How to Harvest and Cook Stinging Nettle – Vicious, Delicious, and Nutritious
Eating stinging nettle might sound terrible to those who have been stung by it and never bitten back, but once it’s cooked it is truly a spring delicacy. Because of their stinging leaves, nettles are definitely a little more tricky to harvest than most plants. However, unlike Poison Oak, stinging nettles don’t have an oil or anything that can spread, so as long as you wear gloves and don’t touch the leaves before they’re cooked, they can’t harm you.
Once prepared, they are similar to cooked spinach or other greens, but quite different from any vegetable you can buy in a store. They make an excellent base for pesto, can be eaten simply sauteed with a little butter, or can be used to make a tea (with fresh leaves or dried for later). The options are endless if you think of it like spinach.
They are rich in several vitamins (especially vitamin A) and minerals, and are also a great source of protein. One overlooked attribute of stinging nettles is that they are often out and ready to harvest well before your garden greens are ready, making them a great early-spring fresh vegetable.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to harvest stinging nettle:
Find some stinging nettle. Stinging nettle is abundant in the Northwest. It grows particularly well in wet areas like stream bottoms, but can be found elsewhere as well (like along the road in the photo below). The farther south you go, like in California, the more often it grows close to streams, whereas in Washington it will grow in areas away from streams regularly. Harvest stinging nettle in the spring when the plants are young – don’t bother after they start to flower.
Make sure it is stinging nettle. Odds are that if you spend time in the outdoors in the Northwest, you know what stinging nettle looks like. If not, make sure that you identify it properly and don’t eat a different plant. The best way to be certain of your ID is to go with someone who knows what it looks like. In short, it has “hairy”, serrated, heart-shaped leaves that are opposite of eachother. Each nettle plant grows straight up from the ground individually and not as a bush. Feel free to email us a photo if you are unsure – our contact info is on the right-hand side of this page.
Wear gloves and harvest the youngest leaves on top. If your gloves are thin or have holes in them, you can get stung a little bit. Leather gloves or thick rubber gloves are best. We recommend using scissors to cut off the tops so that they fall directly into a bag. Long sleeves and pants are also a good idea for harvesting nettle.
Wash the leaves if you want. They’re usually clean enough and bug-free and we just go straight to blanching them. If they seem buggy or you are worried about it, carefully wash them in a salad spinner or bowl of water.
Blanch the leaves. Put the leaves in boiling water (we like to add some salt) for one minute, and then move them immediately to an ice water bath. At this point, they are cooked and cannot sting.
One option is to cook them like you would cooked spinach. To keep it simple, you can saute them in a little bit of butter.
Another option is to turn it into pesto for pizza or pasta or whatever you want. Here’s our recipe for a lemon stinging nettle pesto:
Here it is with pasta, grilled Rockfish, and purple cabbage. Enjoy!