We are enjoying the first few days of spring here in Oregon and you know what that means, Nettles!! The young tender stinging nettle leaves are ready for picking. We are pretty lucky to have a stream running through our property where the nettles love to thrive. If you go out looking for stinging nettles your best bet is to look in healthy ecosystems near creeks and ravines, where they are often growing within a short distance, as they do like being near water. Early spring is prime picking time to pick the plants for the optimum nutrient benefits, and if using for food it is said you want to harvest the leaves before the plant goes to seed. I always do my best to pick lightly in an area to leave enough of whatever I am picking for the wildlife to also enjoy and to assure future generations of the plants and seeds with thrive. With nettles I pick from the tender top leaves, leaving behind the bottom leaves and remainder of the plant.
Because nettles have little hairs on them that contain formic acid, and truly do sting, I wear gloves when I pick them. I also pick in a way where I grab the top of the leave and fold it over itself to help reduce contact with the stingy hairs under the leaves and along the stem. That said, I do always allow myself to get a few little stings on purpose on the back of my hand just to make a connection with the plant and the earth, and it makes me that much more alive. It has also been noted through history that the stinging nettle can be helpful in the treatment of arthritis when used topically in raw stringing form, or ingested after being cooked or taking extractions. A quick blanching of 60 seconds in hot water will remove all the ouchy stinging parts and make them safe to eat. I have read that drying nettles will do the same. In the photo below you can see those tiny yet potent little stinging hairs long the stalk and stem. Wild nettle has a nutty taste and is a bit like spinach, and I actually prefer the taste of cooked nettles over spinach.
You can see in the photo below that the stinging nettle leaves grow opposite of each other in sets of 2, alternating all the way up the stock. The leaves are almost heart shaped with points at the end.
Photo below of wild stinging nettles growing on our property next to the creek. We’ve had a lot of rain lately so the creek water level is high and pretty muddy right now, but the nettles love this area just the way it is!
The neighbors came down to see what all the commotion was when I was out there picking dinner.
Nettles have been said to help with all sorts of aliments from arthritis, to helping build healthy blood and aid in iron absorption, and to help with gout as nettles promote the elimination of uric acid from the joints. Nettles are said to be a diuretic and contribute to good kidney health. Nettle tea is said to be a good pregnancy tea as it can help ease labor pains, increase milk production, and is said to also be restorative during menopause. Nettles are also credited with helping people overcome seasonal allergies and asthma. This article written by James A Duke, botanist and author of the The Green Pharmacy, who also happens to have the same auto immune disease I do of ankylosing spondylitis had some great things to say about how stinging nettle has helped those who suffer from arthritis. After reading so many wonderful things about nettles it you will likely agree they are a refreshing and energizing spring green we really need to make room for on our dinner plates! And in our tea mugs.
One person commented below that she discovered she has a nettle allergy, and I am not sure how common nettle allergies are, but it’s probably best to sample just a small bit of wild nettles before eating a whole bowl for the first time. I did come across a few article that sited nettle tea for actually help provide relief from seasonal allergies and hay fever, this link mentions a study where 57% of the participants credited nettles with effectively relieving allergies.
What is your favorite way to enjoy nettles?
Wild Nettle Pesto over Paleo Pasta
- 4 cups to 6 wild nettles (raw before blanching)
- 1/2 cup sprouted pumpkin seeds (or walnuts or for AIP use 3 to 6 Tablespoons tiger nut flour)
- 1/4 cup to 1/2 olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 pinches sea salt
- Tablespoon optional: 1 lemon juice
- Pasta of your choice I use 2 zucchini
First I soak my fresh nettle leaves in a bowl of cold water to help rinse them while I heat up a pot of hot water on the stove.
You will want to blanch the wild stinging nettles in boiling hot water for 1 to 2 minutes. And then immediately put them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. The blanching will get rid of the "sting" of the nettles. I use tongs to move them into the hot water to avoid getting stung in the process. You can save the cooking water for nettle tea.
Blend all ingredients together in a food processor. I like to use my immersion blender for minimal clean-up.
I often use the Kiwi Slicer to make my noodles quickly, especially because the clean up is so easy! Tip for using the Kiwi Slicer, sometimes you have to play around with the angle at which you slide it down the zucchini to get clean cut thin noodles, and sometimes you have to gently adjust the position of the blades by pushing one closer to the other so there is less of a gap, (if you own one you will know what I mean) that way you then get individual shreds instead of larger connected strip.
Note: 1 cup of blanched nettle leaves has 43% of our daily recommended calcium, 555% of recommend Vitamin K, and is also high in manganese, magnesium, and contains 2.4 grams of protein.
Estimated nutrition for nettle pesto (w/o pasta) based on making 8 servings of pesto.