A love affair with nettles
Stinging nettle was the first herb I harvested as a teenager with a budding interest in herbalism. I was attracted to them when I read about their amazing benefits in nourishing the body and relieving inflammation. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is so nutrient dense that some herbalists consider it a superfood rather than an herb. It contains vitamins A, C, K, and B, is rich in minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium, and it contains all of the essential amino acids.
When I realized nettles grew all around me, I grabbed an old grocery bag and some kitchen scissors and went to work. That first batch of nettles turned into a beer that I shared with my friends and family. I enjoyed the earthy yet fresh flavor, and my love affair with nettles began. They have signaled the coming of spring to me ever since, and I celebrate their return every year!
Harvesting your own nettles
This is easy if you prepare yourself with the proper equipment. You will need:
Sharp scissors or garden shears
Rubber gloves (this is essential, so that you don’t get stung!)
A harvesting basket or large bag
Consider wearing boots and heavy duty pants. I’ve done my fair share of harvesting on a whim, dressed in skirts and tank tops, but a little bit of forethought is always a good idea when working with this prickly friend.
Harvesting season will vary based on where you live. Here in Santa Cruz I begin my harvests in late February to early March, due to our beautiful early springs. You’ll want to harvest them before they flower. I’ve always found them near rivers and creeks, or areas where there’s plenty of water saturated in the soil. Look for an area where they grow abundantly, then carefully wade in and snip the tender tops off the nettles, angled into your harvesting receptacle. Easy!
Now you can hang them up to dry for herbal infusions, or use them fresh in a recipe! You can do so much with this amazing plant. As you read before, I’ve made nettle beer.
However, pesto and soup are more popular ways to consume nettle.
Recipe for nettle chowder
You will need:
Half a shopping bag of fresh nettles
1 pound of yukon gold potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion
1 head of garlic
4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
Dried thyme and rosemary
1 bay leaf
Heavy whipping cream (optional)
First you’ll need to blanch your nettles. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and wearing your gloves transfer your nettles to the water. Blanch for about two minutes. Then transfer your nettles to a large bowl of ice water. Sometimes I cheat and just run cold water over them, and that does the trick just fine. You can now cut off the stems if desired. I generally leave them, but they’re very fibrous and can become difficult to blend.
Now, in a large pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add in your chopped onion and saute until translucent. Then you can add your garlic and saute until fragrant.
Now it’s time to add your potatoes, chicken or vegetable stock, salt, herbs, and bay leaf.
Simmer all of that for about five minutes.
Now you can do a rough chop on your nettles and add them to your soup! Add extra water if your nettles aren’t covered.
Simmer for about 15 minutes.
Once you’re done simmering, remove your bay leaf then puree your soup with an immersion blender or food processor.
Swirl in a bit of heavy cream if you so choose, and serve with fresh crusty bread.
This is a very basic recipe and you can alter it to your heart's desire. I love to make it with hearty bone broth and tons of herbs, but it’s equally delicious when you make it vegan and herbless! I often make this in my Instant Pot if I don’t feel like supervising the simmering. Just use the Soup setting if you decide to go that route. No need to overthink it.
I hope you enjoy this hearty and nutritious soup. Making it always gets me excited for spring time, and it’s my husband's favorite dish that I serve! It’s best to share with friends and family while telling them all about your excursions harvesting nettles.