Thanks for your kind words yesterday. I felt the love!
I also appreciate all the emails begging for a few recipes for nettles. (Second only to the number of emails I receive regarding my offer of a laundry soap recipe! Which is coming soon.) In the interest of not complicating everyone's life, I'm going to keep this simple and give you a few jumping-off places and guidelines for use. Because proper recipes might be a stretch for me this week but I can easily get you rolling in the right direction.
Nettle, to most, is a weed best eradicated from the face of the earth (or at least from the trails we walk and gardens we tend). And yet...
A weed is just a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nettle's virtues are very much know to herbalists (armature or otherwise). So around here it is a weed no more! Indeed, if I had to choose my single favorite green - wild or tame - there would be no question: it's nettle. (And my little Lupine agrees.) Nothing else is so nutritionally valuable and such a panacea for young and old.
Nettle is rich in calcium, iron, and dozens of other vitamins and minerals. Nettle is a great detoxifier for radiation (which we are all exposed to daily in more ways than we may realize), a remedy for growing pains for kids, a treatment for UTIs, and a balancer of hormones for women of all ages (PMS and menopause). Nettle is also recommended to anyone with allergies or hay fever. I'm convinced that there are few conditions that nettle won't help alleviate.
Look for nettle along paths and other impacted areas. Edges of fields, near ponds and streams, etc. Once you have an eye for it you'll be surprised where you find it. Choose nettle only from clean areas - no highway shoulder harvests, please. This is food, after all. Unsure where to begin? If you are new to foraging duck into a local nature center and ask them to point you in the direction of their nearest nettle patch. They will likely be glad to have you harvest, or at least can help you identify the plant and good places to find it. Moist soil is what nettle prefers, so don't bother checking in sandy or dry areas.
How to Harvest:
Nettle is covered in fine hairs that deliver a surprising sting. (Here you say, "And you want me to eat it, Rachel?") We'll address the sting in terms of safe consumption in a bit. First we have to pick them.
The seasoned nettle lover will likely pick nettle bare-handed now and then. We do on occasion - even Lupine (though Sage is a tough sell on this approach). Some say nettle's sting is a remedy for arthritis and yes, I have intentionally rubbed nettle on sore joints. It's not so bad. Picking bare handed you will find that a firm pinch will flatten the stinging hairs and no zap will be delivered. But the easiest way to pick nettle is in long sleeves wearing your garden gloves.
Pinch off the tender tops. I usually go for the top cluster of fresh growth and the pair or two of larger leaves just below. Once the plants get big the leaves are tough and suitable for tea but not so much for eating as greens. If you harvest the tops only nettle will continue to put forth new tender growth right through until fall if you keep harvesting. I have a favorite patch that I visit each week and it will stay tender right through summer.
How to Prepare:
Take your nettle home and rinse them. Fill your sink with cold water and dump in your bag of nettle tops. With plastic bags or gloves over your hands, gently agitate the water to rinse away any sand, soil, and even most of the stinging hairs. Drain water and repeat if you wish. (Truth be told I often don't even bother with the rinsing. But that's just me.)
Dehydrate: Do dry some for tea. That's a simple and wonderful place to start. It makes it easy to enjoy nettle every day without the thought of how to incorporate them into your meal. My freezer now contains two gallons of dried, crumbled nettle tops. That's enough tea to last my nettle-crazed family all winter. To take advantage of nettle's benefits add a big pinch to a cup of tea every day.
Cook: Again with gloves if you are worried about stings (or not if you don't mind), chop your nettle as you would spinach or chard. Do away with the thick stems now or after they are cooked (I often do this after cooking because it is easier for me. In fact I save the chopping until after cooking too most days.) You can saute and freeze or quickly blanch and freeze for future use.
Eat: Here are some favorite ways to enjoy nettle ~
- Saute with a little garlic and add to - or top with - eggs. This is my favorite way to eat nettles. YUM. The flavor and texture of nettle really shines with eggs. The texture is more grainy that other greens and really works with eggs.
- Add to a quiche or egg bake, especially with garlic mustard pesto, ramp pesto, or basil pesto.
- Puree into a green soup. Use 1/2 of a plastic shopping bag full of nettles to a pot of chicken stock, a potato or two (assuming you eat them), and some garlic or ramps. Salt. Eat. Be nourished.
- Saute with minced onion and mix with ground meat or rice and stuff a favorite veggie of your choice.
- Make Nettle Noodles (for the grain-eaters among us). These are so easy. Really. Use this recipe but replace the 2 C beets with 1 C blanched or sauteed nettles.
- Top a pizza.
- Add to pesto. Make pesto with 1/2 nettle and 1/2 basil, ramps, or garlic mustard. Freeze in ice cube trays or ice cream scoops-full on a cookie sheet for use all year long.
The possibilities are endless. Think of nettle as a feisty (as in stingy) spinach that chills out when cooked and you'll know just what to do with it.