Yes, You Can Cook With Nettles (Plus Recipes)

Updated on April 14, 2020
Carb Diva profile image

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Did you know you can eat nettles?
Did you know you can eat nettles? | Source

What Are Nettles?

Nettles are an enigma; on one hand (pun intended) they are relentless weeds that can deliver a nasty, painful sting. But they're also regarded as a useful and healthful herb—providing seeds for birds, nesting habitat for butterflies, and nutritious greens for you and me.

Originally native to Europe, Asia, and western North Africa, nettles are now found worldwide. There are six subspecies, and all but one of them deliver a potent sting from the hypodermic-needle-like hairs that cover the leaves and stems.

For centuries they've been used in teas and tonics and processed to make fiber for fabrics. I prefer to gather and use them for cooking.

Can You Grow Them in Your Garden?

In my corner of the world, I've no choice. Nettles "grow like weeds" and have settled in quite nicely along the nature trail on my property. This prolific plant is not fussy. It flourishes in anything from bright sun to full shade and in all USDA climate zones.

If you don't have nettles growing in your garden, you can buy seeds online. Here's a summary of the type of growing conditions they need to perform at their best:

Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)

  • USDA Zones: 3-10
  • Height: 24-36 inches
  • Bloom season: Late spring to late summer
  • Environment: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil type: Nitrogen-rich, moist well-draining soil
  • Temperature for germination: 65°F
  • Average germination time: 10-14 days
  • Depth: Surface sow (do not bury)
  • Moisture: Keep seeds moist until germination

A mature stand of stinging nettles in a sunny meadow
A mature stand of stinging nettles in a sunny meadow | Source

How to (Safely) Collect Them

Leather or suede gloves and long sleeves are an absolute must. Don't rely on simple cloth garden gloves; those little hypodermic-needle hairs will find their way to your skin. Most people feel the pain for a few minutes and up to an hour. But some (like yours truly) are extremely sensitive, breaking out in welts and burning pain that lasts for 48 hours.

If you plan to gather more than a few nettles (I gleaned several pounds), use a clean bucket and carry a pair of garden snips with you. Take only the top 3-4 inches (the first two sets of leaves). This is the tender new growth. Don't be tempted to take more; the lower leaves and stems are quite fibrous and tough.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Raw nettles from my nature trailNettles steamed and drainedRemove the stemsBowl of stemsNettles spun dry
Raw nettles from my nature trail
Raw nettles from my nature trail | Source
Nettles steamed and drained
Nettles steamed and drained | Source
Remove the stems
Remove the stems | Source
Bowl of stems
Bowl of stems | Source
Nettles spun dry
Nettles spun dry | Source

How to Clean and Process

Bring a large pot of water to boil; it's the boiling water that removes the sting. Don't remove your gloves just yet. You need to drop those nettle clippings into the boiling pot. Once they are submerged, cover the pot, turn off the heat, and set your timer for 2 minutes.

That's it. Your nettles are now tamed. Drain and rinse with cold water so that they will be cool enough to handle.

Look at that intense green color!

At this point, I like to separate the leaves from the stems (refer to the third picture above). You may skip this step if you wish. You now have tamed nettles that you can use just as you would frozen spinach. By the way, you can use those stems if you whirl them in a food processor and stir into soup or salad dressing (those are just two ideas).

Compare Nutritional Value of Nettles to Other Greens

You might be wondering how stinging nettles compare to other steamed greens. This is how 100 grams (about 2/3 cup) of steamed nettles compare to the same amount of spinach or kale.

 
Stinging Nettles
Spinach
Kale
Calories
42.0
23
28.0
Potassium
334.0 mg
466.0 mg
228.0 mg
Dietary Fiber
6.9 g
2.4 g
2.0 g
Protein
2.7 g
3.0 g
1.9 g
Vitamin A
50.3%
209.6%
148.0%
Vitamin B-6
6.3%
12.1%
6.9%
Vitamin K
555 ug
483 ug
817 ug
Calcium
48.1%
13.6%
7.2%
Iron
11.0%
19.8%
5.0%
Zinc
2.8%
5.1%
1.6%
Source: Recipes.SparkPeople.com

Yes, spinach ranks #1 for potassium, Vitamin-A, Vitamin B-6, and zinc. But nettles are a super source of dietary fiber and calcium.

And, they're free!

