How to Harvest, Dry, Freeze and Use Stinging Nettle

Ready to harvest stinging nettle?

Getty in the nettle patch
Happy as can be in the nettle patch!

Also Read:  How to Prepare and Use Stinging Nettle, How to Freeze Stinging Nettle, How to Dry 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.

picking 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.

stinging nettle up close
The sting is a combination of tiny barbs and the release of chemicals.

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.

nettle in sunny spot along edge of forest
Patch of nettle in sunny spot along edge of forest.

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.

stinging nettle ready to harvest

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.cutting nettle stem - watermarked

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.

stinging nettle branches - watermarked

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

After all that work of harvesting nettle, you can wash, bundle, dry and store it for the coming months. Read More.

hanging nettle on chandelier - watermarked
The long stems make nettle perfect for hang drying.

How to Freeze Stinging Nettle

And of course, freezing is another great way to preserve your nettle for later use. To freeze, you’ll need to blanch the nettle first to remove the sting and make it freezer stable. Read More.

drained stinging nettle - watermarked
Blanching is an important step before freezing 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.

The only thing you can’t do is eat it raw! Raw nettle will irritate the throat and cause pain and discomfort. You must prepare the nettle by either drying or cooking. Read More.

nettle pesto pasta with tomatoes
Nettle pesto pasta is one of many delicious recipes using nettles.

Here are some of my favorite recipes:

Stinging Nettle and Cheese Biscuits

Stinging Nettle and Potato Soup

Creamy Chicken and Stinging Nettle Pasta

Stinging Nettle Pesto

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.

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40 Comments

  1. Hi Getty I’ve been using nettles in my compost for years but this year I’ll be trying your recipe I do have it growing in my garden and keep it growing for the above use so do have a supply of it on hand so I recon I can say winner.

    1. I’m so glad you’ll give it a try! I’m sure your compost won’t mind sharing a few of the nettles with you. Enjoy and let me know what you think.

      All the best,

      Getty

  2. This looks like a perfect green to use for Martha Stewart’s Spinach and Feta Pie, which I make frequently but have been using other greens because fresh organic spinach is so expensive. I have nettles all over my yard for free, so score! Thanks for the harvesting advice! I can’t wait to try it. -Jen in Shelburne, MA

    1. Yes! Nettle would be perfect for that recipe. Cheaper and even more nutrient rich than spinach. Enjoy!

  3. Hi
    Thanks for all of the great info!
    I bought 2large bags of organic stinging nettles last year.
    The trees are pollinating now and ask me how I know 😉
    Are the year old nettles still good?

    Cheers, Dennis

    1. Hi Dennis,
      I’ve used dried stinging nettle that’s just over a year old but try to finish my supply before the next season arrives. If it has been stored at a consistent temp without exposure to moisture and as little air as possible, it will be safe to use for years. If there is any sign of mold, don’t use them. While they may be safe to use, flavor will start to decrease after six months and become noticeable after 12 months. I’m not sure of the nutrient break down over time. Try using dried nettles mixed into herbal teas or grind them into a powder and add a tablespoon in soups or smoothies.
      All the best,
      Getty

  4. Fabulous article. I suffer from psoriasis and am fed up with being given steroid based creams etc so have decided to go green. I didn’t realise nettles were so versatile until I read your article, I love spinach so will definitely be trying nettles, and they’re free and ample here in Wales lol. I’m trying sulphur in my diet which is great for skin repair and nettles are apparently good for eczema so I will try it on my skin problems too. Tea and possibly a skin wash. Thank you for this page.

  5. Hi Getty – I have a large bag of dried nettles. Can I make nettle soup from them? I’m guessing that I can, but all of the recipes I’ve found have required fresh nettles. What do you think?

    1. Hi Lee
      I have not tried it myself, but I can’t see why you couldn’t. You could try adding the leaves toward the end of the soup making just to long enough for them to rehydrate. If the look and texture might be an issue for anyone around the table, you could grind the the dried nettles to a powder and add them to just about anything (I add dried beet powder in various quantities to soups, smoothies, stews, spaghetti sauce, etc). If your making this nettle & potato soup, I would add powdered nettles somewhere around step 10 http://www.gettystewart.com/how-to-make-stinging-nettle-soup/. Puree the potatoes in the stock and add the nettle leaves – puree more if needed. Adjust seasoning as required. Good luck! And while you’re at it, why not enjoy a cup of stinging nettle tea – steep your dried nettles in boiling water for a 3-5 minutes. Getty

  6. Reading all comments trying to get motivated for my first harvest in the morning. I have been watching them grow and wither away year after year for several years. But I think I’m ready now.

  7. I have had stinging nettle on pizza and it is delicious!

    I believe the restaurant used blanched or dried.

    My new backyard is woodsy and natural, and I have plenty growing…so I will be drying, harvesting and freezing…for the first time.

    Thank you for sharing this helpful information!

  8. i have hay fever and suffer when any pollen is high. i want to know if freeze dry root or freeze dry leaf would make a difference.. i think the root is stronger than the leaf. can you help me?

