Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Processing and Using Nettles

On this precious, sunshiny, Southeast Alaska day I grabbed up my daypack and fishing pole and followed a muddy path through last year’s dry grass to a river. Trout made quick splashes, piquing my interest in a trout dinner. It was not to be, though, because fish protein is pretty easy to come by in this area, and young nettles diverted my attention away from the water. Young nettle greens are delicious, and are used as medicinal herbs. They are only available for a limited time, so I pulled gloves and scissors out of my pack and set to work gathering.

New greens in springtime provide nutrients that refresh our winter-laden bodies. Stinging nettles are one of the best. Nettles are high in:

Young nettle plants found near a river.

Minerals: Calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese

Vitamins: A, B6, and K

Plant protein, chlorophyll, fiber, and carbohydrates

Nettles contain many other nutrients that our bodies need small amounts of.

I have long thought of nettles as a women’s herb because of women’s need for calcium, iron, and magnesium, but nettles are a men’s herb, too. Nettle root mixed with saw palmetto was compared to the drug finasteride in a large clinical trial in Germany testing effectiveness for enlarged prostate. The nettle-saw palmetto blend was as effective as the generic drug, and without side effects.

Other clinical trials have shown stinging nettles efficacy in treating arthritis, hay fever, asthma, seasonal allergies, hives, chronic venous insufficiency, and more. Herbalists employ nettles to treat eczema, congestion, arthritis, rheumatism, gout, allergies, circulation problems, hair loss, kidney stones, bleeding, PMS, bladder infections, and anemia, among other maladies.* Stinging nettle is also a diuretic.* Stinging nettle is a spring tonic.* This is a good plant!

As I mentioned in the last post, stinging nettles are armed with stinging hairs. Wear gloves if you gather nettles, and if you are going to harvest your large garden patch then wear long sleeves and eye protection, too.


Since cooking or drying removes the sting, nettles can be eaten steamed, and in soups, stews, and casseroles. Add steamed nettle leaves to omelet’s, lasagna, pesto, and anywhere that you would use cooked spinach.

Young stinging nettle plants with their red-purple leaves. A little later in the season the red is gone and all of the leaves are dark green. This patch was near a beach.

Putting up Nettles

Rinsing the Nettles

Rinse stinging nettles thoroughly. The early growth is close to the ground and tends to be gritty. I triple rinse, dunking the nettles into a large bowl of cold water, agitating gently, lifting out by (gloved) handfuls, draining in a colander, and then changing the water in the bowl to rinse again. Later in the spring, while harvesting new leaves off of taller plants, one rinse is usually sufficient. I find it helpful to give the rinsed leaves a whirl in the salad spinner before steaming or drying.

Blanching and Freezing

Blanching and freezing young shoots saves these luscious greens to add to falltime and early winter dishes.

Stir a batch of stinging nettles into boiling water, cover, time for 30 seconds to 1 minute (I blanch for one minute, but have read that thirty seconds is adequate). Lift the nettles out and do a quick cold-water dunk to stop the cooking process. Strain in a colander. Press out the excess water.

Blanched young leaves will lose their reddish tinge to the boiling water, so don’t be alarmed if the water turns color.

Make meal-size and ingredient-size packages in freezer bags or by vacuum packaging. If you are vac-packing then watch that the juice doesn’t get sucked out of the bag and foul your vac-packer. If you are using freezer bags then work the nettles solidly down into the bag, pressing out all of the air before sealing the bag. Label with the date, and store in the freezer for up to six months.


Dehydrator - Lay the leaves out on the racks. Dry on low heat.

Hanging - Collect stems with new growth, rubber band the base of the stems in small bunches, and hang them upside down in a warm place where air can circulate through them. Once dry, strip the leaves off of the stems with gloved hands. The stems may be composted or added to a nettle soak.

On racks – Lay nettle leaves on mesh racks in a warm area out of direct sunlight. A small fan set on low may help them dry faster.

For all methods, when the leaves are crispy and brittle they are ready to store. Crunch them up and store them in tightly sealed glass jars away from light. They last up to one year.

Using Dried Nettles


Pour a cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried nettle leaves (a mesh infuser works well to contain them) and allow to steep for 5 to 10 minutes.

For sun tea put ¼ cup nettle leaves into a quart jar and fill with water. Put the lid on and place the jar in a sunny location for the day. Strain the leaves out, and refrigerate the sun tea to use over the next few days as iced tea, or heated for hot tea.

