To be honest, I was weary of telling the world wide web about this tasty treat, however, yesterday, when I went collecting nettles, I realized that there are enough nettles for the whole WORLD! And when I say 'nettles', I mean stinging nettles! The same stinging nettles that gave you a nasty uncomfortable rash when you were a kid. Who knew you could eat them?
Well, you can! Urtica dioica is not a native species. It was a gift from merry ol' England, same as the annoying but tasty edible, the common black berry bush. Nettles are special to me because they are one of the first green, nourishing plants that appear in our forests, sometimes as early as February. After a long winter of eating twigs and nuts, thats pretty special.
Nettles are a very rich source of iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and D. The medicinal properties are endless! Everything from cleansing the liver and kidney to stimulating the immune system to treating inflammation of the prostate! Look for them in moist, rich soils along deer trails, meadows and man-made structures like barns or roadsides. The best time to harvest is early spring, when the tender green shoots are the most nutritious. Make sure to wear gloves and use scissors or a knife for a clean cut so you don't damage any root systems by pulling on the plant.
There are a couple of ways to eat and/or preserve nettles. To eat fresh, make sure to steam or pour boiling water on the nettles so they can release their stingers. After that, you can use them as you would spinach. Reserve the water that you used to cook the nettle and use it as a base for a soup or a nourishing tea. If you picked too many, you can preserve by drying the nettles above a wood stove or in the sun. Dried nettles are also good in soups and tea.
If you want really, really fresh nettles, you can travel to Dorset, England and enter the World Nettle Eating Championships. Competitors attend from all over the world to eat fresh stinging nettle! I wouldn't have recommended it, but after looking at the website, it looks kind of fun? Check it out, and good luck!