12 Ways to Use Wild Stinging Nettle

reading time: 14 min




Have you ever brushed against a stinging nettle and felt the tingling burn? Yes, nettle can be a pain in the bum. But it's also a true superfood. Commonly dismissed as a "weed", this barbed plant is one of the most potent medicinal plants among the native wild herbs. Here's why!

The Health Benefits of Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle is a powerhouse of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, packing many healthy benefits. It supplies the organism with the vitamins C, A, B complex, K, as well as the minerals iron, potassium, calcium, manganese, magnesium and silicic acid. 

It has a blood-cleansing, anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, purifying, diuretic and metabolism-stimulating effect and can help with allergies, hay fever, circulatory disorders, eczema, overall skin diseases, hair loss, arthritis, high blood pressure and problems with the urinary tract, stomach, kidneys, gall bladder, liver and spleen. It also supports the adrenals and lymph system and increases milk supply for lactating women. It is also said to increase potency and fertility.

Drinking nettle tea may also help battle hair loss, as iron can help with circulation to the scalp. A rinse made with nettles promotes hair growth. Nettles will also help with an imbalance of sebum (the oil that your pores produce) which will help if you suffer from dandruff or dry scalp.

Nettles are also key to the survival of butterflies, as they are the primary food source for many caterpillars including those of the comma, tortoiseshell and peacock!

To sum up: Stinging nettle is sure to promote your overall health and well-being. It can even be used to fertilize garden soil and feed animals (in dried form). Hardly any other plant has such a huge range of health benefit for us, and besides – it grows just around the corner!

As Hippocrates said: "Let thy food be thy medicine."


How to Avoid the Sting

Yes, stinging nettles really do sting. That is due to the tiny spines on their leaves and stems, as well as the formic acid they contain. It causes a stinging or burning sensation on your skin that can last a few minutes or a couple of hours, up to a day. 

The good news is that there are several ways to keep stinging nettle plants from stinging you:

1) Wear gloves, long pants, long sleeves and solid shoes when going on a stinging nettles harvest! Also wear gloves when handling nettles in the kitchen: removing them from their basket, washing and cutting them. 
Personally I've found that when foraging young nettles, it works for me to hold the plant by the tip of a leave with my bare fingers and to cut it with the other hand. I rarely ever get stung that way.

2) Boil the nettles. Once you cook, steam or blanch the leaves in boiling water, the needles will no longer be able to hurt you. You will see me use this method for the recipes below, such as nettle strudel and nettle tea.

3) Blend the nettles. Since the needles can only sting you when "standing up", crushing them (using a blender or a simple mortar and pestle) will disable the stinging. This is great for using nettles raw in smoothies and homemade pestos.

4) Dehydrate the nettles. I like to place mine on a towel or baking sheet, and leave it to dry on a sunny windowsill. Once the leaves have dried completely, the needles will have wilted and they will no longer sting you when handling them. 
If you feel like the nettles are still stinging a little, go ahead and crush them, using a rolling pin or mortar and pestle. I use this method for making herbal teas with nettles, feeding them to my guinea pigs, or to make my nettles lasting longer.

Don't worry: If you do get stung after all, it might be a tiny bit comforting to know that it actually helps with arthritis :) As long as you don't make stinging nettle salad – that will hurt pretty badly! If need be, the stinging can be calmed with a paste of baking soda and water.


Where and How to Harvest Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), also known as common nettle, is a tall perennial plant that belongs to the same botanical family as mint and is easy to identify. Their stinging hairs (called trichomes) cover the entire plant, but are the most dense on the stem. The nettle plant has sharply toothed, somewhat heart-shaped, tear-drop shaped or triangular opposite leaves with prominent veins and a square stem. They range from bright green to a purple colour. Tiny green flowers grow in long clusters. Fortunately, stinging nettle has no toxic look-alikes. Dead nettles look similar, although being a totally different plant and lacking stinging hairs, but they are edible and medicinal as well, and they don't have a sting at all! Wood nettles are closely related to stinging nettles and are also edible. If you are not sure whether it's stinging nettle or a look-alike, just simply touch it. If you get stung, it's the right plant! (its Latin name urtica actually means "to burn"!)
 
Stinging nettles are a so called "indicator plant" for nitrogen-rich soil. They grow in large patches along shady hedges and fences, roadsides, and alongside moist forest trails. Anywhere with nutrient-rich soil. 

