Stinging Nettle demands your attention!
This prickly spring weed is cursed by many, but loved by Indigenous people, herbalists, and curious foodies. Stinging Nettle is incredibly medicinal and nutritious, bringing ease to seasonal allergies with its natural antihistamines, and is very high in minerals and vitamins when infused in tea or vinegar.
Stinging nettle, or Urtica dioica, is a flowering plant that is found worldwide. It is native to northern Africa, North America, Asia, and Europe and grows most abundantly in areas with high annual rainfall. Nettle prefers nitrogen-rich soil and is commonly found in the understory of riparian areas, along the edges of meadows, in open, and rich forests.
Food as Medicine
Nettles are one of the most, if not the most mineral-dense and vitamin rich plants used in Western Herbalism. They contain some of the highest amounts of Chlorophyll and iron, and contain selenium, zinc and magnesium. Nettles are indicated for those struggling with anemia, and folks who are weak, pale, listless and overall drained. Their anti-inflammatory properties and blood cleansing effects have been used for inflammatory conditions of the joints, GI tract and cardiovascular system. Nettle is a great nourishing “spring tonic,” helping your body process and remove toxins and gently stimulate lymphatic flow.
Unfortunately, many folks have less than pleasant first encounters with this misunderstood wild edible. Stinging Nettle is covered in tiny hollow hairs called trichomes, which contain formic acid, as well as other rash inducing chemicals. Formic Acid is also found in the bite of red ants, so the sting feels similar! The sting of the nettle, though painful, also produces beneficial results. The combination of acetylcholine and formic acid produce an improvement of cellular responses, capillary stimulation, and lymph flow. These reactions are said to reduce inflammation, speed healing, and improve circulation. The sting has also been used for thousands of years as a treatment for rheumatism and arthritis.
You can even make clothes out of it!
The most common use of nettle in European history, by far, is as a textile. By drying and pounding the stalks of nettle, it is possible to extract fibers that may be twisted into robe or used to produce cloth. The fabric is reported to be quite similar to flax or hemp, and could made into a variety of textures, from silky and fine to coarse and thick.
Once you are familiar with Nettle and know how to ID it properly, I encourage you to give this wild edible a try to reap all its wonderful benefits. Pestos are great ways to incorporate plants into your diet, Nettle makes a great base for a nutrient dense pesto to add into your favorite dishes or on a cracker with mozzarella and a balsamic drizzle.
Blanch to remove the sting:
There are several varieties of nettles, the best being Urtica dioica and U. urens. To remove that sting, you must first blanch your nettles. This is how:
- You will need two or three big tong-fulls of fresh stinging nettles for this recipe. I say tong-fulls because you do not want to pick up fresh nettles, as they will sting you. Thus the name. Get a huge pot of water boiling and add a handful of salt.
- Grab the nettles with tongs and put them into the boiling water. Stir around and boil for about 90 seconds.
- Fish them out with a skimmer or the tongs and immediately dump them into a big bowl with ice water in it. Once they are cool, put them in a colander to strain.
- Get a cloth towel, like a tea towel, and put the nettles in it. Wrap one end of the towel one way, then the other end of the towel the other and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Chop them fine before making the pesto.
- 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 2 heaping tablespoons toasted pine nuts*
- 2 tablespoons grated cheese (any hard cheese will do)*
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup blanched, chopped nettles
- 2 TBS lemon juice- optional
- 2-3 TBS of wild chives or scallions
- Salt, to taste
- Olive oil (use the good stuff)
- In your food processor, add the pine nuts first and pulse a few times. Add the garlic, and pulse more.
- Start with 2 TBS of Olive oil, add in lemon juice if using. Add the rest of the ingredients, and start processing! I slowly drizzle more olive oil while the processor is going, and tend to prefer a more oily pesto. For spreads and smears, opt for less olive oil.
- Serve as a spread on bread, as an additive to a minestrone, as a pasta sauce or as a dollop on fish or poultry.
*Substitute cashews, almonds, toasted sesame seeds or pistachios in place of pine nuts
*Substitute nutritional yeast for a vegan version
Do you have experience using Stinging Nettle as food or medicine? Comment with your favorite recipes and ways to use this wild herb!
Author: Julie Douglas
Julie is the Marketing & Communications Associate. She is the owner and Clinical herbalist at Wildkrafted Kitchen, a holistic healthcare company in Asheville, NC. Julie is a medicinal herb grower, ethical wild crafter, educator and formulator of internal and external medicines. After graduating with an AA focusing on Photography and Ceramic art, Julie went on to pursue her passion for sustainable small scale agriculture in Washington state where she apprenticed on various organic farms. After discovering their affinity for medicinal herbs, they moved to Asheville to study Holistic Herbalism at the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine. Julie’s main goals are to make alternative healthcare accessible to marginalized communities, decolonizing herbal medicine and being part of mutual aid networks which strengthen and empower the community.