Stinging Nettles – Viscously Delicious and Nutritious
Have I mentioned that I am having a love affair with nettles? Last week I visited our (quietly) famous local nettle patch. Here on the old homestead site where we gathered as kids for our annual May Day celebration, stinging nettles seep out beyond the garden’s stone walls in all directions. They are thriving in the dark rich soil cultivated by the previous generation of back-to-the-landers.
We spent all morning harvesting this unplanned legacy. Carefully placing the tips and leaves in our baskets, warning the girls to keep their distance, and sharing our combined wealth of nettle knowledge.
Nutrient Rich Wild Greens
Stinging nettles are a wild and abundant source of nutrients. Mineral rich and super-alkalizing, they are a natural panacea for us fiery Pitta-types and provide early insurance against summer inflammation and allergies. I love that they come into season just as my winter-crop of kale is flowering and just before my new crop of garden greens are big enough to harvest. They are free, and once you start looking (or feeling), they are everywhere. They grow well in phosphorous-rich disturbed soils so look for them near compost piles, chicken coops and old garden sites.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) likely gets its name from the “needle” like hairs that cover the leaves and stems. These needles are filled with a potent blend of chemicals including histamines, acetylcholine and serotonin that cause irritating skin welts upon contact. The welts are uncomfortable and can last a day or more but they don’t cause lasting damage. However, once the leaves are dried, crushed or washed they loose their sting and are a superlative source of calcium, magnesium and iron as well as many other trace elements. They have long been used by Europeans and Native Americans to treat arthritis, and when ingested, are said to act as an anti-histamine. Because of their blood cleansing, mineral-rich, alkalizing, anti-pitta, properties, they help clear all forms of inflammation – from skin to intestines to joints. A heaping handful a day will help even the most rabid coffee drinker or sugar fiend recharge and re-mineralize before the real heat of summer sets in.
Raw Stinging Nettle Smoothie
My favorite way to eat nettles is in green smoothies. I blend a giant handful of fresh leaves with a ½ cup of raspberries (previously frozen or fresh) and half of a banana (so my kids will eat it too). Throwin a few dandelion greens and some baby kale, enough water to blend it up, and drink immediately. Fresh nettles are mild tasting and fully-kid approved.
Raw Stinging Nettle Pesto
My second favorite nettle recipe is raw nettle pesto. If you are purist you would use a pestle for your pesto, but I am a busy mom and I use a mini-cuisinart, it takes ten minutes to make and is still delicious. Here’s how I make it: Throw in a heaping handful of fresh nettles, ½ cup of toastednuts (pine or walnut are good). The girls each add a few fresh chives from their herb garden and if we have basil I add some of that too (nettles themselves are pretty bland). Squeeze in the juice of one lemon, drizzle some high-quality olive oil over the mix and a sprinkle of sea salt. Blend well. Today we had this on top of a big bowl of lettuce, kale and asparagus from the garden. It was fantastic!
For more nettle facts and fun be sure to visit the “Be Nice to Nettles” website.