To harvest, wear your gloves and use scissors to snip off the top 6 or so leaves of the plant. The older (= mature) the nettle is, the more bitter and stringy the plant will be, so for eating make sure to only harvest the very top leaves of a mature plant, or even better: use young, tender leaves when the plant has just begun to grow.

As to which parts of the plant you can use: Everything! Personally I've only ever used the leaves, stems and seeds of nettle plants, but the roots can also be used and many people pick them for medicinal uses, such as for teas or hair rinses. As the Austrian-Czech herbalist Maria Treben once wrote in her book: »If people knew how medicinal it was, they would only grow nettles.«


Foraging Guidelines:

  • You should be 100 % certain you are identifying the correct plant. If you do not know what it is, DO NOT eat it! Do not pick if you're in doubt!

  • Don't harvest from contaminated areas such as busy roadsides, near industrial facilities, where dogs pee, along the edges agricultural fields, old landfill sites etc.

  • Be mindful & harvest sustainably. Only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply, and never more than 1/4 of a plant, ideally only about 5 %.

  • Leave the harvesting area litter-free.


When to Harvest Stinging Nettle

Young leaves: April – May
Mature leaves: end of April – June
Seeds: end of August – early October

Now enough with the info dump. Here are 6 meal recipes and 6 uses for health, beauty and household.

For Health: 


1. DIY Protein Powder

using: dried nettle seeds of the female plant

You will need: 
- nettle seeds of the female plant

Directions:
When harvesting your nettle seeds, collect only those that are yellowish green to brown. These are really ripe and mature and therefore have the highest content of healthy active ingredients – a true superfood. Simply use a gloves to strip off the strands of seeds.
If you collect your nettle seeds in uncontaminated locations (such as on a meadow with no busy streets nearby), you don't need to wash them afterwards.
Place your harvested seeds on a clean kitchen towel to allow any insects to escape. Let them dry on a windowsill in the sun, or dry them in a dehydrator or in your oven at very low temperature.
When dry, take small handfuls of the seeds and rub through a sieve. Discard the small grey-green stands, and only keep the little seeds. 

Store in a dark, dry place. I keep them in a jar with a screw-on lid in my kitchen cupboard. 
Dried nettle seeds can be used in smoothies, teas, or sprinkled on top of granola or salads as a powerful protein source.

Pictured above is a green smoothie made of banana, mango, grapes, pear, spinach, carrot greens, soy milk, orange juice, walnuts, tigernuts, fresh barley grass, spirulina powder, flaxseeds, green superfood mix (wheat grass powder, barley grass powder, chard powder, spinach powder, dandelion powder, nettle powder, narrow-leaved plantain powder) and dried nettle seeds of course!

 

2. Green Smoothie 

using: fresh young nettle leaves, optionally dried nettle seeds of the female plant

You will need:
- 1 cup young stinging nettle leaves, loosely packed
- 1 orange (or 1/2 cup orange juice)
- 1 banana (or 2-3 dates or a handful of raisins)
- 1 cup fresh or frozen mango
- half a pineapple (or 1 cup frozen pineapple)
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 cup plant milk (soy, almond, oat...)
- a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 to 1 inch of fresh ginger
- 1 tsp flaxseeds

optional:
- 1/2 tsp powdered greens for a greener colour and additional minerals (e.g. wheat grass, barley grass, oat grass, spinach, alfalfa, kale, broccoli, spirulina, chlorella or even matcha – I use spirulina powder)
- a splash of water to thin down the consistency
- 1 tbsp of dried nettle seeds

Directions:
Add everything to a blender and blend on high until smooth.  


3. Detox Tea

using: dried nettle leaves (young or mature)

You will need:
Option 1
- 2-3 tsp of dried nettle leaves
- 1 cup of boiling water
- (optional) 1 tsp raw honey

Directions:
Fill your dried nettle leaves in a tea strainer and add that to a mug. Cover with boiling water, and allow to steep for 5-10 minutes.
Sweeten the nettle tea with raw honey as desired and preferably drink it twice a day (e.g. in the morning and at night) about 1/2 hour after meals in small sips. Do so over a period of 3 to 6 months.

In summer, the tea makes for a great thirst-quenching drink. Due to its diuretic effect, nettle cleanses the blood of waste products and provides you with a fresh, clear complexion.

