The humble stinging nettle is one of the most vitamin and mineral rich wild herbs. Nettles are high in vitamins, especially C and E, and several minerals including iron. They grow in abundance and are easy to find – too easy in many gardens. Instead of treating nettles as weeds, pick some and use them for tea and for cooking. The stinging stops when you cook or dry the leaves.
In herbal medicine, nettle tea is used to treat some allergy symptoms. The diuretic properties of the stinging nettle make it also popular in detox tea blends. Dried and ground nettles can be added to soups, stews, bread dough and homemade herb mixes or herbal teas.
Cooking with Stinging Nettles
In my native country, Finland, nettles are commonly used as an alternative to spinach. In the spring, when new nettles push out of the earth after the long winter, they are popular in cooking and are gathered to make soups (if you’ve ever made spinach soup, try making nettle soup or replacing some of the spinach with nettles). The stinging effect disappears when nettles are cooked. Nettle tea made with dried nettle leaves does not sting either.
In Finnish folk medicine nettles are believed to be helpful in anaemia (thanks to their high iron content), to cleanse the blood, to boost the removal of toxins from the body and to stimulate circulation in the capillaries. Because of their vitamins and minerals, they are believed to be especially useful for anyone suffering from a long illness or recovering from an illness.
Gathering and Storing Nettles
When picking nettles, pick only from areas that are clean and not too close to human habitation, as nettles are known to absorb nitrates from the soil. Pick the tops and the leaves of young nettles and use gloves to protect your hands from the stinging. Use gloves when handling nettles that have not yet been cooked or dried, and keep your kids away from freshly picked nettles!
Dry your nettles and use the dried leaves to make a nettle infusion. Chop or grind the dried leaves to powder to add a little into soups and stews. If you are into making your own herbal mixes to use in cooking, nettle brings some extra nutrients and a little kick to your herbal blends.
Lesley Bremness: The Complete Book of Herbs (Studio, 1994)
Photo: Nettles (Kószó József)