Spring is such an exciting time. Especially when you live in Canada and the snow finally stops. This year, our last snow fall was in May. MAY.
Spring doesn’t just bring more comfortable temperatures, but also lots of foraging opportunities. I’m still a rookie when it comes to wild food, but if there’s one edible plant that is easy to identify it’s stinging nettle.
Not only is it easy to identify, but it’s prolific (spreads everywhere), incredibly versatile in the kitchen and is super nutritious! These spiked iron-rich leaves can be dried to make tea, boiled into soups, blended as a pesto, or added to quiche or stir fry (tastes like spinach).
We have nettles clusters all over our property, east of Ottawa. They pop up all through our hosta, fern and veggie gardens and along the edge of the wooded areas. The kids and I have separated a few clusters in our garden so that the nettles are easier to avoid for smaller, less nettle-aware visitors. Complete with signage made from repurposed grout 😉
HOW TO IDENTIFY
Stinging nettle can be identified by its jagged leaf shape and tiny but visible hairs that cover the stem and underside of leaves. Stems are square/ridged and leaves have a slight heart shape. A common perennial weed, nettles are usually found in wooded areas and rich soils (e.g. in garden beds and near compost).
WHEN TO HARVEST
Any time. Nettles can be collected at any point in the season.
HOW TO HARVEST
True to its name, these plants can sting. When harvesting, it’s advisable to wear gloves (or sometimes I put a bag over my hand) to avoid the stinging hairs. The formic acid present on the hair tips can cause mild itching, rashes or an intense burning sensation which can last for a few minutes or up to a few days. Even simply brushing up against the plant can cause irritation.
Use scissors to cut the stem a few inches from the base, above a set of leaves. This will encourage more growth (and more free nettles for tea, soup, etc!). The leaves, stems, seeds and roots are all edible; however, I have only used leaves and stems.
HOW TO PREPARE
Do not consume stinging nettles raw. Drying, cooking or crushing will disable the stinging hairs. Depending where you harvested from (e.g. near a road or heavy traffic area) and if leaves are visibly dirty, you may wish to rinse with cold water; however, this is not necessary.
HOW TO DRY
Wearing gloves (or bags), simply lay nettles out flat in a single layer or hang in bunches in the sun or a dry location. Once dry and crunchy (this can take a week or more, depending on humidity, etc), store dried leaves and stems in a paper bag or jar as you would with other loose tea leaves.
HOW TO COOK
Prepare nettles the same way you would with spinach, kale or other greens – boil, bake, steam or saute. Just remember that while raw, it can sting.
We like to make (free!) nettle tea – hot or cold. I like it plain, but sometimes we mix in other loose teas like raspberry leaves. If you prefer a sweeter tea, add a bit of honey.
Have you tried stinging nettles? What do you like to make with them?