A tea cure with stinging nettle should not last longer than 8 weeks. Do not drink tea with nettle in case of kidney diseases, limited kidney activity and heart failure!

Option 2
- 3 medium sized fresh stinging nettle plants, chopped
- 4 big sized fresh dandelion leaves, chopped
- (optional) a handful or dandelion flowers 

Directions
Same instructions as above. 

The additional dandelion plant provides valuable bitter compounds, acting as a natural diuretic and antioxidant, supporting liver and kidney health, detoxifying the body, regulating digestion and aiding with weight loss.


For Beauty:


4. Clay Facial Cleanser

using: dried nettle leaves (young or mature)
 
You will need:
- 10g (1 1/2 tbsp) healing clay
- 10g (1 1/2 tbsp) French green clay (or any other mineral clay)
- 1 tbsp stinging nettle powder, finely ground (I use a mortar and pestle for this, and I also crumble the leaves between my fingers)

optional:
- 1/2 tsp Himalayan pink salt, finely ground
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp citric acid OR 1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Directions:
In a small bowl combine the clays with the nettle powder. Add other ingredients and stir well.
Take about 1 teaspoon of powder into your hand. Add water until you get a thick paste. You can also use a hydrosol instead of water, for example a rose hydrosol or a lavender hydrosol. Gently massage it into your skin and rinse off after a minute. To use this as a regular face mask, simply omit the optional ingredients and leave on for about 10 minutes.

This cleanser powder will last at least 6 months stored in a dry place. It mustn't come into contact with water before using it as a cleanser.


5. Hair Rinse / Tonic

using: fresh nettle leaves or dried nettle leaves (young or mature)

You will need:
- 1 cup of fresh nettle leaves, packed, or 1/2 cup of dried nettle (2-4 tea bags would work too)
- 2 cups of fresh water

optional:
- a few drops of your favorite essential oil (I recommend rosemary and/or lavender)
- 1/2 cup of chopped up rosemary (stimulates hair growth, leaves hair shiny and glossy) 
- 4 tbsp organic apple cider vinegar

Directions:
Bring the water to a boil. Pour the boiling water over the nettle leaves (and, if desired, chopped rosemary twigs). Allow to steep for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid. Once it has cooled, you can add your essential oil and / or apple cider vinegar. 

To use, pour over your hair in the shower after shampooing and massage into your hair and scalp. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then rinse. You can also fill the brew into a spray bottle and spray onto your hair.

Store in the fridge for up to 6 months.


For Gardening:


6. Liquid Fertilizer

using: fresh nettle leaves or dried nettle leaves (young or mature)
 
You will need:
- 1 kg fresh nettle leaves OR 100-200g dried nettle leaves (I like to use mature leaves for this because it doesn't matter if they are fresh and tender or not)
- 10 liters cold water

Directions:
Add 1 kg of fresh nettle leaves or 100-200g of dried nettle leaves to a large bucket. Fill it up with 10 liters of cold water. Leave this brew needs to steep for up to 2 weeks. Just a heads up: It will stink!!

It's a good idea to cover the bucket to prevent too much of your water from evaporating, but still allowing the air to escape from the bucket. Over the 2 weeks the nettles will start to decompose, releasing much more of their nutrients into the water than they would otherwise – and also producing an intense odor. 

Once the 2 weeks are up, scoop out the plant bits out add them to your compost pile. The remaining liquid is your stinging (or rather: stinking 😜) nettle fertilizer. This is very concentrated and shouldn't be used raw! You'll want to dilute 1 part nettle fertilizer with 10 parts water. I use a watering can to mix the two together.

For Cooking:


7. Creamy Nettle Soup

using: fresh young nettle leaves

You will need:
- 100g young nettle leaves
- 1 onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 500ml vegetable stock
- 200ml soy cream or oat cream (coconut milk would also work)
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:
Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the nettle leaves are tender, blend everything with an immersion blender. Season to taste.



8. Nettle "Spinach"

using: fresh young nettle leaves

You will need:
- about 450g young nettle leaves
- 1 onion
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tbsp vegan butter, margarine or olive oil
- salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:
Chop the onion and add to a saucepan. Heat up and cook for a couple of minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent. Now add the garlic, along with 1 tbsp of vegan butter or an alternative. Add the nettle leaves. Sautée for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes or boiled potatoes.

