It’s still winter here, but I can nearly taste them, sparkling on my tongue, floral and fresh, almost carbonated. Last year, we got so carried away harvesting nettles that we forgot to plant spring crops in our garden. This year, I’m planning for a bit of balance – Bags of nettles, yes, but also some more domesticated greens planted to take over when the nettle season ends in flowers.
Nettles are, hands down, my girls’ favorite green vegetable. They’re not at all bitter, they’re tender, they’re rich in calcium, iron, and vitamin A (amongst other good things), and they taste like the soul of spring.
If you haven’t foraged for nettles before, here are our tips:
Wear long sleeves.
Bring a clean pair of kitchen/utility shears or hand pruners.
Bring a bag with a wide mouth.
Find a stand of healthy young nettles growing on clean ground. You want a location that has not been sprayed with pesticides or watered by runoff from an adjacent road.
With your kitchen shears or pruners, lop off the green top of each plant. Depending on how tall they are, this can be anything from a few inches to almost a foot. I stick with the tender section towards the top of each plant that has a relatively thin stem and dark green leaves. I cut with one gloved hand, holding the stem and then dropping it right into the waiting wide-mouthed bag with my other.
When you’ve gathered all the nettles you desire, head home. Keep your gloves on and rinse them clean in a large colander in your sink. If you have a clean plastic laundry basket, you can rinse them outside using water from a drinking water rated hose (I salvaged an old laundry basket last year and dedicated it to produce – It’s my new favorite harvest tool).
Dump your clean, wet nettles directly into a large pot with a few inches of water and a steamer basket. If you must touch them to do this, wear your gloves or use long handled tongs.
Steam your nettles in the covered pot until they are wilted but still a vibrant green; this usually takes less than 5 minutes. Don’t worry, the sting really will disappear once the nettles start to cook!
After you remove the steamed nettles, pour the green steaming water into a jar and store it in your fridge. This nettle water is truly a powerful tonic – I made the mistake of drinking a shot glass full at 10 pm one night last spring – I was suddenly NOT AT ALL TIRED and spent the night cleaning my house, finally falling asleep around 3 am. That was great for my house, but not such good timing on my part. Now I drink my nettle water only before noon.
Use the steamed nettle leaves and stems in any recipe that calls for spinach, kale, or other leafy greens. Nettles are wonderful in pesto, soup, frittatas, matzoh balls, scrambles, spanakopita, lasagne, quiche…You get the idea.
Our favorite nettle recipes from last year are here: Potato Nettle Dumplings and Pancakes, JoJo’s Nettle Special, and Nettle, Potato, and Kubocha Soup. We’re looking forward to more nettle specials this spring – If you have a favorite, please share!