Nettle may be used as a tea by itself, and it also combines well with other herbs. I add it to the red clover blossom, field mint, eyebright, and violet leaf collected here in Southeast Alaska.

Nettles are energizing to some people, so evening use might keep you awake at bedtime.

Winter Food

Dried nettle leaves can be added directly to soups or stews during cooking.

Pour warm water over dried nettles to reconstitute them, and then use them as you would use cooked asparagus in any recipe.

Powdered nettle leaves can be a nutritious bonus in bread, added to green drinks and smoothies, used as a thickening agent, and stealthily incorporated into the family diet.

As a Relaxing Soak

Put dried nettle leaves into a mesh bag and add to your hot bath or footbath. This is where you can put older leaves and stems to good use and effect. Regular nettle soaks are said to ease arthritic conditions.*

Other Uses

Nettle plants are high in nitrogen, and a great addition to the compost pile.

Nettle stems contain enough long, tough fibers that they are used to make paper, rope, and cloth.


  • The gritty cystoliths formed in older nettle leaves cause kidney irritation. Use only new growth for internal use.  
  • Handle fresh stinging nettles with gloves.
  • As with most things, moderation is a good idea.


*The information provided on this site is for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be used to diagnose or treat illnesses, ailments, or diseases, nor to substitute for professional medical advice. This information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to treat or prevent disease. If you have a medical condition or suspect that you do, then consult with a certified medical professional.

Further reading

http://www.herballegacy.com/Vance_Stinging_Nettle.html - an amazing set of articles by Kassie Vance (copy and paste the address onto your browser)

"Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West" by Michael Moore

"Discovering Wild Plants" by Janice Schofield

http://www.ryandrum.com/threeherbs1.htm - an article by Ryan Drum (copy and paste the address onto your browser)

Wishing you the happiest spring foraging,

Alaska Beachcomber

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Food and Medicine from Nature (index to more articles)

Foraging Nettles; Tasty Spring Greens

Foraging Stinging Nettles, Tasty Spring Greens

From mid-April till mid-May I keep an eye out for nettles to harvest in Southeast Alaska. I enjoy them steamed, added to soups and stews, and dry them for use through the year. Nettles are tasty and very nutritious.

 There’s a catch, though, and if you have ever touched nettles then you know it. This plant has tiny hairs that inject irritating compounds into the skin. Within seconds of brushing bare skin against a nettle plant there is a prickly burning sensation and a red rash develops. The discomfort and rash usually go away within twenty minutes or so without lasting effect, but the plant itself can be used for faster relief. Put on gloves and rub nettle leaves vigorously between your gloved hands, and then apply the mushed leaves to the rash.

A patch of young nettle plants near Juneau.

In my truck are nitrile or latex gloves, scissors, and gathering bags. Fresh greens will wilt and compost very quickly, especially in a warm car, so on gathering days I put a cooler with a few plastic bottles of ice into the truck . If you don’t have a cooler then try to keep your herbs cool, allow air to circulate freely around them, and get them processed as soon as possible.

Update! I opened a new box of nitrile gloves, and they were thinner. I was getting stung through the gloves! I doubled them and no more stings. So, if you are using 'surgical' gloves then double them.

When I am headed out on a walk by a stream, lake, or beach in April and May then I tuck those gloves, scissors, and bags into my pack, because that is where I most often find nettles here in Southeast Alaska. Near Haines I have found them along roadsides and in the forest, too.

I have also seen nettles growing near houses and old cabins. This plant is so useful that it is a great garden addition if it is contained. Nettles happily spread themselves into rich, disturbed soil and then thrive for years. That time that I “helped” a friend by weeding the nettles out of between the rows in her garden? Yeah, (*blush*) that was when I learned that nettles are prized food. 

See the stinging hairs on the stem? They are on the leaves, too, with more on the underside than on the upper surface. (Click on photo to enlarge it)

The nettles in this photo are middle to right. The lighter green leaves on the left are thimbleberry and salmonberry.

So you don’t want to get stung to figure out if it is the right plant. Nettles have erect stems, up to 7 feet tall, opposite leaves with toothed edges, and have tiny hairs (sometimes difficult to see) protruding from leaves and stems. There are several varieties of nettles, so the leaves may be lanceolate, oval, or heart-shaped with pointed tips. Early in the year the new leaves are often red or purple. That said, there are other plants that look similar, so I look closely for those little stinging hairs poking out, especially from the stem. Please don’t use only the photos on this page to identify the plant. There are recommended books listed at the bottom of the page that will help with identification.

