When I tell my friends that I had stinging nettles for dinner, they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind. “Are you crazy?” they exclaim, “Aren’t nettles the enemy?”
“Perhaps I am,” I reply, “but revenge is a dish best served cold.” Or, in this case, steaming hot.
Why not take revenge by eating and enjoying what has given so much pain in the past? Stinging nettles have “pained” us since childhood. A game of kick the can in a green field, casual walks through the forest, a misstep on a wooden path: all these activities have been spoiled by stinging nettles at one time or another.
So what better way to seek retribution than to just eat what ails you? Nettles actually have many medicinal and therapeutic uses and they’re rich in vitamins and minerals.
The best time to harvest nettles is usually in the spring when the greens are young and the leaves have little or no sting in them. Avoid the older leaves; they are stringy, fibrous and painful! The toxins are more developed in mature plants.
When harvesting nettles, I suggest wearing long sleeves and a nice, thick pair of gloves. Leather works best. Watch out for older stalks hiding amidst the young ones (old and new tend to hang out together). Use a sharp knife to “pluck” the stalks from the ground. Nettles can be a bit fibrous, so a sharp blade frees them more easily.
Once harvested, carefully place all of your nettle stalks in a basket, wash in cold water and when you’re ready to eat, steam them in a pan as you would asparagus. Like other leafy greens, a big harvest cooks down to a small sampling, so pick plenty.
After a few minutes of steaming, any irritating needles will be deactivated because the toxic acid has cooked away. Remove the steamed greens from your pan, add salt and butter, and enjoy.
If you’re feeling a bit adventurous or even masochistic, try using fresh, uncooked young nettle leaves in a salad. Young leaves should be free of sting but I’d still dine with caution. This cold dish of revenge may indeed bite you!
Travis W. Fullner