Series Intro: Using Common Weeds to Promote Health | Weed 1: Stinging Nettle | Stinging Nettle Frittata Recipe | Weed 2: Lamb’s Quarters | Lamb’s Quarters Pesto Recipe
Welcome to the first part of my summer series, Weeds are Good for You! featuring stinging nettle. If you’re stopping by for the first time, check out my intro post to this series, Using Common “Weeds” to Promote Health.
I’ve been a lover of wild edibles and that which we call “weeds” for a few years now, ever since my discovery of the wonders of stinging nettle on the first farm I worked at. We had huge patches of it within the brush and forests surrounding the farm fields and would go tromping through them, dressed in our armor of garden boots, coveralls, and straw hats for helmets. (Okay, sometimes it was just sandals, shorts, & t-shirts).
Any pain we endured was always worth it – not just for the sake of the adventure that came from discovering this wild edible, but also for knowing what we found was valuable in many ways.
And that’s what I want to share with you all: the wonders of stinging nettle, which gets a bad reputation for a couple of reasons: 1.) It’s a “weed” and 2.) It can hurt you! Not many weeds have the ability to inflict pain just from handling them, so this one often gets put on the bad list in the weed world.
But what is stinging nettle and why do I seem to like it so darn much? Let’s dive in a bit . . .
This herbaceous perennial plant owes its namesake to its many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes that inject histamine and other chemicals into those that contact the hairs. Its leaves and the stems have both stinging and non-stinging hairs.
With a rich green color, stinging nettle grows 3 – 7 feet tall in the summer and dies off in the winter. It’s leaves tend to be about 1 – 6 inches in length and 2 or so inches wide. They grow opposite one another along the stem. The leaves are deeply serrated around the outside, and on the surface have deep veins. It has small green and brownish flowers.
*Note: I’ll refer to stinging nettle as just “nettle” throughout this post, but there are actually 40 different species of nettle, not just this one.
*Please be sure to study up on how to properly identify stinging nettle before harvesting and eating. Read this wikiHow to learn how to identify stinging nettle.
Stinging nettle grows wild throughout the US, Europe, northern Africa, and all around the world.
It tends to grow in most ecosystems but prefers moist woods and nitrogen-rich areas, but also occurs in in and adjacent to marshes and meadows.
It also likes to invade disturbed areas: There are huge patches of stinging nettle growing along fences in the alley behind our house!
Stinging nettle is a nutritional powerhouse!
It is very high in the minerals calcium, magnesium, silicon, sulphur, copper, chromium, zinc, cobalt, potassium and phosphorus.
Nettles also contain high amounts of vitamins A, C, D, E, and K as well as riboflavin and thiamine. (source)
It has been shown to cleanse the body of metabolic waste and increase production of red blood cells.
The entire plant – roots, stems, leaves, and flowers – has incredible medicinal properties.
It has traditionally been used to increase blood flow, treat arthritis, itchy scalp & dandruff.
When taken internally, it aids in seasonal allergy prevention/relief and is known for promoting liver and kidney health.
Hey ladies, it can also alleviate symptoms of PMS and menopause! (source)
Stinging nettle makes an excellent companion plant in gardening. Plant it around the perimeter of your garden or near some precious crops that wildlife likes to munch on, and it will act as a barrier.
*Note: Nettle does spread rather rapidly, so it is wise to keep it away from your primary cultivation area.
Stinging nettle also returns nutrients to the soil and increases the oil content of nearby foliage, making them more resilient. Varieties of mint plants, especially, can thrive in conjunction with stinging nettle.
You want to harvest nettle while it is still younger, when it first starts to really develop in spring – March or April (or if it’s a late winter in Minnesota, ahem . . . it’s more like May). Harvest before it produces flowers.
What you’ll need:
> A bag
> Thick rubber or leather gloves
> Arm and leg coverage (if you’ll be tromping through fields/patches of nettle)
What to do:
Once you’ve properly identified your stinging nettle plant (or plants!), cut off the upper leaves – these are the young and tender ones. You can also just cut off part of the stem – the top 5 inches – and separate the leaves later.
It’s important to always leave some so that it can come back the next year!
I’ll go deeper into this when I share my upcoming recipe featuring stinging nettle, hooray!
It is pretty simple and completely safe to eat stinging nettle if prepared correctly.
You can first soak the leaves for 5-10 minutes in warm water – this acts as a way of both washing it and removing some of the sting from the leaves.
Then cook down by sautéing or cooking in a pot/pan of boiling water for 5-10 minutes until the leaves are nicely wilted.
You can eat the nettle leaves after draining once they’re cooked down – maybe add a bit of garlic, salt, and pepper. Or you can dress them up into a variety of culinary delights – I’ll be sharing my nettle-centric recipe soon! :)
Oh, nettle. . . so much to say. In summary, stinging nettle is wonderful, it’s free, it’s delicious, and it is good for you!
If you’re convinced enough after all this and ready to get cookin’, try out my Nettle Frittata Recipe. Soo delicious :)
Have you ever harvested or eaten stinging nettle?
What did you think?
Share your adventures in the comments below!