I use the top portion of the plant when it is very young, snipping it off with scissors. The whole plant may be okay to use when it is under ten inches high, but I always leave the bottom half of the plant so that it will regenerate more quickly for a second harvest. As the nettles get bigger I take the new growth only. Never use older, more mature leaves, as they contain substances that irritate your innards. And those buggy leaves? Leave those alone. They are a little bit yucky, and most likely have chemicals in them that the plant is producing to fight the bugs.

When I harvest nettles for steaming I put them loosely into paper bags or a plastic grocery bag, leaving the top open. Yes, gathering herbs in plastic bags is not recommended, but some days it is so rainy here that baskets and paper bags just don't work well. Garbage bags, even the white kitchen trash bags, often have pesticides added to them, so I stay away from those when gathering food. And, of course, gather only what you can process that day.

I often find yellow violets near nettle patches. This is another edible and medicinal plant!

In a few days I will post more about the nutritional value of nettles, and about preserving and using them. Right now, though, the river is calling so I must go walk along it's banks.

Great books:

  • Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield
  • Plants of Coastal British Columbia including Washington, Oregon, and Alaska by Pojar and MacKinnon
  • Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore

Happy Foraging!

Alaska Beachcomber

Related posts: Wild Tea,  Harvesting Devil's Club Root,  Devil's Club Salve and Tincture, 

And check out the Food and Medicine from Nature index for more!




Winter Chanterelle. Edible Mushrooms in Southeast Alaska

Today my sweetheart and I drove to five different places on Wrangell Island and walked in the forest looking for edible mushrooms. We found a few hedgehogs and three golden chanterelles that were looking pretty old and waterlogged from the rainy weather. Mostly we found winter chanterelles.

When other edible fungi are fading, the winter chanterelles still fill the mushroom basket.  

Winter chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformus

Winter chanterelles are also called yellow foot or funnel chanterelles. Real mycologists call them Craterellus tubaeformis. Older books might have them listed as Cantharellus tubaeformis.  The names change as research marches forward.

This dainty mushroom makes up for its small size by being widespread and available from late summer into early winter. It likes the coniferous forests of Southeast Alaska, and I find it in old growth and second growth.

Yellow foot or Winter Chanterelle

Yellow foot or Winter Chanterelle

Winter chanterelles can be a boring light brown all over, or may be orangish-brown, or have a yellow stalk and brown to dark brown cap. The cap is rolled under at first, then flattens out, and then becomes trumpet shaped as the mushroom matures.

The underside of the cap is usually light tan to ivory. Look for the distinctive chanterelle ridges under the cap. They branch like veins.

The stipe may be tan or yellow, and is hollow. As you can see in the photos, it can appear round or flattened, straight or dancing out of the earth. No, this is not a professional description, and I hope that you do not solely use the information here for mushroom identification. There are good books available, and I will list several at the end of this post.

When the ridges are wrinkled and the edges of the cap are flimsy and breaking, or mushy, then the mushroom is too old to harvest for food. If it looks so yucky that you wouldn't buy it in the grocery store then just leave it in the forest.

Winter chanterelles are not quite as tasty as the golden chanterelle, but they are pretty good. It takes a bunch of them to make a side dish for several people. This small fungi shrinks quite a bit when cooked. That frypan full might be a cupful when they are done.  

I have dried winter chanterelles and then added them to soup and stew to add something special to winter meals. Pop them into the dehydrator, and then once they are dry put them into a canning jar with the lid on tight. Once I lucked out and had warm day with a light breeze to lay winter chanterelles out on a sheet in the morning. They were dry by late afternoon!

Winter Chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformis

Here are a few great mushroom books:

"Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest" by Steve Trudell and Joe Ammirati

"Mushrooms Demystified" by David Arora

"All That the Rain Promises, and More..."  by David Arora

In the rainy fall forests of Southeast Alaska the winter chanterelles are a touch of sunshine. May they bring a smile to you when you see them.

Alaska Beachcomber

More posts on mushrooms in Southeast Alaska: Golden Chanterelle, Hedgehogs, Edible Mushroom Walk in Wrangell

More on subsistence food and medicine in Southeast Alaska: