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Eating What Nettles You

The common stinging weed, Nettles– all varieties are edible and tasty.

tall nettles
tall nettles (photo by jhy)
Do you know of a weed patch filled with nettles? Nettles are those tall weeds that make your legs or arms itch and burn instantly when you touch them. Well, you can take true revenge and eat the monsters for dinner! This article will walk you through the very simple process of preparation.

There are several species of stinging nettles, all in the genus Urtica. The herbaceous plants are common in North America, Europe and Great Britain. The stinging is caused by small pointed hairs on the stems which release histamine, serotonin and possibly formic acid when touched. (In the southern hemisphere there are species whose toxin is more potent.)

Nettles are very nutritious! They are considered a delicacy in many parts of Europe. They are rich in vitamins A, C, and D. They also contain iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Surprisingly, they are also high in protein. Most green leafy vegetables do not provide protein.

The first picture is the leaves of Urtica dioica, the most common type. These plants are fairly mature, almost ready to blossom in mid June. This is about as mature as you would want to harvest for eating, but they are still ok. When the plants flower and become more mature small calcium carbonate granules called cystoliths form in the leaves. These can irritate the urinary tract, so it’s best to eat younger leaves.

nettles harvested
harvest the younger leaves (photo by jhy)
Wearing gloves, harvest the tips and upper leaves of the plant by any method you like- break them off or cut them. I filled a colander with the leaves quickly. Remember that greens cook down a lot. This would be enough for a large serving for one person, or a side dish for two.

Wash the greens. Like any fresh-picked produce, be sure to look for insects and remove them. Once nettles are good and wet the stinging effect is removed. And cooking or drying removes the toxic properties.

nettles cooking
boil gently for 10-15 minutes (photo by jhy)
Simmer the greens gently for 10- 15 minutes. The leaves I harvested needed to be cooked for 15 minutes.

cooked nettles
a serving of nettles as table greens (photo by jhy)
Serve as you would any green. You might like them with oil and vinegar, or perhaps butter and lemon. Purists might go for just a little salt or non-salt seasoning. Nettles taste similar to spinach.

If you did not add salt to the water you cooked the nettles in, use it to water your houseplants when it cools. (You can do this with any fresh vegetable juice- the key is that there was no salt added to the water).

Next time you come across a patch of young nettles, take some home for dinner!


John said...

The only thing I ever tried made from nettles was nettle & elderflower wine. It was awful :-(

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