Ready to harvest stinging nettle?
Despite what others may say, you’re not crazy! Picking stinging nettle and using it in various recipes is well worth the effort. Not only is it highly nutritious (rich in Vitamin A, C, D, K, iron, calcium and protein), it’s also delicious, versatile, easy to recognize, and free. With just a couple of easy tips, harvesting and using stinging nettle is absolutely safe.
Watch How to Harvest Stinging Nettle
Here’s a quick overview of all the things you need to safely harvest stinging nettle.
I’ve been eating stinging nettle for over 10 years and look forward to harvesting it every spring. Here’s what I’ve learned about finding, harvesting, drying, freezing and using stinging nettle.
Why Does Stinging Nettle Hurt and How to Avoid It?
Before you start picking stinging nettle let’s look at what causes the sting so you know what to do to avoid getting hurt by nettle.
See those tiny prickly barbs on the stems of the plant in the photo above. It’s not difficult to see that they would cause a prickling sensation. But if that were the only defense the plant had, it would be nothing more than a very brief, minor pin prick.
The more significant issue is that those tiny hollow barbs also release a chemical mixture made up of serotonin, acetylcholine, histamine and formic acid. It’s this cocktail that causes the long lasting stinging or burning sensation we experience. The sensation may last just a few minutes or a couple of hours, depending on the amount of contact and each individual.
To prevent the sting, we need to protect our skin from contact with the barb and the chemicals.
Luckily, this is easy to do; just wear long pants, long sleeves, solid shoes and gloves when foraging for stinging nettle!
Oh, if you do happen to get stung, try soothing it with a paste of baking soda and water or an anti-histamine cream.
As for eating stinging nettle – cooking or drying stinging nettle will disable the sting. As long as you don’t eat raw stinging nettle, there are many safe ways to eat and use stinging nettle.
Where To Find Stinging Nettle?
Stinging nettle can be found across the globe. It loves rich, moist soil high in nitrogen. Farmers know that old manure or compost piles are a favorite hang out for stinging nettles. Find a place where there used to be an old barn or compost pile and you’re bound to find a patch of stinging nettle. It comes back every year and can be difficult to remove.
They prefer sunlight, but will tolerate some shade. You’ll find patches in disturbed soils, along streams or river banks, on old homesteads and along the edge of clearings, fence lines or forest pathways where the sunlight comes through. Living in the city, I typically find stinging nettle along the river banks and along the edges of small urban forests.
When to Harvest Stinging Nettle?
The optimum time to pick stinging nettle is just before blossoms develop in spring and early summer.
Stinging nettle is a cold season perennial plant, meaning it is early to pop up in the spring. It grows rapidly and will reach its typical 3-5 foot height quite quickly. Here in Manitoba, ideal picking time is mid May to June. The leaves will be at their optimum – bright green, tender and with few insects.
Once nettle has gone to seed, the leaves will become tough, a little bitter and develop gritty particles that may irritate the urinary tract of some people. It is best not to harvest stinging nettle once the seeds form.
How to Safely Pick Nettle
Armed with a basket or paper bag, scissors, gloves, long pants, long sleeves and closed-toe shoes, you’re ready to head into the nettle patch.
Cut about 2 -3 inches above ground level just above where there are two leaves branching off. In the nook of the leaves, you’ll off see new growth emerging.
By cutting just above that spot, you actually encourage new growth. In the photo below, you can see the two leaf sets on either side of the cut, both of these will grow into new shoots. By mid summer, you should be able to harvest these again.
Store your cuttings in a paper bag or basket. Plastic bags don’t breath as well and may cause condensation which will cause mold to grow if you don’t empty the bag right away.
How to Dry Stinging Nettle
How to Freeze Stinging Nettle
How to Use Stinging Nettle
There’s a lot you can do with stinging nettle. Basically, any recipe calling for cooked spinach or kale can be made with stinging nettle. Check out some of the options on this website alone.
Here are some of my favorite recipes:
So, what do you think? Are you ready to put on your gloves and harvest some stinging nettle? I sure hope you give it a try. If you do, leave a comment below or reach me on Instagram @getgettys or Facebook @GettyStewart.HomeEconomist.
Getty Stewart is a Professional Home Economist, speaker, frequent media guest and writer dedicated to putting good food on tables and agendas. She is the author of several recipe books on enjoying and preserving fruit, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.
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Updated from the original post from May 2015.