Nature provides us with an amazing variety of plants for springtime foraging. If I had to pick a favorite, as tough as this would be, I would point a gloved finger at stinging nettle. It is, without doubt, an incredible strengthening and revitalizing herb and is my pick for April’s Herb of the Month.
Stinging nettle - Urtica dioica - is a well-known type of nettle, but it’s not the only type. There are about 30 to 40 types in the Urticaceae family. Learn more about the different species of nettle.
Foraging for Nettle in the Garden, Woods, and Fields
I have daring memories of foraging stinging nettle when I lived in Budapest, Hungary. A family friend of my husband Peter, who has an extraordinary amount of wild stinging nettle growing in his back yard, taught me how to pick stinging nettle with my bare hands, literally using my fingertips.
I followed his directions precisely, touching the uppermost top side of the nettle leaf, bringing the sides together, then pulling it off and away from the plant, and then releasing it, dropping the leaf into a bag or basket. Fortunately those prickly stingers – the silica ‘hairs’ on the nettle leaf that hold the formic acid - only stung me once [when I was impatient and not focused]. Good thing there was curly dock growing near the nettles.
Curly dock, which looks similar to dandelion, is nature’s natural remedy to help relieve the painful sting and itch from those tiny silica hairs located on the underside of the nettle leave. It generally grows right alongside nettle. Pluck one of its leaves and rub it over the affected area for immediate relief.
Whether I worn gloves or not, I foraged for fresh nettle when I stopped it outside in my mother-in-law’s backyard or when we made another visit to our family friend’s backyard bounty.
If foraging for nettle from mother earth isn’t possible, there are other ways to get your nettle, one suggestion is purchasing certified organic nettle leaf from a reputable source such as Mountain Rose Herbs, our sponsor for the Herb of the Month.
Note: A Word of Caution – Not All Herbs are Safe for Consumption
All herbs are not edible and some are extremely toxic. Please be cautious when foraging for edible herbs and do not pick plants from anywhere. If you aren’t certain of its identity, don’t pick it or eat it. Also take care to purchase herbs from reputable sources. Make certain the herbs are labeled organic and have not been treated with pesticides or preservative.
Ouch Free Techniques for Handling Stinging Nettle
Gathering nettle doesn’t have to be painful, if you prepare yourself for the task and make sure you protect your fingers and hands before handling. The glove-free technique I shared with you above was demonstrated and worked for me [except the one time I wasn’t paying attention]. However, I would advise handing nettle with thick kid gloves for your safety and comfort.
Get out a pair of gardening or thick gloves, a pair of scissors, and your favorite basket or bag, and take them with you to the spot where the nettle is growing. Snip off or pick the top leaves, which is the most potent part of the nettle plant.
Nettle is best used for food when they are first coming up in the spring. Keep in mind once the stems have started to elongate and they begin to flower, the leaves aren’t as tender and become less desirable, but they are still edible.
The color of the nettle leaves may vary from a light shade of green to dark green to a dark reddish-purple. Any of these leaf colorations is good for eating. However, it is said that the nettle leaves with more purple color indicates it’s richer in iron mineral.
Always choose fresh or dried nettle that is ideally organic and is untreated with chemical pesticides.
Storing and Preparing Nettle for Later Use
Here are a couple ways to store and preserve fresh and dried nettle:
Rinse and pat dry fresh nettle leaves and trim the stems short. Place the leaves between two paper towels and place in a large plastic bag and refrigerate up to four days.
Drying nettle using a dehydrator is a great way to preserve extra fresh nettle to use for later use. You will need to do the following:
Washing the leaves right after harvesting or purchasing.
Remove the leaves from the stem.
Allow the leaves to air dry for about 30 minutes or pat dry with paper towel.
Place the leaves in a dehydrator, spreading them out on a dehydrator rack in single rows (do not pile the leaves on top of each other).
Keep enough space between each leaf so there is good air circulation.
If necessary, rotate the tray a few times through out dehydrating.
Dehydrate for 8 to 10 hours or until the leaves are completely dry (to avoid mold).
Dry nettle leaves the good old fashion way by hanging a bunch in a dry, dark, cool location until thoroughly dried.
Dried and powdered nettle can keep well for months when stored in a cool, dry place protected from extended exposure to direct sunlight, in an airtight container [glass jar, spice tin, or plastic bag].
Always remember to label and date the container.
Tip: Store dried leaves whole and crumble or crush the leaf or leaves as needed. This will help retain the fresh flavor from the leaves.
Nettle freezes successfully.
Nutritional Benefits of this amazing herb
Nettle is a highly regarded herb in the world of herbal medicines, and not as regarded, overlooked, and worst in the world of the average person’s back yard for its nutritional and healing value. This amazing herb contains a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and other elements.
Amino Acids | Beta-Carotene | Calcium | Iodine | Iron | Magnesium | Phosphorous | Potassium | Protein | Silica | Sulfur | Tannin | Vitamin A | Vitamin B complex | Vitamin C | Vitamin D | Vitamin K |
Suggestions and Tips Using Nettle
Some fun and delicious ways to use and enjoy fresh, dried, powdered nettle.
You can eat fresh nettles? This might seem a bit frightening, even bold, but it true, yes, fresh nettle can be eaten raw. But be cautious and be sure to neutralize the acids that can sting you. How do you do this? Be sure to crush the nettle leaves, which deactivates the acids that can sting you.
Use your blender, mortar and pestle, and juicer to crush nettle leaves.
Try using fresh nettles the next time you make a green juice or smoothie.
Use fresh nettle in soup and salad recipes.
Make powdered nettle by grinding dried nettle leaves in a coffee grinder
Make a fresh batch of healing nettle tea.
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I absolutely adore tea. It is one of my favorite beverages.
Cold Brewed Nettle Tea
Peter’s mom spoke highly of nettle and said to me, “Nettle made into a tea is excellent for rejuvenating the body and is a perfect spring tonic”.
Fresh or dried nettle is great for making tea. However, I personally prefer using dried nettle for a thicker, richer, tastier tea. Nettle is an excellent herbal cleanser that I drink often.
I steep dried leaves in fresh cold water generally forging a tea-ball strainer or items like that, to allow the leaves to float free in the cold water. Nettle tea doesn’t take much time to steep. You’ll notice the water change to a deep rich color within 10 minutes. Steep as long as you desire, anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours, or even overnight. The longer you steep it and more intense and rich the flavor.
Store unconsumed tea in the fridge.
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Learn more about Raw Epicurean’s Herb of the Month Club and how your name can be selected for the awesome Herb of the Month gift bundle featuring “Nettle”, courtesy of our generous sponsor Mountain Rose Herbs.