Cooking with herbs is a great way to make tasty and healthy food at home. As with any group of ingredients, some herbs are more popular than others. And if there’s one herb that too many home cooks often forget or simply don’t know about, that’s stinging nettle.
This post is all about stinging nettle. You’ll see why and how stinging nettle is edible. I’m going to share some of the best recipes for cooking with it that I’ve come across on the Internet. As well as a couple of tips for making the best use of it to make really tasty dishes.
So keep on reading if I’ve got you curious.
Is Stinging Nettle Edible?
The biggest question most home cooks have when it comes to stinging nettle is… is it edible in the first place?
Some of you will be surprised by the answer. Sure, it stings. When you know how to cook it, though, it can also make your mouth water.
Stinging nettle is edible. Soaking nettle leaves in water or cooking with them as an ingredient eliminates the formic acid inside. Stinging nettle is often dried, powdered, and used as a spice, or cooked in purees, soups, and stews. It has an earthy, spinach-like taste that it adds to dishes.
Why Nettle Stings
It’s really unpleasant when your skin comes into contact with stinging nettles. It causes tingling, inflammation, and pain. If the sting is bad, the pain can last for hours.
So why does nettle sting?
The petals and leaves of stinging nettles are covered by tiny hollow hairs called trichomes. When your skin comes into contact with them, you break their fragile silica tips. These tips act like a needle that penetrates your skin and releases formic acid, causing a painful rash.
Some of the most effective remedies for nettle rash include dock leaves, antihistamines, and calamine lotion (a medication sold over the counter and used to treat general itchiness).
Where Stinging Nettle Grows
Stinging nettle, also known as common nettle, is a plant that’s found in North America, Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia. It’s been foraged, grown, and harvested for thousands of years.
In gardening, nettle is considered an invasive weed. This is because of its ability to self-seed and spread through its roots.
Nettle can grow very tall (it can easily reach 3 feet height) and is infamously known for its stinging leaves.
Is Stinging Nettle Good for You?
Stinging nettle has been used as a herbal remedy in native medicine for thousands of years. It’s claimed to help treat a number of conditions, including muscle and joint pain, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia.
Stinging nettle is a source of many vitamins, minerals, as well as fatty and amino acids. This includes Vitamins A, C, K, and B. It’s also a source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium.
Nettle is rich in polyunsaturated fats, such as linoleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, and oleic acid, as well as all of the essential amino acids, which can be generally beneficial to your health when consumed in moderation.
To read more about the uses and benefits of nettle, head on to WebMD. Here, we’re going to focus on the best ways to cook with nettle and use it in your day to day home meals.
How Do You Cook Stinging Nettles?
Expose nettles to moderate heat for about 2 to 3 minutes, and the chemical compound that stings will go away. You get soft greens with a deep and earthy flavor that tastes very much like spinach, but with a twist of its own.
Common ways to consume stinging nettle include drinking nettle tea, making nettle soup and stew, as well as sautéing or steaming nettle leaves into nettle puree.
I’ve found that when you cook nettle in a saucepan with salt, black pepper, garlic, and shallots and/or onions, you get something that’s incredibly delicious.
How to Make Stinging Nettle Sauce
One of my favorite things to make with nettle is nettle sauce. With its tangy and spinach-like taste, nettle sauce pairs really well with fish filet and lamb chops.
Here’s how to make it.
Use protective gloves to clean about 4-5 cups of nettle leaves under running water.
In a saucepan over medium-high heat, cook minced garlic and diced shallots in extra virgin olive oil until aromatic and soft (but not brown).
Add 4-5 cups of nettle leaves and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add chicken or vegetable stock, turn the heat up to high, bring the soupy substance to a boil—and let it simmer and reduce for about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat, squeeze the juice from one lemon, add salt and pepper to taste, and blend until you get a smooth and green paste.
Serve the fish filet or lamb chops over the nettle sauce.
Optionally, top with freshly grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) or Pecorino Romano (Pecorino) cheese.
Also, you can serve the nettles sautéed and whole instead of pureed.
Stinging Nettle Soup Recipe
Townsends, a YouTube channel where Jas Townsend and son explore 18th-century cooking and lifestyle, shares a really good nettle soup recipe that people used to make a couple of hundred of years ago.
Stinging nettles were a popular cooking ingredient in the 18th century. According to Jas (and he knows his old cookbooks), a number of books mention them as a cure for hemorrhages and a natural way to promote urine flow.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Set aside; you’re going to need it after 5 minutes or so. Take out your cast-iron skillet.
Meanwhile, in a skillet on medium-high heat, saute 2-3 onions, diced, with butter until golden brown. Add 3-4 cups of nettles to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, with the onions, for about 5 minutes.
Sprinkle with 1/4 cup flour. This will make the soup thick once you add the nettles to the boiling water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer the cooked onions and nettles to the pot of boiling water. Simmer for 10 minutes, optionally adding a little stale bread to thicken the soup even more (a common cooking technique at the time).
Serve the nettle soup hot and enjoy.
Yes, you can eat stinging nettles, as long as you’ve cooked them first. Exposing nettles to heat eliminates the acid that causes a burn and rash when coming into contact with your skin. What you end up with is earthy and rich greens that taste very much like tangy spinach.
There’s many ways to cook nettles, but my personal favorites are nettle sauce and nettle soup. The sauce goes incredibly well with fish and lamb. On any busy day, you can cook nettle soup in 15 minutes and serve it as a healthy and delicious starter for dinner.
Just remember to handle nettles with care before you’ve cooked them. Use protective gloves to clean them under running water and avoid any skin contact.
Tried one of the recipes in this post? Let me know how it worked out for you in the comments.