Harvesting Stinging Nettles

Kelsy, harvesting nettles.

Kelsy, harvesting nettles.

Yesterday we were pleasantly surprised to find that the property hosting our friend’s birthday camp-out was full of nettles! Yes, the stinging kind. The owners were happy to let us collect them to our heart’s content, though they were a bit curious about our plans for them. Nettles have a wide range of medicinal uses, but we like them best as a delicious treat! Ours are destined for tea and Nettle-Walnut Pesto. (Recipe coming soon.)

If you’re going to be spending any time out in the woods, along a stream bank, or picking blackberries, you’d best know how to identify them. Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) have little sharp hollow hairs on the stalks and undersides of the leaves which will inject histamine and formic acid if you brush against them. On most people, this causes a stinging welt or cluster of hives, then starts to feel numb. At any rate, it’s not a pleasant sensation! If you do get stung, a paste of baking soda and water, or crushed plantain leaves applied to the hives will help.

The Stingers. Image courtesy of Wiki.

The Stingers. Image courtesy of Wiki.

Stinging Nettles are easy to identify but also easy to be surprised by, as their medium green coloring blends easily with other plants. They grow straight up on individual stalks in the spring up to a maximum of about 7 feet tall, stay out through the summer, and die back in winter. Heart-shaped with sawtoothed margins come out opposite each other on the stalks. Some varieties have red on the stalks and veins. The small flowers come out from underneath the leaves.

Urtica dioica. Image courtesy of Wiki

Urtica dioica. Image courtesy of Wiki

When harvesting Stinging Nettles it’s best to pick ones that haven’t flowered or gone to seed. Once they flower, they can become irritating to the urinary tract. You can harvest nettles without gloves, if you carefully pinch the leaves off from their base. We prefer to wear gloves and pull the whole plant up, then strip the leaves. To eat the nettle leaves without getting stung, just process them in some way first. Drying them, heating them, or blending them in a food processor all will neutralize the sting. Then you can use them in any way that you would normally use basil or cooked spinach.

Nettle leaves.

Recipes Coming Soon!

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