Foraging & cooking with… stinging nettles

Now, our regular readers will know that we’re quite partial to a spot of foraging, but this post’s topic, stinging nettles, may seem a little less palatable than, say, elderflowers. Indeed, one of our readers have gone as far as sending us this message:

“These new Merrell hiking boots sure are great,” I was just saying as I lost my footing in the tarry mud and plunged hands-first into a pile of stinging nettles. Within seconds, my hands had puffed up like sausages about to burst and it was as if I was being stung by thousands of extremely angry wasps. My brain was a shrill screech at this point as I asked myself, “What am I going to do? How can I make this searing pain go away? Good Lord!” Luckily my cousin had a med kit with her that had just the right ointment to soothe the sting. You can imagine my surprise when I learned you can cook these godforsaken plants – and EAT them too!”

Stinging Nettles: A Superfood?

As it turns out, stinging nettles are high in protein, which should make them a logical choice for any vegan or vegetarian. Here’s the basic run-down for one cup of nettles:

  • 37 calories
  • 0.1 gram of fat
  • 6.6 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2.4 grams of protein
  • 100% of your daily recommended value of Vitamin A
  • 369 – 493% DV Vitamin K
  • 7.7 – 17.5% DV iron
  • 32.9 – 42.8% DV calcium
  • Rich in Carotene & Chlorophyll
  • Also contains Vitamin B, C and D

(http://www NULL.vegetarianliving NULL.co NULL.uk/uploads/articles/main/foraginghowandwheretoforagefornettles_1298392240 NULL.jpg)Foraging For Nettles

NettlesFirst, find your nettles. It shouldn’t be difficult, as they’re pretty widespread and verging on abundant. It can be easy to confuse them with the very similar dead nettle (which doesn’t sting) but these latter have purple or white flowers instead of the rather insignificant green flowers of the true stinging nettle, but not to worry: dead nettles are just as good & need rather fewer precautions when foraging, talking of which… unless you’re Bear Grylls, bring elbow-length rubber gloves to forage for nettles. The old rhyme is correct, but often difficult to steel yourself to follow:

Tender-handed, stroke a nettle,
And it stings you for your pains.
Grasp it like a man of mettle,
And it soft as silk remains.

When the hairs break, they emit formic acid which can last up to 24 hours unless neutralised with baking soda or special ointment. The traditional cure is, of course, to rub the affected area with a dock leaf. The sting itself is not the end of it, you’ll experience a nasty tingly sensation for quite some time, maybe up to a couple of days.  If you’re particularly paranoid, you may want to use tongs too. For ease of handling later, take the time to lay the stalks all in the same direction, rather than just heaping them all together.

Be sure you gather your nettles early in the season, as soon as the weather warms up in spring. Ideally, they’re picked during the dry spell following a heavy rain. Reach down after about 2-4 tender top shoots and cut the bunch. You don’t want the nettles that have bloomed already. Short nettles (that are less than a foot high) will give you the best taste, free of the gritty texture that forms in older growth.

Prepping Nettles

Keep your gloves on and put your nettles in the kettle: chop the greens right in your cooking pot using a pair of kitchen shears. You’ll need just enough water to steam and simmer. Wait until the leaves are wilted and soggy before you attempt to handle them. Drain and squeeze out excess water, as you would with spinach. Then use them in your favorite recipe.

Stinging Nettle Recipes

You can make frittatas (http://www NULL.latimes NULL.com/features/food/la-fo-nettlerec2feb07,0,7274686 NULL.story), tea (http://nettle-tea NULL.net/2009/10/how-to-make-nettle-tea-recipe/), soups (http://allrecipes NULL.com/Recipe/stinging-nettle-soup/detail NULL.aspx), or even beer (http://www NULL.ruralvermont NULL.com/vermontweathervane/issues/spring/98005/nettle NULL.shtml).  At TheKitchn.com (http://www NULL.thekitchn NULL.com/thekitchn/recipe-roundup/stinging-nettles-8-recipes-for-spring-cooking-145582), you’ll find 8 recipes for nettles, including: Garlicky Nettle Pesto, Spinach and Nettle Crustless Spanakopita, Spring Lasagna with Asparagus, Peas, and Stinging Nettles, Nettle Gnudi, Nettle-Mushroom Pie with Pine Nuts, Nettle Aloo, Stinging Nettle Ravioli with Butter and Sage, and Nettle Pizza with Fontina, Taleggio, and Pancetta. We recently had rather wonderful Nettle Haggis at a Really Wild Food dinner. Admittedly, neither word suggest great dining but our table agreed that that course was pretty special, possibly the best out of the whole six course experience.

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