Basically, you can use nettles in all sorts of recipes – pies, stir-fries, pastries – anywhere that you can put spinach, you can put nettle!


9. Nutty Nettle Pesto

using: fresh young nettle leaves or dried nettle leaves (young or mature)
 
You will need:
- about 2 large (gloved) handfuls or 1 breakfast bowl of fresh stinging nettle leaves 
- (optional) 1 handful of arugula or wild garlic
- 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 30 g walnuts (I lightly roast mine beforehand in a non-greased pan)
- 50 g sunflower seeds (I lightly roast mine beforehand in a non-greased pan)
- 2 tbsp hemp seeds
- 1-2 tsp pink Himalayan sea salt
- 1 garlic clove 
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2-3 tbsp nutritional yeast

Directions:
Rinse your nettle leaves. Place all listed ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend everything until you get the desired pesto consistency. Done! This tastes great with pasta or on bread. It pairs really well with olives and dried tomatoes.

The pesto can be kept for about 3 days in the refrigerator in an airtight sealed jar.


10. Savoury Filled Crepes

using: fresh young nettle leaves

You will need:
- 150-200g young nettle leaves
- 250ml soy cream or oat cream
- 200ml water
- 5 tbsp cornstarch
- a splash of white wine
- a handful of fresh chives
- a handful of fresh parsley
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp vegan butter or margarine
- 1 tbsp salt

- 4 crepes

Directions:
Add 1 tbsp of vegan butter or margarine to a saucepan. Heat up until sizzling, then add in the nettle leaves. Sautée for about 8 minutes, then add in the fresh chives and parsley. Mix 5 tbsp of cornstarch in 200ml water. Add this to the saucepan, along with the soy cream and white wine. Sautée for another 2 minutes or so. Then switch off the heat, and add in the lemon juice and salt. Scoop onto your crepe and roll up or fold to eat. 


11. Nettle & Pea Fritters

using: fresh young nettle leaves

You will need:
- 1 cup young nettle leaves, rinsed
- 1 cup green peas, fresh or frozen 
- 1 large white onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
- 2 tbsp mixed fresh or dried herbs, finely chopped
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- pepper and nutmeg to taste
- 1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for baking

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 180 °C / 350 °F and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Add the peas to a saucepan, cover with water and boil, according to packet's instructions. Drain.
Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until it becomes a thick, chunky paste. Season to taste. Wet your hands to shape the mixture into patties. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. Using a spatula, flip each patty over, and bake for another 10 minutes.
Eat as a side dish with a salad and dip, or use as patties in a burger.


12. Wild Garlic Nettle Strudel

using: fresh young nettle leaves

You will need:
- 200g young nettle leaves
- 100g wild garlic leaves
- 1/2 cup brown mushrooms
- 1 white onion
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil or olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- a pinch of nutmeg
- 200g tofu
- 25g cashews, soaked in hot water
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- juice of 1/4 lemon
- 1 tsp salt

- 1 large sheet of puff pastry or phyllo pastry
- plant-based milk for glazing

Directions:
First prepare the vegan "feta": Add your tofu, soaked cashews, nutritional yeast, lemon juice and salt to a food processor. Pulse and blend until your reach a sticky, not-yet-creamy, not-quite-chunky consistency.
For the strudel filling, thoroughly rinse nettle leaves and wild garlic leaves under running water. Bring some hot water to a boil and briefly blanch the wild garlic and nettles. Strain. Finely chop the nettle and wild garlic. Peel and chop an onion. Fry in a saucepan or pan, then add cubes mushrooms. Once they have shrunk, add the nettles and wild garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and sautée for about 5 minutes. Add your vegan "feta" to the mix, and season to your liking.

Roll out the puff pastry. Evenly spread with your herb mixture. Roll into a strudel and brush with some plant-based milk. Preheat oven to 220 °C (430 °F) and bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown.

Carefully slice the strudel in thick slices, arrange on plates and enjoy while still warm.

*

Have you ever harvested stinging wild nettle before? What are your favourite recipes / uses? Let me know in the comments!

My overall nettle favourites are definitely the nettle & wild garlic strudel, the creamy nettle soup, and the nettle tea.  


Maisy

Comments

  1. All of creation has a purpose, and we just need the eyes to see it!

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    1. Very true! Thank you for stopping by, and have a lovely week, Michele!

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