Yes, you really should try eating nettles! And if you’re adventurous enough to try, now is the best time of year. Foraged wild greens are often most tender, and therefore best to cook with, early in the spring when plants are still young. Compared to many other wild greens, nettles are quite mild, with a flavor similar to cooked spinach. They are nutritional superstars, rich in vitamins A, C, D, K, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium! Nettles and nettle tea are believed to have many medicinal qualities and have been used as a traditional medicine by many cultures for centuries. Most importantly, when cooked, nettles loose their sting.
Look for nettles by the edges of fields and yards, along river banks, and along forest edges. They are often quick to grow where fertile land has been recently disturbed. I use gloves when harvesting and pinch the tender tops off of young plants. In the kitchen, I rinse the leaves in a colander, stirring with a slotted spoon to avoid being stung. Boil in a shallow water bath for about 5 minutes to get a deep green spinach substitute. Be sure to save your cooking water to drink as tea or for adding a nutrient boost to soup. Leaves can also be thrown directly into soup broth without cooking ahead of time.
Make sure to sample some nettles plain, so you can get to know their mild flavor. Then try using them as an early spring spinach substitute. Here are some recipe ideas I’m planning on trying out this season:
Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup: This recipe is THE annual favorite in our household!
Nettle Quiche: Use your favorite spinach quiche recipe, but trade spinach for nettles.
Nettle Yogurt Soup: The original recipe is one of our favorite ways to cook with spinach. The surprising combination of nutmeg and cayenne give it a wonderfully unique flavor. This year I’m going to try it with nettles instead.
Nettle Pesto: A delicious garlicky spread! Use your favorite recipe for kale pesto, but use nettles instead of kale. This paste would also made a great layer in home made lasagna or pizza.
Saag paneer: This delicious Indian dish traditionally features spinach, fresh Indian cheese (that’s easy to make at home!), and curry spices. These flavors would also go well with nettles.
Spanakopita: This savory Greek spinach and feta pie would be great with nettles instead of spinach!
Nettle dip: Google “spinach dip” and you’ll get all kinds of mouth-watering options. I bet they’d be great with nettles too.