin A
- 5% RDI of Vitamin B6
- 555% RDI of Vitamin K
- 8% RDI Riboflavin
- 2% RDI of Niacin
- 3% RDI of Folate
- 43% RDI of Calcium
- 8% RDI of Iron
- 13% RDI of Magnesium
- 6% RDI of Phosphorus
- 6% RDI of Potassium
- 2% RDI of Zinc
- 3% RDI of Copper
- 35% RDI of Manganese
Stinging nettle is used for many conditions, but so far, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to determine whether or not it is effective for any of them. Stinging nettle root is used for urination problems related to an enlarged prostate such as nighttime urination, too frequent urination, painful urination, inability to urinate, and irritable bladder. Stinging nettle root is also used for joint ailments, as a diuretic, and as an astringent. The Nettle's above ground parts are used along with large amounts of fluids in so-called “irrigation therapy” for urinary tract infections (UTI), urinary tract inflammation, and kidney stones (nephrolithiasis). The above-ground parts are also used for allergies, hayfever, and osteoarthritis. Some people use the leaves/stems for internal bleeding, including uterine bleeding, nosebleeds, and bowel bleeding. The Nettle plant is also used for anemia, poor circulation, an enlarged spleen, diabetes and otherendocrine disorders, stomach acid, diarrhea/dysentery, asthma, lungcongestion, rash/eczema, cancer, preventing the signs of aging, “bloodpurification,” wound healing, and as a general tonic. Stinging nettle above ground parts are applied to the skin for muscle aches and pains, oily scalp, oily hair, and hair loss (alopecia). In foods, young stinging nettle leaves are eaten as a cooked vegetable. - from WebMD
How and where to Pick it:
Before you go picking it, remember to pack some gloves so that you can handle the plant without getting stung all over. If you do get stung, and you probably will, don't worry the pain goes away in a short period of time and it's good for you!
Depending on where you live, you should be able to find nettle near your in the region where you live. I've found it in city centers just as easily as in the forest. Consult the pictures above so that you can recognize the plant in the wild and when you find a plant that looks correct. Test it by touching it with your bare skin along the leaves and stem; if it sting you then it is the right plant. Once you've found it pick to your hearts content. Stinging nettle is considered a weed so most people don't do anything with it besides cut and throw it away but you can have all of its bounty. Good luck foraging!
*If you get stung by nettles, wash the affected area with the water from cooked nettles - from Hedgerow Farm
** I've been reading from various sources about how you shouldn't eat nettles after they begin to flower, so maybe you shouldn't. I've seen various warning about how they could cause issues with your liver and kidneys, how they may cause hallucinations, how they loose much of their nutritional value and also how they can irritate your urinary tract. Consider yourself warned.
Step 2: Save Your Nettle for Later
Once you've found some nettle, and I hope you picked a lot, you should dry it out to use after the nettle seasons ends. Don't you want to take advantage of all of those good nutrients in the winter? You should.
Start by washing your newly found nettle, you never know a wild animal could have peed on it and it most certainly will have some caterpillars or spiders on it. After you've given it a quick wash, dry the Nettle by tying some thread around a bunch of it and hang it somewhere it will get a lot of airflow and someplace where it wont get wet.
It should be dry in less than a week and will keep into the winter so long as you keep it that way.
Drying is good for using in tea, infusion or soup making but for preserving to put in cooked foods you may want to freeze the washed nettle leaves.
Step 3: Pick It, Strip It, Wash It, Dry It
How do we begin using all of that nettle that we just can't wait to eat? Start by picking off the leaves, wash the leaves and then dry them in a salad spinner or with paper towel. No big whoop!
Step 4: Nettle Tea
Ok, we're going to start off slowly and easily and move into the more exciting things to do with nettle leaves.
Place a 3 or 4 of the clean leaves in a cup and pour hot water over them. Let them steep for 10-15 minutes. Bam! Nettle tea.
Step 5: Nettle Infusion
Nettle Infusion is only slightly more complicated than nettle Tea.