    1. Hi Laverne,
      I have never tried using stinging nettle root, nor have I seen much about it. Sorry, I can’t help you with this one.

      Hope you find something that will help alleviate your symptoms.

      Getty

  9. Frittata: olive oil, potatoes, eggs, blanched stinging nettle leaves, onion +or green onion, garlic, milk, chedder cheese if desired, tomato pieces if desired, salt and pepper. If you don’t want to just throw ingredients together like I do without measuring, look up any frittata or fritada recipe and substitute the stinging nettles for spinach or other greens they use.

    1. Oh yes, let’s all frittata! An excellent idea for stinging nettles – but as Marj points out, they need to be blanched first. Frittatas are an excellent way to use up leftover bits in the fridge. Thanks for the tasty tip, Marj!

  10. Can you elaborate on the sizes of the leaves you use?
    I’ve heard that I should use small leaves for cooking with, but what size is small?
    Is it just the texture that doesn’t work for the larger leaves? If so, does that mean that they would be okay for teas?
    Also, most sites recommend you not use the stems. What do you use yours for? Is there something I should or should not use the stems for?
    One site recommended I check the underside of the leaves for “white spittles” when I harvest do you know what the heck it was talking about?
    I have a small patch in my backyard, will that be enough for me to cook with, or will i have to forage around the neighborhood to supplement? How much is enough?

    1. Hi Leandra,
      Thanks for the great questions, here are my thoughts:
      Size – I don’t pick according to size; any size leaf will do. In early spring, I cut the top third to half of the plant where the most tender leaves are. I leave the remaining plant so that it can regrow. By mid summer, there is new growth that can be harvested again. Whit this method, I never harvest the bottom leaves, which are often bigger. They are, however safe to eat.
      Maturity – More important than size is the maturity of the plant. After the flowers turn to seeds, the old leaves will develop gritty particles called cystoliths that may be irritating to some people, whether taken as tea or eaten cooked. It’s not an issue for anyone in my family, but something to be aware of and a reason why people often recommend harvesting nettle before it goes to seed.
      Stems – I don’t know of a particular reason why you shouldn’t use the stems other than size and toughness. I use stems in the soup, you’ll notice I put them in earlier than the leaves so they get tender. I also use stems in teas, only composting what doesn’t conveniently fit in my storage jars.
      Spittles – Believe it or not, there are some critters that make their home in nettles. According to botanist Laura Reeves who I mentioned in the article, the black spiny caterpillar of the Milbert’s tortoishell butterfly only lay their eggs on nettle. It’s good karma to let them be. I’m not sure if the spittle bug which make white foamy homes like nettles. Probably not something you want to eat.
      How Much – It all depends on what you want to make. Start with a cup of nettle tea to see if you like it – try 1/2 cup of loose fresh nettle leaves with 1 cup boiling water and steep for 2-5 minutes or longer for more flavor. Use 3 cups of loose fresh nettles in the biscuit recipe, 6 cups in the soup. By harvesting only the top third in spring, you’ll have more to harvest later in the season. Before you search the hood, test it out and see just how much you like it and how much you see yourself using it.
      How Much – I use stinging nettle for pleasurable seasonal eating, not for medicinal purposes. I would never prescribe consuming a certain amount per day. If I find extra, I dry it to add depth of flavor to various herbal tea blends.
      Hope this helps.

      Getty

  11. Thanks for your article. I have endless stinging nettles on my little farm and after walking thru them early on I quickly learned to give them the respect that they demand LOL, but since then I have also been fascinated by them. I have wanted to harvest them for a long time but have just finally gotten up the nerve to this spring!!

    1. Hi Julie,
      I’m so glad you found the article useful and that you’re willing to give your stinging nettle a try. Try the soup first – I think you’ll love it. If you like baking, the drop nettle cheese biscuits are also a great way to introduce others to nettle – let them think it’s spinach at first! When sauteed or in soup or biscuits I find the stinging nettle quite mild and pleasant tasting – even milder than spinach. In tea, the flavor is more pronounced so I usually mix it with hyssop, chamomile, mint or some other flavorful herb. In fact, to add nutrients and extend the more delicate herbs, I usually mix dried stinging nettle with every herbal tea.

      Good luck with your experiments. I’d love to hear what you thought, please let us know!
      Getty

  12. Had a severe case of hives last summer-went to doc. And got meds but the hives continued-about to drive me nuts with the itch-checked on internet and it mentioned a short blurb about nettles-picke a bunch sauted them at about 11:00am by about 5:00 pm was totally relieved-also cured my gout which I was on meds for. Drink a cup of tea per day-love the taste too

    1. Glad you found relief. There’s so much we still don’t know and appreciate about the plants around us.

      1. Thanks for sharing and opening conversation on the stinging nettle. I write from Nairobi, Kenya. I found it growing along the edge of the property and left it to grow to over 6 feet. It forms great intruder deterrent and now provides food. I am aware of great improvement from allergic rhinitis and undiagnosed hip joint pains over the last two years and this seems long term. Being near the Equator there are always new leaves on it though early in the year it is a little yellow and more fibrous.

