Spring nettles: Tonic and terrific | Kitchen to Kitchen

Sidonie Maroon
Posted 4/13/22

On the far side of open pasture, the trail curves and under a hedge of thimbleberry canes, I see emerging stinging nettles. They’re the perfect size for harvesting. 

I’ve brought …

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Spring nettles: Tonic and terrific | Kitchen to Kitchen

Above, pesto made with wild nettles.
Above, pesto made with wild nettles.
Photo courtesy of Sidonie Maroon
Posted

On the far side of open pasture, the trail curves and under a hedge of thimbleberry canes, I see emerging stinging nettles. They’re the perfect size for harvesting. 

I’ve brought a sack, with a produce bag, scissors and thick garden gloves tucked inside. Squatting down, I snip off the first 4 inches of leaves and use the scissors to drop them into the bag. When my bag’s full, I thank the patch, knowing it’ll recover, and the next time I pass by, the nettles will be twice as high.

Nettles are dynamic accumulators, or mining plants. They gather macro and micronutrients and help improve neighboring plant’s defenses against pests and diseases. Such a giving plant, they also provide food and shelter to over 40 species of insects, including gorgeous butterflies. 

If you’re unable to harvest nettles, both the farmers market and the Food Co-op sell them. 

But if you’re only inexperienced, please venture out. Stinging nettles are widespread, growing in moist woods, often under alders where the soil is soft, black and nitrogen rich. You can find them along streams, ditches, on mountain slopes, and in woodland clearings. 

How to prepare nettles?

First stick your nose above the bag and smell! There’s nothing so alive and zingy as fresh nettles. 

Wear gloves and use tongs! Blanch the nettles in boiling water for 2 minutes. Scoop them out with a strainer and chop as you would spinach. Save the blanching water for stock! 

To make a healthy nettle infusion: Pack a mason jar half full of nettles, pour in boiling water and allow it to infuse overnight. Strain and drink cold, or warm it with honey and milk. It’ll be an electric bright green! 

Freeze blanched and chopped nettles for future pies, soups, casseroles or pesto. 

Earthy nettles pair with cheeses like Asiago, jack, Parmesan and sharp cheddars; many mushrooms; alliums like leeks and garlic; herbs such as thyme, marjoram, dill, and parsley; and the spices are black pepper, chilies, nutmeg, and ginger. 

Try nettles with acids like mustard, lemon, lime, and wine vinegars; fats like butter and olive oil. Try with walnuts. Meats; especially smoked pork. Vegetables; potatoes and other root vegetables. Legumes; chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas and all white beans.      

What to make? 

Pesto: Try making a pesto d’urtica if you’ve never eaten fresh nettles. Take 1½ cups blanched and chopped nettles, 1 clove minced garlic, ¼ cup grated Parmesan, ¼ cup toasted walnuts, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and salt to taste. You can freeze the pesto in ice cube trays and use as needed. 

Soups: Try nettles in minestrone, lentil soup, or an Indian dal. Blend it into the background, or chop it in for texture as you would spinach, kale or chard. A potato, leek and nettle soup is classic, and for many a rite of Spring. 

Pies: Use nettles to replace spinach in savory pies, such as spanakopita.  

Breads: Savory breads, bread sticks, biscuits, and muffins are wonderful with nettles, herbs and cheeses. 

Quiches and omelets: For a green egg and ham variation, puree the nettles into the eggs and add cubes of ham and cheese.

Fresh Nettle Chutney

Makes 2 cups

Bright electric green and delicious! 

Ingredients

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3 tablespoons hulled sesame seeds

¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes

¼ cup roasted cashews, chopped 

¼ cup pitted deglet dates, chopped  

1½ cups blanched stinging nettles  

  teaspoons pickled jalapeno

1 tablespoon fresh ginger paste 

½  teaspoon sea salt  

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, and zest of 1 lime 

½ cup nettle blanching water

Directions 

Dry roast the cumin seed, sesame seeds and coconut flakes in a heavy frying pan, on a low heat, stirring frequently, until the coconut is golden and cumin smells toasty. 

Using tongs, rinse the fresh nettles. Bring a 2-quart pot of water to a boil. Add three big tong fulls of nettles to the water and boil for 2 minutes. Grab the nettles with the tongs and roughly chop before measuring. 

In a blender, I used a Vitamix on high (combine everything and process until smooth. )

Transfer to a bowl and serve, or store refrigerated for up to a week. 

(Sidonie Maroon is the culinary educator at The Food Co-op; abluedotkitchen.com. Follow Sidonie on The Food Co-op’s Facebook group “Cooking with the Co-op.” Find more recipes at www.foodcoop.coop/blog/nettles.)

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