Uncover the reasons and guidelines for eating nettles, their benefits and easy to make healthy recipes.
Why would one bother eating nettle if you have to take a risk of being stung? In fact, nettle developed this form of protection in an effort to discourage those (animals included) who wanted to use it too often for its nutritional value.
Before you start eating nettles you need to identify them first
Nettle belongs to the same botanical family as mint and they are easy to identify. Their hairs (called trichomes) on the stems and leaves are easy to see and if you are not sure, just simply touch it, for real. They have sharply toothed, somewhat heart-shaped leaves that range from bright green to purple color. Nettle grows in nutrient-rich soils, often on the top of the compost. They are both sun loving and shade tolerant growing abundantly in areas from sea level to sub-alpine regions.
When is the best time for eating nettle?
Nettles are traditionally eaten in early spring. In fact, they are among the first edible green shoots to appear. When you harvest their leaves before they start to blossom they will be the most crunchy and nutritious. When the nettles go to flower their leaves become tough, bitter woodier, and less edible. They may also irritate the urinary tract of some people.
What part of Stinging Nettle is edible?
The most popular part of the nettle that is used in most recipes is its green leaves. However, few people know that the most nutritious part of the nettle is hidden in its seeds. nettle seeds are rich in fatty acids and vitamin E. Therefore very beneficial for our skin and nervous system.
In early spring or late autumn one can also forage nettle roots. They appear to have different medicinal properties than the leaves.
They stimulate hair growth or increase the flow rate and urinary volume in men. However, roots are hard to eat, they are the most popular in the form of tincture.
What are the main reasons of eating stinging nettle
Nettle is one the most nutritious plants that has many medicinal benefits not only for our body but skin and hair.
Considered a universal cleanser, nettle leaves contain a significant amount of chlorophyll that accelerates cleansing and detoxification. It cleanses the digestive system, fights bloating and bad breath. (1)
Nettle for healthy bones and teeth
Nettle is extremely rich in calcium and magnesium that are important for our bones and teeth. Moreover our body can easily absorb them unlike calcium supplements.
Relieve with first signs of hay fever
Nettle has an ability of inhibit inflammation thus may help with seasonal allergies such as hay fever. The mechanism of blocking histamine receptors that trigger allergy symptoms is described in this study.
Now, if you are convinced that nettle deserves our attention the step is to figure out
How do I harvest Stinging Nettle without getting stung?
The aim is to collect only the tips – the first four or six leaves or 2-3 leaf sets.
YOu can either collect just the leaves. This takes longer then cutting the stems about 5 cm (2 inches) long and then strip off the leaves. If the nettles are very young then I only harvest the top bud and first leaf set. The best practice is to harvest the terminal top bud that stimulate lateral bud growth which will make the plant bushy allowing to harvest continually from the same plant.
Once you collect your leaves or stems give them a shake before you bring them home to prevent insect or spider visitors.
Stems and leaves are covered with countless stinging hairs. They contain a mixture of histamine and formic acid that forms small blisters, which itch and burn. You can apply leaves of plantain (plantago lanceolata) or dock leaves that you simply grind between your fingers and apply on the sting. Remove the nettle hair with a magnifying glass and tweezers also helps.
Things to do before eating nettles
The nettle stings when fresh only. Do avoid eating fresh nettles. Make sure you cook it, bake it, boil it, crush it, dry it or dehydrate it to lose its stinging ability.
To dehydrate the leaves you can either air- dry them (for 3-4 days) or use the dehydrator (spread the leaves on the dehydrator’s drying trays and set the dehydrator to the lowest temperature setting or around 95F. Allow drying about 12-15 hours)
When dried, they are safer to use as they no longer sting. However, the barbs are still there and they can irritate the skin.
Stinging nettle recipes
The best stinging nettle leaves to eat are the young ones that grow in early spring. So when you have an opportunity to forage these, just freeze them. Before that, it is advisable to steam them or blanch them in salted water so they lose their sting. Drain them by squeezing out excess water, pack them into a ziploc, label them and freeze them. They will lose their freshness but will be good for soup, pasta or puree.
Dried leaves are best to use in teas.
If you decide to boil them in boling water, you can sautee them the same way as you make spinach.
Crushing the nettle leaves allows you to prepare smoothies, pesto or soup.
I like to grind them to make nettle powder that I can later add to daily into food, mix them with salt and use it in dressings or on salads
Here's my recipe for:
No fail Sea Salt and Garlic Nettle Chips
These healthy nettle crisps are another brilliant alternative to shop bought snacks. They are cheap, easy to make, tasty and super good for you.
Wash and dry the nettles, stripping the leaves from any stem.
Combine all the seasoning ingredients in a large bowl. Toss in your leaves, so they get a good coating
Place the nettles on a baking sheet in a single layer. Note the leaves will still sting at this stage so take care and DON’T be tempted to try one yet!
Bake in a low oven at around 160C (320 F) until they crisp up. How long the nettle crisps take will depend on how much moisture is in the leaves.
The nettle crisps shown below took about 7 minutes, and I turned them over once during that time.
These nettle chips are easy to burn so watch them every few minutes to make sure they will not turn brown.
Nettles have a rich, earthy, spinach-like flavor. Their flavor differ with the season and with the age of the plant. Young nettles are tastier, crispy and nutritious while older nettles especially after they bloom have a tough and woodier taste that makes them less edible.
Sure, you can. Just make sure you use one of the methods I suggested above which is grinding or chewing to eliminate their sting.
You can, but they are not as nutritious and tasty as at they are at the beginning of spring.