I had never heard of stinging nettles before moving to Ireland. Then one day, just a few months after we arrived, Max grabbed onto a leaf and immediately started screaming, with blisters forming on his little toddler fingers.
Luckily the Irish are really friendly, so I already had a few numbers on my mobile. I called around and was introduced to stinging nettle along with an instant cure: rub dock leaf on the affected area. It worked right away and my friendship with the mom on the other end of the phone was solidified.
Harvesting stinging nettle
I’ll admit that it took a bit of work to go from a fear of stinging nettle to actually harvesting it to eat. That was mostly brought about by two things:
- Joining Transition Towns, which had a focus on local foraging.
- A plentiful supply of wild nettles that was fresh, nutritious and free.
We ended up eating a lot of nettles. Here’s some advice on how to prepare and harvest stinging nettle.
- Only pick young nettle: Stinging nettles are tastiest as tender spring shoots. I tried cooking them in August and we were all “stung” while eating. Not a pleasant experience. If you continuously pick from the same patch you will be able to extend the life of the young nettle into the summer.
- Cover up: Wear rubber gloves, boots and long sleeves while harvesting to avoid being stung.
- Only pick clean nettle: Avoid picking from roadsides as dirt and exhaust on the greens are not very appetizing. Try finding patches of nettle in parks or along walkways. I’ll admit it’s pretty hard to find nettle now that we’re back in the Pacific Northwest. Whenever I find a nice patch, the park board tends to get rid of it.
- Cleaning nettle: Wear rubber gloves while cleaning the nettle. The stems are too fibrous to be fun to eat, even pureed into a soup. So pick the leaves off of the stems and wash them in a salad spinner.
- Cooking: Cooked young nettle leaves don’t sting at all. Use them the same way as you would use spinach. Try them in all your favourite recipes: on pizza, in an omelet or crepes.
So why bother going through all the trouble of using stinging nettle when spinach is so much easier?
- You can pick it yourself for free.
- It’s healthier than spinach.
- Adds a bit of “je ne sais quoi” to your dinner.
Spiced Stinging Nettle Soup
This recipe is a variation on the typical creamy nettle soup. Feel free to replace the nettle with any seasonal leafy green vegetable for a delicious one-pot meal.
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 brown onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp of cumin
- 1/2 tsp mustard seed
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 cup of red lentils
- 2 cups of stock
- 3 cups of washed nettle leaves
- 1/2 tsp of salt, to taste
- 1/4 cup cilantro
- Heat the oil in the bottom of a soup pot. Saute the onion until lightly browned.
- Add the garlic and all of the spices. Fry for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant.
- Next, add the lentils, stock and nettle. Simmer until the lentils are cooked, about 15 minutes.
- Add the salt to taste.
- Serve with naan bread and a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of cilantro.