5 Benefits of Wild, Stinging Nettles & 3 Ways to Eat Them
by Nate Bazydlo and Fiona Hollis
As a young boy bounding up the creek bed, splashing in the fresh, rushing spring water, the steep slopes dropping down from both sides were covered in glowing, green stinging nettles. The pure excitement of the pursuit to the waterfall would only be hindered by the off-balanced brush against, then ensuing itch, itch, itch of those pesky nettles.
This annual summer delight and corresponding itchy irritants are seared in my memory as acutely as chasing butterflies. So you can imagine the complete surprise when on an herbal walk as a young adult, the herbalist stopped at the foot of a sprawling patch of glowing, green nettles. She bent down, carefully picked a leaf, slightly rolled it her fingers and then…ATE IT!
I was stunned, not stung, into this new world of nettles. I now count nettles as one of my very favourite wild greens to eat and be nourished by!
The Amazing Properties of Stinging Nettles
Resilient and persistent, nettles grow tall and proud in almost any location.
This mysterious plant has some of the best security systems in place, designed to protect their precious leaves with millions of tiny syringes loaded with poison. A veritable electric fence of defence surrounds this plant. Who would have thought this needle-wielding warrior could be such a holistic health hero?
Aside from being a super plant – vitamin and mineral packed with many, many healing and therapeutic values – nettles are used to make paper, dye, rope, linen like fabric, and insect repellent. A green that serves many a need.
In England, there is an annual nettle eating competition at a pub called, The Bottle Inn. I called and asked them about the art of eating raw nettles – it seems that as the sting is only on the upper side of the leaf – the trick is to fold the sides of the nettle in, and then roll the nettle up – so there is no upper side exposed to the mouth. I was a little confused, “Doesn’t the sting escape when chewed?” I asked… “Yes, sometimes – your mouth goes kind of numb,” was the reply. If that option sounds a little unnecessarily traumatic, – why not make a smoothie, juice or tea?
Nettle tea is widely available – but to ensure optimum live food nutrition – greens are best eaten raw and straight from the earth. Now when I see nettles growing wildly in abundance, I marvel at how wonderful the earth is to give us such readily available sources of nutrients and goodness. Nettles are in fact our FREE vitamin reserve waiting silently for us to get with the program!
The Nutritional Benefits of Nettles
Nettles are high in iron and contain vitamin C along with loads of other vitamins and minerals. Also, there is loads of literature on the vast medicinal values of nettles from a diuretic to ant-allergenic to decongestant just to name a few.
- High levels of chlorophyll, vitamin C, serotonin, histamine, acetylcholine, minerals including iron, calcium, and silica.
- Amphoteric effect on breast milk production – which means it regulates your milk flow. Nettles will stimulate mothers to make more milk if their flow is low, or reduced amounts if flow is excessive. Very, very, clever indeed.
- Blood tonic – their high levels of easily absorbed iron and chlorophyll are great for anemia.
- Reduce blood sugar levels and stimulate circulation. This can support the treatment of diabetes.
- Nettles are a diuretic, great for the kidneys and liver and helps lower blood pressure. Help clear the blood of toxins and urates.
- Antihistamine – great for treating hay-fever allergies and reduce the severity of asthma attacks.
- Nettle tops make a tea for treating gout and arthritis – very good for the joints.
- Natural immunity booster with very high levels of anti-oxidant vitamin C.
When Is the Best Time to Harvest Nettles
Nettle tops (top 10-15cm) are best in spring – but if you keep your nettles cut back they will send up fresh shoots which you can then harvest through to Autumn. They will sting – so be careful and wear gloves. These can be frozen to use later in the year.
How Do You Eat Raw Nettles Without Getting Stung?
Blitzing them in your vita-mix with some fruit to make a yummy green smoothie will neutralise the sting and make for a super charged smoothie.
Infuse fresh nettle tops in a teapot for 10-15mins. Tastes much better than any nettle tea bag! If you don’t drink it all – use as a hair rinse and massage into the scalp to promote hair growth!
Note: The leaves and stems of nettles are covered in hairs that when touched inject a histamine giving a strong itchy feeling in the affected area. Wearing gloves while harvesting and handling nettle will take care of this minor hurdle.
Nettle-Lemon Risotto Recipe
Simple and lovely, this risotto is bright with lemon zest and is punctuated with a floral note from the nettles. It makes a light and satisfying vegetarian main dish when served with a crisp salad, or pair it with poached wild salmon fillets.
Makes 4 servings
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 shallots, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 cups arborio rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 6 to 7 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cups cooked nettles, finely chopped, about 10 cups uncooked nettles
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried herbs de Provence
- Zest from 1 organic lemon
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and the garlic and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until vegetables are slightly softened. Add the arborio rice and cook for another minute, until the rice is well coated with olive oil.
Pour in the white wine and bring the mixture to a boil, then lower heat to medium and simmer the rice, stirring frequently, until the wine is absorbed. Add 1 cup of vegetable broth and stir frequently until it is absorbed into the rice. Repeat with 5 more cups of broth. Rice should be tender and creamy (not dry). Reduce heat to low and stir in the nettles, stirring well to distribute evenly. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and a little more broth if the risotto seems dry. Cook for about 3 minutes until the cheese is melted.
Stir in the salt, pepper, dried herbs and lemon zest. Serve immediately.
Nate Bazydlo’s passion for plants was sparked by a Urban Herbalist group in Amsterdam, where he started gently foraging for food and medicine all around him. He has started herb school in San Diego. He has a large organic garden, teaches gardening and healthy living opens up his garden to people who want free access to vibrant, organic veggies. He also volunteers at a local organic farm and CSA.
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