Cooking the Sting Out

Illustration of Nettle plant

Written By

Meg Lucas

Written on

March 01 , 2008

If you take care, and wear the proper gear, you can harvest an abundant and fascinating wild edible. Folks who have been stung by this rascal know what I’m talking about, while those who haven’t had the pleasure of eating it will undoubtedly come to appreciate this nutritious and tasty plant.

The stinging nettle makes its appearance all over Vermont in early spring. You can find it near walls, at the perimeters of gardens, and in fields. You will be hard pressed to miss its bright green foliage and its strongly serrated leaf edge. But beware: if nettles make contact with your bare skin, they will give you some mighty hurtful welts which typically last 10 minutes to several hours. The tiny hairs of this plant, which dislodge with rapid speed, contain a mix of poisons, which often startle and sting.

Warnings aside, this is a great pot herb and a wonderful source of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins?definitely worth the effort. Did you know that nettles contain the highest plant source of iron? Nettles also have the reputation of being a detoxifying and rejuvenating agent, cleansing us after a long winter season and preparing us for the warmth and growth to follow. Oh, and did I mention that once fully cooked the sting disappears? Nettles have a taste similar to spinach and can be substituted in most recipes. A good friend of mine likes to simply sauté them with garlic and serve with pasta.

When harvesting nettles, you will want to don a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of thick gardening gloves. Also handy is a paper bag and a pair of shears or scissors. As you harvest, try to collect the young green leaves at the top of the plant, as they are the most tender. The idea is to hold the paper bag under the leaf you want to harvest and snip it with the scissors, allowing it to fall into the bag.

The arrival of the nettle, one of the first wild greens to appear in the spring, offers a welcome break to your diet if you’ve been subsisting on canned goods, root vegetables, and meat this past winter. Here’s a simple, traditional Irish recipe that incorporates nettles into the remainder of last year’s potatoes.

Illustration:USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database /
Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913.An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. Vol. 1: 635.

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About the Author

Meg Lucas

Meg Lucas

Co-publisher Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine

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