In late April of this year, in central Maine, I was looking along the banks of rivers for Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads. While looking for fiddleheads from a particular stream I found many young nettles growing along the banks. I picked the tops and filled a basket each trip. The nettles can be harvested through the spring and summer until the leaves get too tough to eat. I plan on doing one big harvest from the larger older plants before the leaves become too tough to eat. My next harvest will be dried.
By Nettles, I am referring to Stinging Nettles (Urtica Diocia). They are herbaceous perennial plants that have a long history as food. I grabbed the leaves gently and cut under the tops carefully to not get stung. The young plants don’t sting as badly as the older plans so I didn’t mind harvesting without gloves. Sometimes I pinched off the tops with my hands but I often got stung with this approach in order to keep up with the pace of cutting with a knife. The sting of the young plants, though uncomfortable, were more of an annoyance then a threat. However, cutting with a knife and holding the top of leaves from the underside kept me from getting stung very much.
Cooking or drying will neutralize the stinging hairs of this plant. And it doesn’t need to be cooked for long. A quick blanching will neutralize the sting. This shouldn’t be eaten raw or fresh unless pulverized in a mortar, a blender or juiced.
There is an eating context of raw nettles called the World Nettle Eating Championships in Dorset, UK. Considering that the stings cause a mild histamine reaction that must be a tough context to win.
Cooked, it’s delicious.
Depending on the subspecies of Stinging Nettle, stinging hairs could be on the leaves and stem or on the leaves only. These stinging hairs do sting especially when touched from a certain angle as they can be flattened against the stem to reduced the chances of being stung.
See how the petioles of the leaves curve upward like a slopping hill. (Petioles are the stems that connect the leaves to the central stem)
The leaves have a serrated margin with marbled or reticulate veins on the leaves. The leaves on the young plants can curl up. The leaves look glossy.
The leaves have opposite leaves. Notice how the veins on the bottom are very obvious.
The leaves have a pointed tip (acuminate). The base of the leaf could have a lobe like found in the picture above. However, in the picture below such a lob at the base of the leaf is absent.
Method of Preparation
For several days in Late April, I made soups with nettles. One day, I made a soup of nettles, 3 tablespoons of butter, groundnuts, spring water, 2 tablepoons of sea salt, a few tablespoons of soy sauce and 2 chopped wild onion stems. Nettles are so mineral rich that it added a rich meaty flavor to the soup. I just put all the ingredients in the pot including the water. I just added enough water so that it will make a thick soup. I simmered and tasted the soup until the taste was to my liking. Adding meat would be even better. This meal could have been accompanied by a bowl of rice.
One particular harvest and cooking this soup can be found at Feral Life Youtube.