I know I’m not the only foodie who has started developing an interest in foraging for wild edibles. While I’d really love to go on a mushroom hunt (morel season is nearly upon us!), I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so unless under the guidance of an experienced forager, as novices can easily misidentify mushroom species and risk being poisoned. Stinging nettles, on the other hand, are relatively easy to pick out–if it looks like a nettle, and feels like a nettle, it’s a nettle!
Stinging nettles grow for much of the year from Canada all the way down to Virginia, but are best eaten during the spring when they’re young and tender. To this end, be sure to avoid nettles that feel tough or have already flowered, as these are definite signs that the plant is more mature. When seeking them out, keep yourself protected from unnecessary brushes with the plants’ thorns by wearing pants, long sleeves, and gloves. After you’ve found the nettles you want to pick, just snap off the top few layers of leaves–which are the tastiest and most tender–and place them in a bag for easy carrying.
Further, I think I’m correct in my assumption that most people probably wouldn’t be interested in eating a plant that stings their mouth. Luckily, the nettles’ stingers are neutralized through cooking, transforming the wild green from troublesome to tasty by simply applying heat. Stinging nettles have an earthy flavor, which many people describe as similar to spinach, but better. The same can be said about the plant’s nutritional content, which boasts large amounts of calcium, iron, and vitamin C. If that’s not enough, they’re cheaper than spinach, too. In fact, they’re free!
You can prepare stinging nettles the same way you would other greens. Use in a simple saute with garlic and olive oil, or get creative. There are recipes out there for nettle and wild mushroom lasagna, nettle pesto, I’ve even heard of nettles replacing the spinach in spanakopita.
I’m planning on taking my first foraging expedition for nettles over the weekend, what about you? Have you had any experience searching for or preparing stinging nettles? Newbies, any fears or concerns about foraging?