Stinging Nettles: The Unsung Food of the Forest
It's not even the middle of April and we're all set to harvest our first crop.
Best part? We didn't plant it. It just keeps showing up, year after year after year. The growing season is super long too. Talk about sustainable!
What is this magical crop? Stinging nettles!
When we first moved to the forest we learned VERY quickly what nettles were. In fact, anyone who visited the farm in it's beginning days also learned this harsh lesson. They call them stinging nettles for a reason...those little suckers pack a mean punch. We had a few people who told us just to spray them and move on, but that's not something we were interested in doing. A lot of the nettles have since been uprooted through the pigs rotational grazing, but small patches still spring up here and there. Instead of fighting them we use them to our advantage. I mean, come on, free food!
You can use nettles everywhere, and once you blanch them they're exactly like working with spinach. Omelets, fritattas and quiches are all easy ways to sneak nettles into your diet. Our favorite dish to make is a Stinging Nettle Pesto...it's also super fun at parties as an appetizer and ice breaker. Bonus!
Nettles are high in iron, potassium, manganese, calcium and vitamins A and C. When dried nettles are also 40 percent protein. And they're great not just for us, but also for our animals. "Nettle fodder is said to make cows give more milk, and — if powdered and added to their feed — induce chickens to lay more eggs." Source: Mother Earth News.
When harvesting nettles it's best to use care, gloves and long sleeves will enable you to work quickly and efficiently. But, if you're ready for a cool party trick, try this. Pick the nettle leaf either by pinching at the base of the leaf and pulling up. (The stinging hairs face up, so if you push down on them you'll get stung. But if you go with the grain, you're free and clear). You can also pinch the leaf between your two fingers, one on top of the leaf and one on the bottom. Then pull!
Stinging Nettle Pesto Recipe
Yield: About 1 1/2-2 cups
- 1 cup packed blanched stinging nettle leaves
- 3/4 cup roasted pine nuts
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 T feta
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 T lemon juice
- zest of 1/2 a lemon
- salt and pepper
To blanch the nettles drop them in a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes. After they're blanched you can ditch the gloves, they're now harmless.
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and chop to desired consistency. Add more olive oil as necessary and salt and pepper to taste.
Some others recipes you might enjoy from around the internet:
- Stinging Nettle Pasta recipe from Food52
- Sweet Potato, Nettle and Chikpea Soup from Just Cook It
- Nettle Tea from BBC Good Food