        1. Hi Tim,
          How great is it that you and I can have the same edible plant growing across the globe in two very different habitats. Our nettle is covered by 2-3 feet of snow for 5-6 months of the year! It certainly shows how hardy nettle is. Glad to hear you’re able to use your nettle as food, protection and for its medicinal purposes.

          All the best,

          Getty

  13. Hi Getty,
    I enjoyed reading your piece on the Nettle, a Cornish bush Favorited of mine.

    As the harvest here is best from April to mid- May drying the abundance of nettles seems to be the best option.

    In your option is it o.k. to dehydrate them in a oven at it’s lowest temperature, or will this in some way lower the nutritional value of the plant ?

    1. Hi Aaron, thanks for the feedback, glad you enjoyed the article.

      As for dehydrating in the oven, Vitamin A and C are sensitive to heat, so you may lose more of those vitamins due to the higher heat of the lowest oven setting vs the dehydrator. However, personally, I think it’s still worth it, especially if the alternative is not having any dried nettle at all. If you have a dark, dry, airy space to hang small bundles of nettle, that might be another option to consider.

      Good luck.

  14. A friend gifted me some harvested nettle. It has been in a paper bag a few days and is partly dry. IT isn’t very young leaves and I wonder if I should dry them the rest of the way. I would love any recommendations . I don’t want to have to throw it out.

    1. Hi Cha,
      Since it is partly dry, I would follow your instincts and dry it the rest of the way. Then use as tea or in soups and stews. You could even turn the dried leaves into powder that could be added to just about anything. Good luck and thanks for stopping by.

      Getty

  15. Great article! I have a pound of dried nettle that is about 2 years old. Do you think it still has some good properties? Any ideas other than tea that I could use it up with?

    1. Hi Natalia,

      I’m not sure what the nutrient loss is, but since you have it, you might as well try using it. You can crumble the leaves into any soup, stew or sauce. I sometimes toss a handful into spaghetti sauce. You could even turn the dried nettle into a powder and add it to smoothies, soups or sauces – as much or as little as you like.

      Hope you find a way to enjoy your nettle.

      Getty

  16. Hi Getty,
    My name is Jo and I live in Australia.
    I am interested in the storage of nettles in my freezer. What length of time do think they would be okay stored in the freezer?
    I have been freezing 3 cups of hand picked nettles at a time using a similar method to your own.
    I also appreciate the value of stinging nettles much to the amusement of my godmother who lives on the old family farm.
    I would appreciate your advice
    Thank you ,Jo

    1. Hi Jo,
      Great to hear from you. I bet your godmother is having a grand time watching you process stinging nettles Lol, my mom chuckles too.
      Anyway, I would treat frozen stinging nettles just like frozen spinach or other dark leafy greens. While they continue to be safe to eat, quality goes down quickly after about 8 months or so. I’d try using it up by then. Have you tried freezing it in ice cube trays so you can add a “puck” into smoothies, soups or stews?
      Enjoy!
      Getty

      1. Hi, my friend had given me a bunch of stinging nettles. These nettles did not sting. It had seeds in a long chains and the leaves had some brown spots. Is it safe to eat these leaves? Are they viruses spots? Should I try to plant these nettles?

        1. Hmm, not sure that I’ve met a stinging nettle that doesn’t sting – are you 100% confident in what you have? If not, I would not eat it in any way.

          When I harvest stinging nettle, I harvest it before the seeds form, in spring. After it flowers and seeds form, stinging nettle gets more gritty which may lead to urinary concerns in some people.

          As for the brown spots, I’m not sure what they might be, but I probably would avoid them. Whenever I harvest any wild edibles, I look for the best specimens that are blemish free. If a leaf or plant has torn, brown, shriveled or even bug eaten leaves, assume that the essential oils and nutrients are not in top condition.

          You could try to plant them and see what happens next year. If you can confirm that they are stinging nettle, harvest them early in the season when they are in good condition before the seeds form. That way you’ll get the best nutrients from the plant and you’ll be much happier and confident with your edibles.

          Hope this helps,
          Getty

          1. White Dead Nettle looks very similar to stinging nettle but does not sting here in UK.

          2. Hi Steve,
            Thanks for visiting and commenting, it’s great to hear about other people’s experiences.

            Just a word of caution to be careful with look a-likes. White dead nettle (Lamium album) is from a different family of plants than stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), while it may mimic the look of stinging nettle, it is quite different. While it does appear to be edible, anyone considering eating it, should do more in-depth research on how to safely use it.
            All the best,
            Getty

        2. Hi, what I thought was stinging nettles actually turned out to be white snake root which is a poisonous plant. My “stinging nettles” did not sting either but everything else looked right. I even snacked on them for couple years but luckily didn’t ingest too much. Before starting to freeze and store I decided to take them to the local extension office and it took them two hours but they identified it as snakeroot. Please be careful.

          1. Thanks for sharing such an important lesson, Dee. A great reminder for all of us to be 100% certain of what we’re harvesting.

            Getty

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