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:
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.
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.
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.*
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.
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,
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Food and Medicine from Nature (index to more articles)