How TO Eat A NETTLE

Nettles are the most under appreciated weeds. Colloquially introduced to youngsters as the villainous “itchweed”, the hypodermic needle hairs on nettles will prick and deliver a chemical cocktail into the flesh, creating an uncomfortable stinging and burning sensation that wears off in a number of hours. Maybe a day.

 

But every rose has its thorn. Nettles have the natural propensity to sting animals because they are so delicious and nutritious they might otherwise be completely devoured. For those animals that have the ability to overcome this, including us, an abundant wild crop awaits. 

Nettles are packed with more protein, calcium, iron and vitamins than other cultivated vegetable superfoods like spinach and kale. Cooked down they add a light and refreshing veggie edge to eggs, soups and casseroles. After boiling, the broth itself makes a fantastic tea or soup stock. The abundance with which nettles grow, and their extreme nutritional value make them one of the prized pantry stores for use during the winter months. 

Early Spring - Mid Summer

Mid May - Late July

Harvest Season

Did You Harvest & Eat Nettles?

 #eatwildmn #stingingnettle #woodnettle

 

The RecipeS:

The RecipeS:

FIELD NOTES

You might be new to foraging nettles. We've got the important questions covered.

 

An Introduction to Harvesting Nettles

what do nettles even do?

HOW TO BE THE NETTLES

Nettles are the most under appreciated weeds. Colloquially introduced to youngsters as the villainous “itchweed”, the hypodermic needle hairs on nettles will prick and deliver a chemical cocktail into the flesh, creating an uncomfortable stinging and burning sensation that wears off in a number of hours. Maybe a day. For those who frequently experience it, and become familiar with a treatment method or two, tend to register it a minor hazard to their outdoor harvests and explorations. 

 

But every rose has its thorn. Nettles have the natural propensity to sting animals because they are so delicious and nutritious they might otherwise be completely devoured. For some species of butterfly this is the exclusive food used by larvae that have been laid and hatched on these plants, but they are not often eaten by other wildlife or livestock because of the sting. For those animals that have the ability to overcome this, including us, an abundant wild crop awaits. 

why would i eat them?

HOW TO BE THE NETTLES

Nettles are a nutritional powerhouse, rich in vitamins A, C and K, calcium, iron, potassium and manganese. They are one of the highest plant sources of iron and calcium, the highest vegetable source of protein and have more vitamin C than your average orange. They are an abundant, wild, free and outperforming version of cultivated superfoods like spinach and kale. 

 

Native Americans around the continent harvested and cooked these first plants of spring. They are also a regular part of many modern European diets and are available to harvest long before any cultivated vegetable species.

what do nettles taste like?

TASTE THE NETTLES

Cooked stinging nettles can be expected to taste like a combination of spinach and cucumber. They have a saline, oceanic quality to them.

Wood nettle stems have a texture and flavor similar to asparagus. They taste more like a vegetable. 

Nettle teas and broths are like a rich and robust dark vegetable green tea.

oh, sounds tasty. what do I need?

All you really need is a collection container; anything from a basket to paper bags will do. You can protect yourself from plant stings by wearing close toed shoes, pants, long sleeves and a pair of gloves. Leaves can be broken from stems without clippers but if you’re harvesting more of the plant they will be useful. 

can anyone do this?

Anyone can harvest stinging nettles. There is no required permit or certification. 

what do they look like?

HOW TO IDENTIFY MINNESOTA NETTLE SPECIES

There are two types of nettles found in Minnesota; stinging nettles and wood nettles. are sparsely covered in bristly, stinging hairs. They grow in dense colonies and are connected underground by creeping rhizome root structures. 

 

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)

have hollow, squarish stalks that stand 5 - 8 feet fully grown. They have elliptic lance shaped leaves, 2 to 5 inches long and not more than two inches wide. The edges are serrated with broad teeth. On the top, veins are sunken on the upper smooth surface while below they are raised and present sparse, minute stinging hairs. Each leaf grows a twin on the opposite side of the stem. At one point they grow from 12 and 6 o clock positions, while above and below they grow in the 3 and 9 o clock position. There will be two dozen or more total leaves when grown. 

Wood nettles (Laportea canadensis)

have solid, round stalks that grow 3- 5 feet tall fully grown, and have broader, ovate, even heart shaped leaves 3-7 inches long. Unlike stinging nettles, these leaves alternate along the stem. There will be less than a dozen leaves when fully grown. 

HOW TO FIND YOUR NETTLE PATCH

where do nettles grow?

Both nettle varieties can be found in all counties of Minnesota. 

 

Stinging nettles thrive in rich, moist soil in sunny openings of woodlands, along waterways, in ditches, meadows and neighborhood lots and parks. 

