Stinging into spring

It’s nettle season again. Not that these painfully healthy plants don’t grow almost year-round, it just that in early spring they’re at their peak of flavor and vitality.
Why get so excited about an obnoxious, invasive and painful weed? Because it’s tasty, healthy and ever-so-useful.
Here’s what Euell Gibbons had to say about nettles in Stalking the Healthful Herbs:
“Unlike many health foods, nettle greens are really good, as well as being good for you.In addition to their good taste, nettles are rich in vitamins A and C, amazingly high in protein, filled with chlorophyll, and probably exceedingly rich in many of the essential trace minerals.
No grazing animal will eat a live nettle, but when nettles are mowed and dried, all kinds of livestock eat them avidly and thrive on them. Horses get shinier coats and improve in health when fed dried nettles. Cows give more and richer milk when fed on nettle hay. Hens lay more eggs when powdered nettle leaves are added to their mash, and these eggs actually have a higher food value. Even the manure from nettle-fed animals is improved, and makes better fertilizer.
Nettles furnish one of the most valuable of all plant substances to use as a mulch in your garden, or to add to your compost pile. Having approximately seven percent nitrogen, figured on a dry-weight basis, this plant is richer in this essential nutrient than many commercial fertilizers.”

From the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society:
“Nettle leaf has a long history of folk use. Nettle greens are wonderfully nutritious, containing large portions of minerals, vitamins A and C, chlorophyll, and protein. Nettle leaf has the ability to increase the production of urine and to increase the efficiency of liver and kidney function. It is used for anemia, has shown antiallergenic properties in hay fever, is taken for urinary problems such as cystitis and stones, and because it increases the excretion of uric acid, it is also used for arthritis and rheumatism. In Europe, nettle rhizomes are used to reduce the inflammation and improve the painful urination that can be part of non-cancerous prostate enlargement. This plant is quite safe. No side effects or contraindications have been reported for nettle products. Nettle leaf is considered to be safe during pregnancy.


Nettle is commonly used as fresh leaf (must be cooked to deactivate the sting), dried leaf, tea, tincture, capsule, tablet and ointment. I like to use nettle leaves in a number of ways. A particular favorite is as a mixture of chopped and lightly steamed nettle leaf, ricotta cheese, tofu and/or egg, and seasonings which I use as a layer in a lasagna dish or use to fill pasta such as manicotti. Nettle leaves are a tasty addition to some soups and stews and can be added to other cooked greens such as spinach, collards, or kale. In the summer, I make sun tea using fresh nettle leaves and fresh mint leaves – adding a touch of lemon makes a refreshing tea. I also dry nettle leaves and use them for tea, in soups, or as a substitute for parsley. Freezing nettles works well for use during the winter months. I chop the fresh leaves and then lightly steam before freezing. Frozen nettle is easily added to soups and stews or cooked as a green. And then there is the tincture I make with the fresh (or dried) leaves and use as a tonic. Oh, by the way, I have read that dried nettle leaf is also useful as animal feed.”

Some harvesting tips from Botanical.com:

“When the herb is collected for drying, it should be gathered only on a fine day, in the morning, when the sun has dried off the dew. Cut off just above the root, rejecting any stained or insect-eaten leaves, and tie in bunches, about six to ten in a bunch, spread out fanwise, so that the air can penetrate freely to all parts.
Hang the bunches over strings. If dried in the open, keep them in half-shade and bring indoors before there is any risk of damp from dew or rain. If dried indoors, hang up in a sunny room, and failing sun, in a well-ventilated room by artificial heat. Care must be taken that the window be left open by day so that there is a free current of air and the moisture-laden, warm air may escape. The bunches should be of uniform size and length, to facilitate packing when dry, and when quite dry and crisp must be packed away at once in airtight boxes or tins, otherwise moisture will be reabsorbed from the air.”

At Seven Trees, we first enjoy nettles as a fresh vegetable, picking only the top few leaves once the plants are 6-12″ high. Steam them until well-wilted, then toss with rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper & butter. Unbeatable as a spring tonic.

We’ve also brewed nettle ale & braggot from nettles, and keep plenty on hand, dried, to add to soups or brewed as tea. This year we plan to harvest more to use as a feed supplement for the hens. Nettles are also a great fertilizer when shoved into a bucket of water, left to ferment a week or so, then used to water the garden. It’s very potent, so mix 1/2 nettle water with 1/2 regular water before using on plants.

If you have a source of nettles near by, give these wild things a try! Just make sure you wear gloves when you harvest them 🙂
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