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Foodie Dare: Cook with Stinging Nettles

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Of all of the ancient medicinal plants, I find nettles (Urtica dioica) to be the most overlooked. As a child I spent summers playing in the creek beds of the West Hills. “Don’t touch!” my parents warned me. Twenty years later, I learned to forage nettles while farming in southern France. Hiding in plain sight in the shady woodlands of the Pyrenees, a foraged handful would be added to boiled potatoes, a dash of cream and a handful of fresh herbs for a refreshing spring soup. 

I was bicycling home last week when I noticed a grove of stinging nettles under the flowering cottonwoods and amethyst patches of wild iris. “What a delightful find,” I thought, as I made a mental note to come back with rubber gardening gloves and clippers.  The secret to nettles is to blanch them in boiling water. The formic acid on their prickly hairs melts away, rendering a tasty and nutritious green as mild as baby spinach. 

It is regrettable that nettles are despised weeds, for they are truly miraculous medicinal plants. Nettles are a hemetic, rich in iron for healthy blood cells, while its Vitamin C helps our body absorb all that iron. Scoff all you want, but this Pacific Northwest ‘weed’ has 29 times more calcium and nine times more iron than spinach! Nettles flush toxins from the body, with a boost to the lymphatic action of our kidneys. Take a mug of steaming nettle tea as a health tonic for anemia and fatigue. Share some with nursing mothers to increase milk production and nourish the growing fetus. 

Find them in woodland parks around wet riverbanks and small creeks. Think Oaks Bottom or Forest Park. The serrated leaves are heart shaped. Cut off the tender top 6-8 inches to eat. The fruits that dangle down from the stem in midsummer like chain link are edible too. And if these prickly plants manage to bite back: baking soda. 


Nettles will inevitably find their way to New Seasons for the wannabe foraging foodies who are gobbling up fiddleheads and triple-washed dandelion greens. For a comforting brew, try Portland Apothecary’s ‘Nourish’ tea blend of nettles, lemon balm, mint and red clover blossom. ($15, portlandapothecary.com)   


Think you’re punk rock? You could compete in the annual World Nettle Eating Championships in ye olde England this summer. Aim to beat last year’s record holder and eat 80 feet of raw nettle in an hour. Ouch. For the rest of us, we can enjoy cooked nettles safely and much more soberly. Replace nettles in any recipe that calls for spinach, such as a ham and gruyere quiche or a comforting Indian palak paneer. Or try this creamy pesto on your favorite pasta. 

Creamy Nettle Pesto 

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Serve on pasta, fish, pork, as a spread on sandwiches, or a dip for vegetable crudité. 

  • 1/2 -1 C blanched and drained nettles
  • 1 C plain yogurt
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, cilantro, or mint (Or try a combo!)
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ C virgin olive oil
  • Ground black pepper to taste


(Recipe from Good Fish, Sasquatch Books, 2011.)

An urban farmer and master gardener, Amélie Rousseau writes for fellow explorers and eaters of the plant kingdom. It's a jungle out there. 


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