 

Wood nettles favorite habitat is moist wooded flood plains or bottomlands. You may find colonies so large they measure in acres. They grow smaller in the shade of forest understory and you’ll find plenty of them in it.

In the spring, the best time to harvest, the plants are not very tall but can be identified by their characteristic leaves. By late spring, they are full grown and will begin to flower greenish white clusters that go to seed and turn brown. Into the autumn, the leaves wither and fall, stems turn brown and the bare stalks may decompose for the winter until new leaves emerge from the subterranean rhizome root stock in the spring. 

You will likely find and can legally harvest nettles on public lands from urban city parks to state parks, state forests and wildlife management areas. They are likely growing somewhere in your neighborhood. Look along fence lines and forest edges. Avoid areas with potential pollution including chemical treatment or contaminated water runoff in built environments. Always check with land owners or managers to confirm that you have permission to harvest.

when should I gather nettle?

HOW TO TIME YOUR

NETTLE HARVEST

There is a 3 to 4 month window to harvest nettles for the year.

 

The best time to harvest stinging nettles are in the spring, early April, right after the ground has thawed. They are one of the first edibles to appear after the winter when you’re especially ready for fresh, nutritious greens. The plants have yet to develop strong stingers. For a few weeks they will be in their prime; they may appear tinted purple and ruffled as they have unfurling to do. They can be harvested through the summer, but as they grow they become more fibrous and tougher to eat. It’s generally considered best to harvest before they taller than your knees.

 

While not scientifically proven, there is some belief that consumption of nettles during or after their flowering, in early summer, can introduce cystoliths; calcium concentrations that lead to complications in the urinary tract or overwork the kidneys. Harvesting prior to this stage will err on the side of caution. 

 

Wood nettles appear several weeks after stinging nettles in mid May. Early emerged wood nettle plants are mostly stem, with a clump of leaves at the top. As they grow, more leaves appear and unfurl, and the stingers become more formidable. 

April       May        June       July       August   Sep

Stinging Nettle Greens

Wood Nettle Shoots

Wood Nettle Greens

i found my nettles! how do i pick them?

HOW TO HANDLE NETTLES

The primary foodstuff of stinging nettle plants are the leafy greens. The uppermost, more recently sprouted leaves are what you are after. 

1. Locate your patch of nettles.

2. I f plants are less than a foot tall, you can harvest the whole thing. Break off or clip off an inch or two above the ground. 

3.. If the plants are taller than a foot, just take the upper leaves. Count down two to three leaf sets from the top. This is about 4 - 6 inches of growth.

4. Firmly pinch the stalk and gently snap off the leaves with your fingers below the second or third leaf set. Remember, the stingers lean towards the top of the plant. Make contact with an approach that moves low to high and you will decrease the likelihood of stings. You can also wear gloves or use a clipping tool.

5. With a gloved hand, grab a firm hold of the stem. Run your hand up to the top, removing the upper leaves all at once.

6. Stash in your collection container. A paper grocery bag works well. The cutting of the plant will encourage regrowth so take what you need for now then check back in several weeks for another harvest.

 

Wood nettles have solid, juicy stems that are worth harvesting. Pinch or cut them off above the ground, avoiding any of the reddish, rough and hairy stem shoot. 

 

Harvest sustainably. Only take what you need, when you need it. Gather sporadically, leaving the biggest and healthiest plants behind with the strength to propagate future harvests. 

ouch. i've been stung. 

HOW TO TREAT A NETTLE STING

It’s uncomfortable but it’s really not going to be that bad. The most immediate action that can be taken is to just wet and rub the affected area. There is likely a source of water nearby but one can just pour from a water bottle or even lick the sting. If you have a particularly averse reaction, which is unlikely, apply some apple cider vinegar or an anti itch cream with antihistamines or hydrocortisone. The uncomfortable sensation should pass in ten to twenty minutes. 

 

A neat natural remedy exists in the common plantain. These plants are common and are likely growing nearby. Pull some leaves, fold them and crush them then rub vigorously on the affected area. This will greatly and immediately reduce the feeling to a very minor tingling sensation, if anything at all. 

alright. I've got them. now how do I make it food?

HOW TO CLEAN AND PROCESS NETTLES

When your nettles are in the kitchen, rinse the greens under cold water to remove dirt and tiny critters. Handling with gloves or tongs will help avoid stings. 

 

The mechanical breaking of the hollow hairs and the application of heat will completely neutralize the sting of nettles. Most cooking techniques will make nettles safe for consumption, including fine chopping, drying, steaming, boiling and blanching.  

 

The ratio for fresh nettles to cooked nettles is 12:1. It takes 12 firmly packed cups of fresh cut nettle leaves cooks to one cup of finished foodstuff.