Recipes

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Nettle pestoFinished pesto
Nettle pesto
Nettle pesto | Source
Finished pesto
Finished pesto | Source

Nettle Pesto

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cooked nettles (3 cups after cooking, rinsing and squeezing dry)
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

Instructions

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until all ingredients are pureed. This creates a very dense pesto. If you want a looser, more liquid pesto add more olive oil or a bit of water or broth.

Pasta with beans and greens
Pasta with beans and greens | Source

Pasta With Beans and Greens

This recipe from Serious Eats is a classic Italian peasant dish—slow-simmered beans are cooked to creamy perfection and create the silky sauce that coats tubes of pasta and fresh greens. Serious Eats uses Tuscan kale; I think this dish of pasta with beans and greens would be a perfect way to use the fresh nettles you have steamed. It's a filling, hearty meal and a perfect reward for your efforts.

Ribollita soup
Ribollita soup | Source

Ribollita

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large red tomato, diced
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans cannellini beans (do not drain)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup prepared (steamed, drained and squeezed dry) nettles, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 8 slices artisanal French of Italian bread, diced* (see note below)
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Sauté the onion, celery, and carrots in 1/3 cup olive oil in a stockpot or large cooking pot until softened—about 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomato and sauté a few minutes more.
  2. Add one can of the beans and 1 cup of the vegetable broth. Puree the other can of beans plus remaining 1 cup of vegetable broth in blender or food processor. Pour pureed beans into the stockpot.
  3. Add the garlic, thyme, and remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil to the stockpot; simmer a few minutes.
  4. Stir in the nettles, blended beans, and broth. Bring all to a simmer over low heat. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Stir the bread into the soup. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes, mixing occasionally. This is a good time to check the salt and pepper too.
  6. Add the rest of the beans and broth and a pinch of red hot pepper. Mix in well.
  7. Serve warm with a bit of olive oil.

*Note: If your bread is not dry, you can slice it and bake it in the oven at low heat to dry it quickly.

Creamy Vegan Nettles Soup with Cauliflower and Kale
Creamy Vegan Nettles Soup with Cauliflower and Kale | Source

Creamy Vegan Nettles Soup

It would be easy to fill this recipe review for nettle soup with superlatives—it's gluten and dairy-free, vegan, low-card (cauliflower stands in for the typical potato), packed with minerals and nutrients, and filled with flavor from umami-rich mushrooms and red chili pepper flakes. (And did I mention the beautiful green color?)

Many nettle soup recipes rely on dairy and potatoes; Renee replaces starchy potatoes with low-carb cauliflower and the typical dash of cream steps aside for coconut milk. Kale and nettles add iron, Vitamins A and C.

Will You Add Nettles to Your Diet?

Have I convinced you that stinging nettles might be a worthy addition to your diet?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Linda Lum

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      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        3 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Linda

        It was all part of growing up where I come from.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        3 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Wow, Lawrence, that's quite the example of make do with what you've got. Thanks for this addition.

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        3 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Linda

        I saw this hub, read it and remembered something dad would sometimes make. NETTLE BEER!

        Yes, I know, only an Englishman can come up with that, some also used to make a wine from it.

        But here's a link to how to make Nettle beer (not sure how alcoholic it would be)

        https://homestead-honey.com/nettle-beer-recipe/

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Denise, if you prepare ahead of time (long pants, long sleeves, and sturdy gloves) you'll be fine. Thanks for stopping by.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image

        Denise McGill 

        7 weeks ago from Fresno CA

        I've experienced the pain by brushing past them with shorts on or even retrieving a ball from the weeds as a child and have the sting on my arms, hands and legs. I rarely eat them because of the care that comes with the picking but if I come across some again I am tempted to bring them home to prepare.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Eric, of the six species of nettle there is indeed one that does not sting. I guess you win the prize. I'm glad you convinced Gabe to give it a try.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Good morning MizB. No, I've not eaten dock; I'd heard of it but had to do a Google search to find out what it even looks like. Turns out that it grows in my little corner of the world. Who knew? I'm willing to give it a try.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        7 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        All righty then. I had a technical glitch that was a pleasure to resolve. My nettles don't sting. So that is unlikely so I had to "weed" through botany to figure out what they were. There is a subspecies without stingers. But it looks a lot like other plants. Careful -- but of the four close none of them are toxic so it was up to taste.

        Success into two different soups and mixed in a vinegar and oil style dressing.

