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Edible Wild Nettles for Spring

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Edible wild nettles are better than you might think!

Edible wild nettles have a bad reputation for their nasty sting. But nettles deserve our praise. And, they’re a great reminder that what may be called an invasive weed by one is a beneficial food source to others. In fact this can be true about many plants. For instance, think about that as your lawn fills with edible dandelions this spring, too!

Edible Wild Nettles

Wild Nettles Emerging from the Soil in Late Winter

What’s so great about edible wild nettles?

Nettles are one of the earliest perennials to emerge after the dormant season. In fact, they start popping up before spring arrives. And these generous wild plants offer our diets respite from winter’s less available fresh, local greens. Plus, they’re packed with iron, vitamin C, and much more goodness.

When can I find wild nettles to forage?

These greens emerge from the ground in January or February in the PacNW. It’s easy to find them popping up in sunny fields. And they even grow well in dense woodland understory where sunlight may be minimal. Once they emerge, they can offer several harvests before summer when their stems toughen as they begin to flower.

And once they flower, do not harvest. They’re no longer edible wild nettles once they bloom!

What’s the best way to harvest wild nettles to avoid the sting?

To harvest Nettles, take care to handle the harvest gently. And wearing gloves is probably a good idea.  That’s because the underside of their leaves are armed with tiny stinging spines. And the stems have these spines as well. Moreover, one nick from these little needles can give you an uncomfortable stinging itchy rash. Fortunately, for many, the sting wears off within a couple of hours. But for others it is very painful. And how bad the sting is can vary from plant to plant and season to season.

So you might want to use clippers to snip your nettles. That way you’re less likely to touch those pokers.

When is the best time to harvest nettles to eat?

Ideally, harvest nettles a couple of weeks after they have emerged from the soil. At this point, they should have several pairs of leaves on a stem. And the stems will likely be less than a couple of feet tall. Go for the cleanest parts you can find. That’s because washing means handling those stingers.

Using your clippers, ,make your cut just above a pair of leaves. That’s because at the base of the leaves are more buds. And those buds will open to form two more stems. Therefore, the remaining plant should regenerate more growth to harvest later in the season.

Can I eat nettles raw?

Rather than risk a sting to your digestive system, cook nettles instead of eating them raw. Fortunately, a brief steaming or blanching will knock back the prickly spines.

And before cooking, minimize how much you handle them. In fact, wear your gloves as you wash them. And chop them up after cooking when the stingers are tamed.


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