Nettles are taking center stage from our long standing leafy green friend- kale, as the superfood of the moment. This pesky, painful and edible weed has become a superstar in the culinary world after centuries of english and european folklore has touted its many uses. So nutritious, if not a little dangerous, these greens are showing up in gourmet shops and farmers’ markets across the country.
Any vegetable that can provide a great nutritional bang for the effort to cook it is always appealing to me. Plus, nettles grow wild, and so all you have to do is go and pick them (after pulling on protective clothing first, of course). The young plants are showing up right now in parts of northern California and I suspect parts of the East coast too.
Nettles like rich, loamy soil, so they can often be found on forest floors near a water source like a running stream or pond, in partial shade. They can also commonly be found around the edges of pastures and farm fields. I found abundant patches of both young and more mature nettle plants growing wild at Miramar Farm in Half Moon Bay. Jayne and Mark Battey call this wonderful piece of paradise, acres of farmland set only a few hundred yards from the pacific ocean, home. I do love coastal California and its ever changing terrain- hills, forrest, ocean and rocky cliffs. With basket, gloves, foraging gear in hand, I set on my way.
When foraging, only pick the nettle tops (the top three branches) and make sure the nettles plants are not more than knee-high. The smaller younger leafs are tastiest, although the more mature leafs can be uses for tea. Discard the stems. Although being stung by a nettle or eating an uncooked nettle is not dangerous or poisonous, you will probably wish you hadn’t. Be sure to harvest from an area away from the road and not contaminated in any way.
It may be a brash statement to say that one prickly green herb is the panacea for almost everything that ails you; but, in the case of stinging nettles, it’s mostly true. It is one of the best edible and nutritive herbs in nature. Simply stated an awesome weed- abundant, easy to identify and it can be prepared almost any way you choose.
I always had an inkling that despite their sting, nettles are a bit of nature’s bounty, their prickly leaves couching a hidden secret: Not only are they good-tasting, but they are good for you.
Nettles are high in iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A,D,K and C, great source of chlorophyll (and are also a decent source of protein) and have anti-inflammatory properties. The word “nettle” describes the flowering plant species from the Urtica genus, which comes from the Latin word “uro,” meaning, “I burn.” It’s a natural cleanse that removes metabolic wastes and is both gentle and stimulating on the lymph system, promoting easy excretion through the kidneys.
Don’t worry, the sting is neutralized upon blending, blanching, sauteeing, or steaming
I am making it an afternoon affair. Once my greens are picked, it’s time to head into the kitchen, where I set to the task of making batch after batch of pesto, some with no nuts, some with no cheese and just generally playing around with different ingredients. Before you know it, there is jar after jar of beautiful green goodness. After some tweaking, I have come up with this version that is always a hit. Fresh and bright, with a subtle undertone of spring— slightly floral, slightly woodsy and slightly (but only just) reminiscent of spinach. While the pesto does rely on nuts, cheese, and oil for flavor, what I find remarkable is that I don’t miss the basil one bit.
I picked soo many nettles that I have reserved some leaves to make a delightfully easy green soup and I will steep the dark mature leaves for tea. The tea can be drunk or also used as hair rinse!
8 cups of nettles
1 cup Parmesan or pecorino romano (these are very different flavors but both produce excellent results)
1 cup almonds (any nut will do, really)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
Juice of half a lemon
½ teaspoon real salt
1 cup loosely packed sun dried tomatoes
a few turns of the pepper mill
½ cup olive oil
Add nettles, cheese, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, nuts to a food processor. The raw clean nettle leaves loose their sting once blended so not to worry. I like to slowly drizzle the oil last and add more until the desired consistency is achieved. Lemon and salt ” brighten” foods and recipes, therefore I always add them last. Add slowly and taste.
Buy it here now
Green Goodness Soup
1 oz butter
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1 lb yukon gold potatoes peeled and chopped
2 cups packed fresh nettles (the young leafs are the most tender and tastiest)
5 cups stock (I use my homemade bone broth)
1/2 cup heavy cream
s/p to taste
Buy my bone broth now
Melt the butter and cook the onions and garlic for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and nettles and cook for 2 minutes on medium high heat. Add the stock, cover and bring to a boil. Turn back to a simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool. Puree the ingredients and stir in the cream and little nutmeg. Salt and Pepper to taste.