Although the prickly hairs of the stinging nettle plant are not enjoyable for our skin, the benefits of ingesting these spinach-like green weeds are incredible. High in minerals including calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, nettles are also an excellent source of vitamin C, B complex vitamins and beta-carotene. The plant also acts as a mucus- clearing expectorant for treating asthma and chest colds, and its high iron levels can alleviate anemia and poor circulation. Surprisingly enough, nettles even contain 10 percent protein--more than any other vegetable--and thus contain high levels of easily absorbable amino acids. No wonder these greens were used in several types of recipes to cure weakness, illness and allergies in several cultures around the world!
Nettles are the tastiest and most nutritious in early spring, a few weeks after they have popped up out of the re-awakened ground. In some climates new nettles also show up in the late fall, before colder weather sets in. The top 6 inches of a young nettle plant are the most tender and contain the most flavor, and can be distinguished by their height and slightly lighter shade of green than older plants. Wear gloves (rubber or leather), pants and a long sleeve shirt when harvesting nettles. Snap the top 6 inches of the plant by twisting and snapping the tips, or use scissors. Prepare your nettles for fresh use with gloves on, or hang them to dry for teas or to add to soups and stews later on.
The nettle sting that we feel on our skin is due to the fact that the hairs of the plant are filled with formic acid, acetylcholine, serotonin and histamine. However, cooking, steeping or drying the plant destroys these stinging substances, rendering it a wonderful ingredient for soups, teas, quiches, lasagnas, pastas and even smoothies. Check out the 7 nettle recipes below that take the sting out of this wild weed and turn it into an amazingly beneficial springtime delight!
1. Nettle Soup: Try this basic nettle tonic with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe, which is simple but full of flavors that make it a perfect appetizer or light meal to serve with homemade bread. The same page is also host to Whittingstall's Nettle Spanakopita and Nettle Risotto with Sorrel recipes. Try them all!
2. Nettle and Mushroom Pie with Pine Nuts: This easy pie from Voodoo and Sauce can be made with a ready-made crust or a simple homemade crust. Although cheese and eggs are key ingredients, they can easily be substituted with tofu for a vegan version of this delectable pie. Walnuts or hazelnuts also make a nice topping in place of the the pine nuts. Serve for lunch, dinner or brunch.
3. Nettle Aloo and Sweet Potato, Nettle and Chickpea Soup: Taking inspiration from India, these recipes from Just Cook It are wonderfully spicy, with nettles replacing the traditionally used spinach. Add a few cubes of baked tofu or cheese dumplings for extra protein. Serve with naan or homemade breadsticks.
4. Nettle Pesto Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes: Delicious, healthy and the perfect springtime version of this pasta sauce, The Bojon Gourmet's nettle pesto is tastes suprisinlgy similar to the basil based original. The cheese can even be ommitted and subsituted with nutritional yeast for a vegan version, making this a great dish for lunch or dinner regardless of diet. If you are feeling ambitious, try Hanks Shaw's homemade nettle pasta recipe - makes a very green plate indeed!
5. Savory Stinging Nettle Muffins: You can skip the butter because of the creamy, cheesy filling inside Ali Baba's savory muffins, which use nettles in place of spinach. As the recipe states, you can use whichever type of filling you can think of, omitting the bacon for vegetarians, or even do without the filling for a lighter version. Serve with scrambled eggs for breakfast or in place of dinner rolls.
6. Nettle Smoothie: Super easy and quick, this fun recipe blends bananas and berries with nettles for a tasty, green smoothie. You can use basically any type of fruit or vegetable that blends well, but bananas, berries and mangoes will definitely add some necessary, natural sweetness. Great for a quick breakfast or snack.
7. Stinging Nettle Schnapps: Ever heard of a nettle cocktail? Well now you can try your own by making nettle schnapps with this quick and easy recipe. If it doesnt work out, you can always use it as a tincture!
Image: David Christian