Nettles Wild Green and Free


When I was a young, one of my fondest dreams was to be like the boy in “My Side of The Mountain,” who ran away to live in the Catskills, eating acorns and catching wild rabbits. Except acorns can be bitter. Plus I had no idea how to make rabbits into a bologna sandwich. Add to that the fact that spiders roam wild in the woods, and it becomes very clear why I never ran away to the Catskills. I did once discover a patch of wild chives growing by the creek in my subdivision. I picked and ate every single one. I had breath that could kill a cockroach, but I was free. As it turns out one does not really outgrow certain fantasies. And this brings me to my topic, which is – nettles.

Nettles grow wild in a lot of places, but surprisingly given my outdoorsy youth, I had never heard of them. Imagine my enthusiasm when we moved to the Pacific Northwest and a neighbor told me that there was an abundantly growing, super healthy, wild green – free for the picking! And what could possibly be better than free right? Well, how about free and happy? More than just a food adventure, nettles are like a dream date for your adrenal gland. They elevate mood and reduce stress by stimulating the production of cortisol and adrenaline, otherwise known as the “happy hormones.”  Happy adrenal gland, happy you!

Like dandelions, people tend to think of nettles as an invasive or undesirable plant, and it is true that you might not want to tiptoe barefoot through a patch of nettles, but if you want a green that’s protein rich and screaming with springtime vibrancy, put on your boots and take a hike. Bring gloves (so you don’t get stung), a brown bag, scissors or a pair of clippers and you are halfway to living off the land. O.K., maybe not halfway, but outside at least.  Wildman Steve Brill says you can find nettles throughout most of the United States“in rich soil, disturbed habitats, moist woodlands, thickets, along rivers, and along partially shaded trails.” If that all sounds a little too far from the beaten path, don’t despair. Nettles can be bought dried, in tea form, or as a tincture at your local Walmart.

Note: Nettles can be used in almost any recipe where you would use other greens, smoothies, soups, eggs and lasagna to name a few. They are high in iron, potassium, manganese, calcium and vitamins A and C. I’ve been told that a cupful of the leaves steeped in boiling water makes and invigorating tea, full of greenish goodness that can help alleviate allergies. Fresh is best, but if you have extra you can leave them in a brown bag to dry or lay them out in a warm dry place. Early nettles are the best for eating. “Knee high” is the rule for collecting, and always before the bloom.

To find out more about how this woodsy wonder can make you look great as well as feel great see our very own Chelsea Vurciaga’s wonderful post: “Common Herb Fountain of Youth”

Here is an awesome recipe for Nettle Pesto!

And here are some more recipes, including one for making Nettle Vinegar. Can’t wait to try this!

Learn more:


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4 Responses to Nettles Wild Green and Free

  1. Sebrina Zerkus Smith says:

    I’ll admit I’ve never heard of nettles before reading this post. But I live in a woodsy area, so I’m going to look for them. But you don’t mention cleaning them. Is rinsing with water enough to clean them? We have a lot of wildlife around our house, so I’m sure you get my drift. Also, why pick only before the bloom?

    • Karen Shepard says:

      Hey Sebrina!
      So wait, are you saying there is dirt outside? – Now you tell me! I admit that I have never washed nettles. It’s probably a good idea though. I watched a you-tube where the gal ran them under cold water in a colander before chopping them to sauté. I would think that a good rinse would remove any uhm, unsavory residue. I dried a few from the first pick this year, and in that case the added moisture would have just caused problems. In any event I have never had an issue, but I don’t pick them in the pasture, or near traffic, or in areas where there might be spray. I assume the birds and other animals around here use the port-a-potty.
      As far as when to pick or why before the bloom, I have read several places that after the bloom they are bad for your kidneys and can cause stones. There are other sources that say you can pick them any time, but I’d rather err on the side of caution. Also, they are most tender early on. The long fiber of mature plants is amazingly tough. It was actually dried and used to make fish nets by the Indians (hence the name “net-tles.”) I’m sure mature plants could be cooked to soften but there are other reasons to pick early and just the tops, the main one being that it leaves the roots to continue producing. We want nettles continue to grow happily wherever they feel at home. The thing to keep in mind for sustainability is just to take the first third, and only pick what you will use unless you are going to dry them. That way there will continue to be patches for deer and other animals to forage, and you can return to areas you discover to harvest as well.
      Here is a link from Wolf College that sets out very specific guidelines for how to identify and pick that you might find helpful. There are many varieties of Nettles and they can look quite different depending on where you live. The picture in my post are the ones I picked from our woods here in the Pacific NW. They really are a lovely plant, but do watch out – they truly sting bare skin.

      Happy, successful foraging to you! Would love to hear about how your adventure turns out!

  2. susan says:

    I was always taught to stay clear of neddle because it can cause an itchy rash…so to drink it in tea form…Hmmm not sure, but interested. .

    • Karen Shepard says:

      Hey Susan!
      Yes! Whoever told you to steer clear of Nettles was right, they really do sting, which is why they are called “Stinging” Nettles. If you want to try and pick them for yourself, wear gloves so you don’t have to touch them. Bring scissors or clippers and a bag. Put your cuttings straight into the bag with your gloved hands. When you get home you can use kitchen rubber gloves to clean and prepare the plants, that way you can have all of the benefits and none of the discomfort!
      Happy Foraging!

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