How to Harvest Nettles:
1. Find a nettle patch. Obviously. They can often look like this in a field, so be sure to identify correctly. If they sting you when touched, it’s a stinging nettle. Ha.
Stinging nettle occurs in moist sites along streams, coulees, and
ditches, on mountain slopes, in woodland clearings, and in disturbed
areas. Stinging nettle generally grows on deep, rich soils [1,51]. Stinging nettle is a common understory component of riparian communities.
2. Keep an eye on the nettle patch. Find out whether it has been sprayed with any herbicides or pesticides, whether it’s close to exhaust fumes, and whether it’s growing in a protected habitat. Avoid if the answer is yes to any of the above. If the patch is on private property, ask permission to gather nettles in a sustainable way.
The young tender shoots are ideal gourmet material, but you can pick the tender growing tip even after the plants have grown 2-4 feet if they are in a shaded, well-moisturized area and haven’t flowered yet. Look for a very dark green, almost purplish color. This is the vibrant color of nutrition and nettle-y delicious excellence.
3. Early one spring morning, put on clothes that cover your limbs, shoes that cover your feet, and thick gloves (preferably rubber). Grab a large plastic trash bag (or breathable herb-collecting bag if you have one, just not so holey that they slip out and/or sting you). Grab a companion or two if available. Visit the site of planned nettle harvest.
4. Walk mindfully through the patch, identifying 1 out of 5 nettles as harvest-able if you are in a wild area. If you are in a cultivated area, pick in a higher density, but be careful not to disturb the plants. Pick the growing tip, between 4 and 6 inches down from the top. Use a knife to make a clean cut, just above a pair of opposite leaves. Place the nettle-tip in your collecting bag, and remember that a bit of nettle juice from the stem can diminish the sting of the nettle leaves.
Britain has a long history of nettle usage. The UK even has a site dedicated to education about nettles, as part of the CONE initiative. There’s even a raw-nettle eating competition in Dorset England which lasts an hour, “and all in return for a crate of beer and a tiny cup with World Stinging Nettle Eating Champion engraved on it.”
But we prefer our nettles cooked. Below the graphic you can find a few deeelicious nettle recipes!
And if you want to realllly stretch your nettles, use them in this divine recipe from Chef Ryan Hardy on Epicurious: Nettle Walnut Pesto Crostini (and if you’re feeling adventurous, pair it with the suggested Artichoke and green garlic soup for a super Springtime meal).
Nettle-Walnut Pesto Crostini
Epicurious | March 2007
by Ryan Hardy
The Little Nell
This recipe makes more than enough pesto for Chef Ryan Hardy’s Artichoke and green garlic soup . Leftovers, which freeze wonderfully, are great with pasta.
Yield: Makes 3 1/2 cups pesto (with leftovers)
3/4 cup walnut halves
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 (15- to 17-inch-long) baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices
16 cloves or 1 large head garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups spring nettles*
3 cups loosely packed arugula leaves
6 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves (about 1 1/2 bunches)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups finely grated parmesan cheese
*If nettles are unavailable, use additional arugula (7 cups total).
Preheat oven to 350°F. In shallow baking pan, toss together walnuts and pine nuts, then place in oven, stirring occasionally, and bake until golden, about 8 minutes. Cool completely.
Arrange baguette slices on large baking sheet and bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.
With food processor running, drop in whole garlic cloves. Process until finely chopped, then stop motor and add cooled nuts, salt, pepper, nettles, arugula, and basil. Process until finely chopped. With motor running, add oil and process until incorporated. Fold in grated cheese.
Spread dollop of pesto on each baguette slice and serve with Chef Ryan Hardy’s artichoke and green garlic soup.
Just make sure to blanch or cook nettles before eating!! They do carry chemicals on their little spikes. From wikipedia: “The stinging hairs of most nettle species contain formic acid, serotonin and histamine; however recent studies of Urtica thunbergiana implicate oxalic acid and tartaric acid rather than any of those substances, at least in that species .”
Nettles are amazing plants, full of vitality.
Nettle is the only energizing herb I know of that also promotes sound sleep. Nettle increases energy without increasing blood sugar, so sleep is deeper and more refreshing. With nettle-energy in the adrenals, menopausal women wake less often and feel more rested in the morning. Nettle never leaves one feels jittery or groggy.