        (Gabe says "better than Spinach" - although it is hard to tell the difference really. Maybe I just call spinach nettle and trick him ;-)

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James MizBejabbers 

        7 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Linda, Mary: Have either of you ladies eaten dock? My grandmother used to tell me that dock was edible. I think people resorted to eating dock and other edible weeds during the Great Depression, but she never mentioned eating nettles. She said they mixed dock with other greens like poke sallet or turnip greens. I asked her to cook some dock for me, but she never would.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Mary I'm not familiar with dock leaf, but young bracken ferns seem to tame the flame and they do grow in the same area and at the same time (God provides).

        As for feeling "hairy?" I don't think so, but maybe I'm biased. If you are concerned about the texture you could whirl them a bit in your food processor. Treat them like steamed spinach.

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        7 weeks ago from Brazil

        I know of nettles from living in the UK. I've never cooked with them though. If we got stung we always grabbed a dock leaf, which grows near nettles. Rubbing that on the sting helped.

        I have a plant here that stings and looks like a nettle. We never had it here until we had back to back abundant rainy seasons.

        Although the sting is gone, once cooked do they still feel hairy? My mother used to pick mustard greens from the roadside, and they always seemed hairy in my mouth.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Pamela, I don't know if you will find them in your corner of the USA. I would suggest that you do a Google search for a Master Gardener program in your area (or at least in your state). They could let you know if stinging nettles grow in your part of the world.

      • Randy Godwin profile image

        Randy Godwin 

        7 weeks ago from Southern Georgia

        Linda, the type we have around here are very short and grow in sandy soil for the most part. Don't blame you for eating them if you can keep from being stung. :)

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        7 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        I never knew a thing about nettles but I certainly appreciate this information. i will see if I find them in this area. Thank you for some new information again.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Doris (MizB), wow I'm not Scot, but the prospect of being whipped by nettles would certainly keep me in line.

        I think those little stinkers can grow just about everywhere (see my info on growing conditions). They start out looking green, pretty, and innocent but by mid-summer are as tall as me. OK, honest disclosure that isn't saying much, but a 5-foot tall whip covered with lethal hypodermic needles sounds a bit intimidating, doesn't it?

        Yes, they do look like a member of the mint family (but aren't).

        I didn't delve into the negative side-effects or drug interactions because I was presenting this as a cooking topic and not nutritional/medicinal. But, I do know that people who are taking blood-thinners such as Warfarin should avoid greens high in Vitamin K.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Randy, honestly I didn't glean these out of desperation. Every spring I gather them on my property because they are free.

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James MizBejabbers 

        7 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        And Scottish clansmen used them to whip their wives if they perceived the women to be disobedient. Do nettles grow in the South? I have plants that look like that growing at the edge of my yard, but they don't sting. They look like a member of the mint family. Very interesting information, Linda, but I'm allergic to chlorophyl, too, so unfortunately most greens are not cooked and served at our house. Too bad because I really love wild greens, especially poke sallet.

      • Randy Godwin profile image

        Randy Godwin 

        7 weeks ago from Southern Georgia

        Shauna, I hope you never stray into stinging nettles like we have down here. As Bill said, they were well known and used by Native Americans, but their sting is very painful and will itch and burn like the dickens.

        Hope I don't have to resort to eating them! :o

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Shauna, yes very much like spinach. In fact, for any recipe that uses steamed spinach you could use steamed nettles. My daughter and I made chicken "spinach" (actually nettles) ravioli with our bounty. I was going to include that recipe but who, besides me, is crazy enough to make semolina pasta dough, roll it paper thin, and then create their own ravioli?

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        7 weeks ago from Central Florida

        Linda, I'd never heard of stinging nettles until I was watching an episode of Chopped over the weekend. It was one of the mandatory basket ingredients.

        I don't know if we have any growing wild in my area.

        Do they taste like spinach?

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Flourish, I didn't do it for that purpose--I collect nettles every spring--but this time I felt a bit more self-satisfied and victorious.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        7 weeks ago from USA

        Depending on how the economy rebounds (or does not) we may have to forage for more of our food and get a lot more creative. Nettles are a great start.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, there's a link to a survivalist-type who shows exactly how it's done. Not gonna happen. And, while we're tossing out trivia did you know that the Native Americans would flog themselves with stinging nettles so that they would stay awake during whaling?

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        7 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        I will be back.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        7 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        Not only cook with them, but I recently found out you can use their fibers to sew with. Who would have thunk it? Certainly not I!

        Happy Monday my friend! Enjoy that sunshine. I'll be finishing up the veggie garden today.

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