With the coming of spring, nettles takes its place as our dominant foraging food. Full of vitamins and minerals, it is an excellent revitalizing tonic with many beneficial uses for both men and women: boosting energy levels, replenishing minerals, reducing allergy symptoms, assisting adrenal, kidney and lung function, relieving gouty symptoms, tonifying arteries, nourishing hair and skin plus a host of other actions.
According to herbalist Ryan Drum, “Young nettles are especially rich in proteins, minerals and secondary metabolites, and, ‘free amino acids’. These are uncommitted amino acids in nettle sap, waiting for anticipated rapid growth in response to either temperature or sunshine sudden increases. When we consume fresh live (or barely steamed, 5-7 minutes) nettles we get those amino acids for our own protein repairs and replacement. Eat young nettles to enhance post-traumatic healing from wounds, auto collisions, surgery, and radiation treatments.”
We’re fortunate to live in an area where they grow profusely and as soon as we’ve noticed their purple-tinged leaves pushing aside the debris, exposing a few inches to the elements, I’m donning long-sleeves and leather gloves to harvest their tender stalks. A quick snap of the wrist usually suffices to break off the stalk in the tender, young plants. Sometimes the rhizome (root) comes up which I usually break off and bury back in the duff unless collecting the roots for medicine. I place the harvested stalks on their sides in a carrying bag; and if I collect into a plastic bag, I can store my bounty in the refrigerator right from the field.
Although a few caterpillars thrive on nettles this early in the spring, it’s an easy plant to clean. Ours usually only require a few shakes to remove a few of last year’s fibers, stray grasses or bits of dust and debris. If I use them right after harvesting, I will wear a pair of kitchen rubber gloves to grasp the stalk while I slice and dice because the stings can still be quite irritating; and if the harvest is left in the refrigerator for a few days, the stinging affect is lessened. With young plants, I use stalk, stem and leaf so there is no waste.
My favorite ways of preparing spring nettles and absorbing their nutrients as food are as an ingredient in frittatas, omelettes, leek & potato soup, nettle lasagna, in quiches, plus young nettles are an excellent green, simply steamed. They’re also easy to freeze and when it’s smoothie time, plopping in a chunk of frozen nettles is a tasty way to incorporate their vibrancy. It’s an ingredient you’ll undoubtedly find additional ways to include in your diet both fresh, frozen or dried. I’ve included a few recipes but since I’m such a recipe tweaker, for some I’ll mainly give you ingredients, you provide your own guidelines for quantity depending on your tastes.
Nettle Frittata/Omelette: saute red onions, mushrooms in season, grated carrot, finely sliced broccoli spears and minced chickweed together in olive oil until wilted. Add a handful of minced young nettle stalk and leaves on top, cover and let steam until nettles wilt. Meanwhile, prepare a mixture of eggs, minced parsley, dried basil and stir well. For a frittata, pour egg mixture over the steaming veggies, place a cover on the pan and wait until eggs set. You can also flip it over until it’s well done if you wish. For an omelette, saute egg mixture in a separate pan, flip and then when done, fold and fill with your nettle, veggie mixture and serve. Both meals are delicious as is or with salsa or pesto.
Leek and Nettle Soup: saute chopped leeks, celery and crushed garlic cloves in olive oil until soft; add diced potatoes (I use Russets or Yukon Golds). Add minced chickweed, nettles, parsley, dried basil, turmeric, salt and perhaps a bit more oil or butter. Saute a few minutes longer, mixing all the ingredients well to blend the flavors. Cover with stock or water and simmer until everything is tender. Other veggies can be added such as tomatoes, grated carrots…perhaps a tin of salmon added at the end for even more variety. Unlike most Leek and Potato Soup recipes, I do not use milk or cream as an ingredient nor do I find a need to puree if the ingredients are diced small enough as everything seems to meld together just fine.
Nettle Lasagna: Any spinach lasagna recipe will do for nettle lasagna with the obvious substitution of sauteed or steamed young nettles. If you make your own noodles, toss a spoonful of dried, nettle powder into your flour mixture for added nutrition or into your homemade tomato sauce.
Nettle Quiche: Again, there are countless recipes for making quiches. My favorite is from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen. Since I make my own crusts, sometimes I’ll throw in a tablespoon of dried nettle powder with my flours. For the filling, I use a large handful of chopped and steamed nettles, along with sauteed onions, mushrooms in season, chopped broccoli, and an assortment of fresh and dried herbs laid on a bed of feta and shredded raw cheddar cheeses. Over that goes an egg and milk mixture to which I may mix in an additional tablespoon of flour depending on how moist the mix of ingredients. Place dollops of tomato sauce and pesto and a sprinkling of pecorino romano cheese on top if you’d like. Place in a 350-375 degree oven for about 40-50 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
So I hope I’ve wetted your appetite for the versatile, youthful nettle. Here’s to our good health!