Fill a pot 1/4 full with cleaned nettle leaves. Fill the pot with water and boil for one hour. Allow to cool and refrigerate. Your nettle infusion should have a very green taste but with a subtle sweetness. I really enjoy it on ice during a hot summer afternoon; it's very refreshing and has no sugar!
Step 6: Nettle Pesto
For nettle pesto you will need:
- a stick/emulsion blender or food processor
- 2-3 cups of nettle (freeze them first before putting them through the food processor if you are worried about the chance of stings, personally I haven't had not problems but there has been comments about past experiences)
- salt & pepper to taste
- some cheese (Parmigiana would be traditional but I used a curd)
- nuts/seeds (European Pine Nuts would be traditional but I used flax and poppy)
- Some herbs (Basil, Oregano, Thyme...it's up to you)
- Olive oil
- the juice from one lime
Begin by chopping your nettle and garlic. Throw everything, but the oil, in a container or your food processor and blend while slowly pouring the oil into the mixture. You should get a smooth paste quite quickly which you can use in pasta, on bread or on whatever your heart desires.
Step 7: Nettle Soup
For nettle soup you will need:
- at least a 150g of nettle leaves
- a smear of butter for sauteing the aromatics
- 1 regular sized onion or 3 small ones, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 of a leek
- 2 chopped cloves of garlic
- 3 tbsp oats (optional for thickening)
- 1 liter vegetable stock
- salt & pepper to taste
- Plain yogurt or sour cream and chives/green onion to finish.
Start by chopping your leek, garlic and onion. Heat your butter in the pot over medium-high heat and when it has melted throw in the leek, garlic and onion. Once they start to brown add the nettle and vegetable stock. Boil for 30 minutes and remove from heat. Use your stick blender to puree the mixture and add salt/pepper to taste.
When you're ready to serve, ladle the soup into bowls with a large dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream in the center and a generous sprinkling of chives or green onion. Enjoy!
Step 8: Wilted Nettle With Garlic
I love the previous uses for nettle (and those mentioned in the next step) but wilted nettle with garlic is my all time favorite. It's simple, elegant, tasty and nutritious.
For this you will need:
- 2 cups clean nettle leaves (it will really shrink)
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste
- A squeeze of lemon/lime is also really nice
Begin by chopping your nettle and garlic. Heat your pan to a medium-high and pour a splash of olive oil in. Saute the garlic until just golden and lower the temperature of the pan to medium. Add the nettle to the pan along with salt and pepper. Squeeze some lemon/lime over the wilted nettle and garlic to help cut through the taste of the oil.
Serve this on it's own, as a side or mix with pasta to create a meal.
Step 9: Green Nettle Quiche
Who doesn't love quiche? It's good hot and fresh or room temperature and the next day. With this nettle quiche you can easily and effortlessly pack so many nettles in your diet, it is unbelievable; Vitamin K is going to flood into your body like a tsunami (did you know that most of us actually don't get enough Vitamin K from our diets?).
For this you will need:
- One pie crust, I will suggest the following: Perfectly Tender and Flaky Pie Crust
- 3-4 cups of washed and chopped nettles
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup of milk
- 3 cloves of garlic
- a handful of chopped chives
- a handful of chopped ground-ivy, if you like (it was growing right next to the nettles and it has such a nice fragrance, so I decided to throw it in but of course it is optional)
- salt and pepper and paprika to taste
- You can also add cheese if you'd like
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
If you have chosen to go along the righteous path and make your own pie crust, place the pastry dough in the form you want to use and just drape it over the edges. I used a spring-form, normally used for cheesecakes.
Fill your perfect pie crust first with your nettles then garlic, chives and ground-ivy on top.
Whisk your eggs and milk together then season with salt/pepper/paprika and whisk again. Remember that it's ok to be heavy handed with the pepper and paprika but not ok with the salt. Pour your beaten egg mixture over top of the nettles in the pie crust, trying to evenly distribute it. The egg mixture should come up to the top of the nettles depending the dimensions of your baking container. If it the egg doesn't come to the top then push the nettles down.
