Hopefully, the freeze is over and our spring edibles can glory in our recent rains. One of our most useful wild spring plants is stinging nettles (Urtica dioica.)
The plant is a perennial, typically grows between 2-4 feet in height, usually in clumps connected by underground roots. It blooms June to September, has heart-shaped, serrated leaves, pink or yellow flowers, and thrives best in soil that’s nitrogen-rich. When you touch the leaves or stem of the plant, you’ll feel a stinging sensation, but when it’s processed medicinally, it has some excellent health benefits.
Stinging nettles supply iron, about 10 percent of the daily recommended intake. The calcium content is also significant: one cup provides 32.9 to 42.8 percent of the amount you require daily. Calcium promotes strong teeth and bones, and it may also lessen the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, preventing headaches, mood swings, and bloating.
Nettles help promote healthy adrenal glands and kidneys, encouraging your body to react to stress in positive ways. Eating nettles may also offer you relief from seasonal allergies. Many people use stinging nettle to make tea, taking it for a variety of maladies, including respiratory and urinary problems, diabetes, and protection against kidney stones, as well as to speed wound healing.
Nettles give you a huge boost in vitamin A. A one-cup serving contains 1,790 IU of this vitamin, nearly three times the amount you need in a single day. Stinging nettles also serve as an excellent source of vitamin K, a vitamin your body requires for blood clotting. Each single-cup portion contains 369 to 493 percent of the daily recommended intake.
Care must be taken when gathering nettles. Wear gloves, use tongs, keep in a paper bag that can be discarded afterward. Gather away from a well travelled road and away from areas sprayed for pest and weed control. Notice the health of the plants and the land.
For medicinal and food purposes, gather the top leaves only, leaving the woody stem. For medicinal purposes, the plant is best harvested in May or June as it is coming into flower and dried for later use. Nettles can be carefully transplanted in the Spring, caring for the roots, adding them to your “gathering garden.”
When gathering, always go with a song in your heart. The song leaves your worries behind, puts you in the here-and-now, and you approach the spirits of the land in a good way. If you don’t feel the song, don’t go.
Communicate with what you are gathering. Talk to the plants, animals, rocks, give thanks, state your need for their use, and ask permission.
Leave an offering to the plant, to the largest plant in the group, to the land; a pinch of tobacco is best. If no tobacco, a strand of hair.
Never take more than you need.
STINGING NETTLE RECIPES
NOTE: Blanch the nettle leaves in boiling water to soften the stingers.
Stinging Nettles Tea
- Use fresh or dried leaves to make tea. Each has its own flavor. To dry them, leave them in a paper bag in a well-ventilated room until dry, but still green. Dry leaves usually don’t sting.
- Wash the nettles. Wash the leaves in a sieve under running water, rubbing off dust or other contaminants with gloved hands.
- Boil the nettles. Put the leaves in boiling water for 10–15 minutes, or until the water turns light green. One loose cup (240 mL) of leaves is enough for two glasses of tea, although you can make it stronger or weaker.
- Turn it pink with lemon juice. Lemon juice or any other acid will turn the nettle tea pink. This will likely be more dramatic if the stems are boiled as well, since they contain more of the color-changing chemicals.
Stinging Nettle Party Dip
8 oz softened cream cheese (or dairy-free cream cheese)
4 oz goat chevre (or vegan substitute)
2 Tbsp. milk (or dairy-free milk)
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 c. blanched, squeezed dry, and chopped nettles
1 c. blanched, squeezed dry, and chopped yucca blossoms (or artichoke hearts)
1/4 c. chopped wild onion greens
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch of red chile flakes
Use and hand mixer to whip together the cream cheese, goat cheese, milk, lemon juice, salt, and chile flakes. Stir in the nettles, yucca blossoms, and onion greens with a spoon until they are well distributed.
Stinging Nettle Lasagna
- A jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce or make your own sauce
- 16 oz mozzarella cheese (grated)
- 15 oz ricotta cheese
- 1 package of 12 lasagna noodles
- 12 cups of fresh nettle
- 1 onion
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put a large pan of water on to boil for cooking the noodles. When the water boils add the noodles and cook according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
While waiting for the water to boil and the noodles to cook, combine the two cheeses in a medium bowl, stirring until well mixed, and set aside. Dice an onion and sauté it in olive oil in a large skillet until just translucent. Stir occasionally.
Wearing your gloves, place your fresh nettles on a large cutting board. You can use the top 6-8 leaves and stems. Chop the nettles coarsely and add to the skillet with onion and sauté until the nettles are wilted.
Cover the bottom of a 9 X 13 baking dish with 1/4 of your sauce.
Next, put a layer of four noodles, another layer of sauce, a layer of half the nettle and onion mixture, and a layer of cheese. Repeat this last step. Put a layer of noodles on top and finish with your last 1/4 of sauce.
Cover the nettle lasagna with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove foil for the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking time if you like a crunchier top.
Remove from oven and let sit about 15 minutes and enjoy your Nettle Lasagna.