               Cooking Methods for nettles.

 

1. Steaming

Bring a pot with a couple of inches of water to a boil. Place your nettle leaves in a colander and set inside the pot. Cover with a lid and let steam for three to five minutes. The final product will be wilted with a vibrant bright green hue. Place a light pad of butter to melt and sprinkle with salt. 

2. Boiling and Blanching

To unlock the wider potential of cooking with nettles, you’ll need to blanch them. Prepared in this manner, nettle greens make a perfect wild sourced substitute to spinach. Boil them for five to  minutes then shock them with cold water to halt the cooking process. This could be an ice water bath, but running the cold tap over them in a colander should do. Squeeze them into balls, wringing out most of the water. A rough chopping will 

 

In this state the prepared nettles are ready for a simple sauté, to be blended into pesto, integrated into soups, pastas, casseroles or many other recipes. 

The leftover water from boiling and blanching a batch of nettles can be sweetened for tea or salted for a hearty stock broth. It will be a yellow-green color as the brew is completed. When left to sit, it will turn dark green. 

3. Cooked wood nettle stems are tender, juicy and slightly sweet, like asparagus.

i've got tons of blanched nettles. what else can i do with them?

how long can I keep this  for?

HOW TO PRESERVE NETTLES

1. Fresh

Fresh collected, unwashed nettles leaves and shoots will keep in a bag in your refrigerator for at least 2-3 days. 

2. Dried

Even when dried, nettles retain a high amount of protein. This makes them a highly valuable, vitamin rich food source to consume during the winter months. Drying also destroys cystoliths, allowing you to store later season harvests without risk of forming bladder stones. In this form they also make great tea or flavoring in soups or stews. If using a food dehydrator, keep the temperature to 115 degrees and dry until the leaves are crispy, around 1.5 hours. A low tech process is to air dry your greens in a paper grocery bag, it could be the same one you collected them in. With good ventilation in the bag and a daily shake for fresh exposure your nettles will dry like this and will keep for the year. When dry enough that the stems snap, but not so dry they turn brown or black, the dry leaves can be plucked free and stashed in sealed glass jars. A further step can be taken by chopping the leaves in a food processor into a fine nutrient rich powder. This can be quickly integrated into many recipes. 

3. Frozen

Freeze nettles after blanching. Boil them for two minutes then shock them with cold water. Running the cold tap over them in a colander will do. Squeeze them into balls, wringing out most of the water. Freeze them like this in zip loc bags or chop them up some first to be one extra step ahead for future cooking. Nettle pesto recipes can be frozen in ice cube trays and thawed out for later use. Frozen nettles will keep until the next harvest season.

4. Canned

Wood nettle shoots and both nettle greens can be canned. They lose some flavor but serve well in soups and casseroles. { Use instructions for canning asparagus for the shoots, spinach for the greens ]

 

4. Stock 

Nettle stock, the leftover broth from blanching the greens can be frozen and used within a year. Freeze in plastic jugs or wide mouth glass mason jars. If using glass, let the stock cool down in the fridge and leave two to three inches of head space before capping loosely and freezing.

 

GEAR GUIDE

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

CLIPS

Garden clippers or even a regular pair of scissors will do. They may need to a bit more robust if clipping full nettle stalks. 

COLLECTION CONTAINER

A paper grocery bag can be used to collect and dried in.                        Higher quantities can be gathered in plastic tote bins. 

Equipment

Guide Picks

HANDS

A pair of lightweight gloves will protect you from likely stings on the top of the hands and on the wrists. 

TOP: LONG SLEEVES

A lightweight, breathable long sleeve shirt will protect the wrist and arms from stings without overheating you.

BOTTOMS

You'll be wading through a sea of stinging plants. Wear some pants. Nettles can sting through lightweight materials, especially in the knees. Convertible or roll up hiking pants can be switched to vent mode on the way to and from harvesting.

SOCKS

Consider tucking your pants into a pair of tall, heavier weight socks. 

FOOTWEAR 

You don't have to get too heavy duty with these materials, but toes and ankles should be shielded from ground level attack. 

Apparel

Guide Picks

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COMPLETE A NETTLE HARVEST?

1. Did You Harvest & Eat?

You harvested a natural food source from your local environment. That's awesome. 

It's an honest, well earned meal. 

You deserve a reward. Maybe one day, after you submit photos of your hunt and harvest, you'll receive a nettles totem and unlock harvest club merchandise exclusive to those are one with the nettle. Unfortunately, that day is not today. We've still got work to do on this project.  

You're excited anyway? So are we! Let us know with

#eatwildmn #stingingnettle #woodnettle

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