I've you've thought cheese to be a good decision, now would be the time to sprinkle it over the eggs/nettles/others.
If you are working with home-made pastry dough then now you should trim the edges along the rim of your baking container, For this I used a fork's prongs to press down against the edge and worked my way around. After the edge is trimmed, I fold it rusticity but nicely around the sides of the baking container. f you used a store bought pie-crust then you do not get to do this. (*If you have extra pastry dough, you can use it in the next step*)
Put your pre-quiche in your pre-heated oven and bake for 30 minutes or until set in the center of the quiche. You can check to see if it's set by placing a toothpick or other thin/pointy instrument into the quiche filling, if it comes out clean then the quiche is done.
Step 10: Nettle Samosas!
Yes, samosas are one of the most delicious street foods ever invented but maybe they would be a bit better with nettles inside (or at least different and healthier).
For this you will need:
- Some dough, perhaps you have dough left over from the last step and if you don't you can use a more traditional samosa dough by combining 1 1/2 cup of AP flour (00), 2 tsp. salt, 2 tbsp. vegetable oil and 1 cup warm water.
- 2 tbsp of oil (your choice which one)
- 3 cups of nettles
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- 1 tbsp of ginger if you would like
- Cumin, curry, turmeric, paprika, chili, salt and pepper to taste
- Chutney, if possible and you like it.
Heat a skillet on medium-high heat. When it's hot add your oil followed by nettles, garlic and spices. This step isn't super necessary since the nettles will also get cooked during the frying stage but by wilting the nettle before you will be able to pack each samosa with as much nettle as possible when otherwise you would be left with mostly empty pockets with only a bit of nettle in them. Once your nettles are cooked and fragrant, remove the pan from the heat.
Roll out your dough, trying to get it as thin as possible (2-3mm). Once rolled, place a small round plate on the dough (we're just using it as a template) and cut around the plate. Repeat this step until you have used all of the dough. Cut all of the circles in half.
Depending on the size of your half circles, place between 1 and 2 tbsp of filling onto the center of one of the half circles. Fold one of the pointy-edges over the filling and then the other (see the images). Crimp all of the openings together so that you are left with a sealed samosa pocket. Repeat this step until all of your half-circles are filled and all of your filling is used.
Deep fry your samosas until golden brown. Serve with chutney (preferably mango).
Step 11: More Suggestions...
Of course the possibilities of what to do with nettle don't stop there.
- Replace nettle with spinach in any cooked recipe like omelets, Spanakopita, risotto...because spinach is expensive and nettle is the superior leafy-green.
- Make a nettle smoothie by blending clean nettle leaves with yogurt, apple, orange, pinapple or whatever you think might compliment the spring-like flavor of the nettles.
- Nettle gnocchi.
- Nettle Aloo.
- Put nettle on the next pizza you cook at home.
- Stuff some ravioli with nettle and sage.
- Make some nettle beer. Make some nettle wine.
- Throw some nettle inside your next grilled cheese sandwich.
- Nettle pakora.
Make up something crazy like nettle ice cream or nettle butter...
Make nettle plant food: pack a 4 ft long piece of drain pipe (with a sealed bottom) ram the nettles in and add some water. then fill a large plastic bottle with water, drop this in the top of the pipe a a weight, leave it for a couple of weeks to decay.The fluid produced will boost all types of plants, ( but it does stink really bad).dig the decayed nettles into your flower beds) - Thanks FloppyJoe/ OR / 1:5 nettles:water (weight:weight) and then let it rot for a week to three. Filter the stinking water and use it to fertilize plants by diluting it 1:10. Alternatively you can use the same ratio and filter it after 24 hours. Then you can use the water as a pesticide against thin-skinned bugs (without diluting). - Thanks Kaljakaaleppi
Make rope and textiles: dry nettles and make their stems into a fiber similar to flax, for weaving, knitting etc. you would ret the stems, soaking them in water for some weeks or months. Thanks Ladybgood
- Nettle everything!