The thought of eating nettles might alarm you, as this plant is especially painful with even the slightest brush up against it. But drying or cooking takes all the fight out of it and what is left is quite an amazing super food. It is one of the first to greens to emerge in the spring and in most places it is coming out right now (March).
I like to eat nettles in two ways. While it is young, I love eating it cooked fresh with garlic and butter (the basic recipe for making anything taste good!). I also dry enough to fill two half gallon mason jars and I keep that on hand to add to soups and stews throughout the year.
According to the USDA one cup of fresh cooked nettles has 555% of the RDI for vitamin K, 36% vitamin A, 43% calcium, 35% manganese, 13% magnesium, plus a smattering of other nutrients. Whew!
The plant is best harvested when it is less than knee high. Oh yes, wear thick gloves – did I really need to say that? Don’t take it all and you can get a second cutting. Of course, if you are taking from a wild stand, be mindful minimize your impact so the stand will be there for future years.
The Latin name Urtica dioica sounds much nicer than ‘stinging nettles’. There aren’t many plants that look like nettles, and the sting is a sure fire way to know you’ve got the right plant. While most plants that hurt, puncture, or pierce usually grow in harsh conditions (supporting the theory they are there to protect the land), nettles are an exception to that rule. Nettles are happiest on rich moist soil.
If you are into primitive skills, nettles stems have a lot of fiber and make fine cordage. Harvest in September or October while the plant stems are old and tough, but not dried or withered. If you haven’t ever made cordage from plants I highly recommend learning the basics – it will make you appreciate rope and para-cord so much more.
Marjory Wildcraft is an Expedition Leader and Bioneer Blogger with The [Grow] Network, which is an online community that recognizes the wisdom of “homegrown food on every table.” Marjory has been featured as an expert on sustainable living by National Geographic, she is a speaker at Mother Earth News fairs, and is a returning guest on Coast to Coast AM. She is an author of several books, but is best known for her “Grow Your Own Groceries” video series, which is used by more than 300,000 homesteaders, survivalists, universities, and missionary organizations around the world.