when life gives you nettles

Weeds beneath Santa Cru Island buckwheat

We had pretty good rainfall in December, and early January had some nice wet stretches. Seedlings are popping up everywhere.

After a long dry Mediterranean summer it’s easy to get lulled into not checking the garden frequently for weeds. But once the rains begin things start to sprout. Every gardener probably has a few a few patches like this where things got a little out of control.

Scarlet pimpernel seedlings en masse

And then there’s this pot full of tiny scarlet pimpernel seedlings, so thick and verdant it almost looks intentional.

A big patch of Burning Nettle, Urtica urens
A big patch of Burning Nettle, Urtica urens

One of the more unpleasant weeding jobs was this patch of Burning Nettle, Urtica urens. There are a couple of native California Stinging Nettles, subspecies of U. dioica, but the one in my garden is an introduced weed of “moist disturbed places,” according to some references. This spot in the garden where it comes up every year is definitely disturbed, but it’s only moist when it’s watered by the rains.

When life gives you nettles...
When life gives you nettles…

This one’s edible, as is the California native. And if you’re willing to gear up in the kitchen with thick latex gloves, you can cook with it. Try to catch the plants when they’re young, even earlier than the ones in this shopping bag if you can get them. As you pull and prepare them pay special attention to unprotected forearms. Save “Feel the burn” for your next trip to the weight room.

Nettle pasta, anyone?
Nettle pasta, anyone?

This, my concoction–fairly unseasoned so as to serve as an introduction to fairly pure nettle flavor–wasn’t exactly one for the recipe blogs. It was like eating the color green from a tube of paints made from pure chlorophyll. Actually, before I cooked with it, I was worrying a little bit because so many of the discussions of nettle start with a long essay on its nutritional benefits. Okay, it’s good for you, but how does it taste?

But later John made up another pasta that was pretty tasty, and then followed it up with a richly-flavored variant of the many nettle soup recipes that are out on the web. Nettle has been redeemed. Good for you–but also delicious!

10 thoughts on “when life gives you nettles”

  1. That’s great. I’ve thought about eating them at times, but never gone through with it. The green mass in the photo doesn’t look so appetizing, but a soup sounds good. I’m curious what recipe you used. Did it mostly mask the taste of the nettles or were the nettles still a featured flavor?

  2. I like the idea of turning a weed – and one that can hurt you at that – in to a tasty meal, very karmic! I am going to try eating the leaves of any dandelions that pop up in my lawn this year, at least I will get some use out of them. The scarlet pimpernel seedlings look beautiful, rather like “mind your own business” – do you have that map-forming plant in the US?

  3. My nettle experiment last spring yielded equally blah results. Like many of the things we forage, it’s all in the seasonings. I still get a kick out of gleaning a meal from the woods, even if my well-protected fingers remained numb for days.

  4. Ryan, the soup that was really successful was basically a veggie soup with potatoes, garlic, onion, nettles, all blended up. Sort of a cream of something soup without the cream. The best tasting dishes used just the leaves. It’s a bit of work but worth it.

    Janet, good luck with the dandelion experiment. I see them sold in the farmer’s markets, so they must have some good qualities. I had to look up mind your own business, but then I realized I have it. Only I’ve been calling it baby’s tears. It’s very water-dependent, so it doesn’t spread far in my dry garden. I actually paid money for that one 20 years ago, not knowing how spread-ey it can get. Still, it’s not really a problem here, unlike many others…

    Ricki, did you use stems? I don’t know if it was the seasonings or not using the stems, but the two times we didn’t use the stems the nettles were delicious. Also, they were co-stars in a dish instead of being a the main event. When weeding without gloves I can only deal with the nettles if I get them by the roots, which don’t seem to have the stinging hairs.

  5. we use nettles in omlets, mostly cutting or chopping into small pieces, saute lightly in
    butter and pour in the eggs — tasty and nutritious food. Soup is excellent too. Can so be added to stir fry veggies–I use surgical gloves and cut the nettles with scissors. One can also make a tincture by soaking in vodka for a couple of weeks: fill a quart mason jar with chopped nettles (again I use scissors) and cover with vodka.
    strain off tincture after a couple of weeks or a month….a teaspoon once or twice a day for hayfever/allergies. Old American Indian herbal remedy.
    French make a “soup” from nettles soaked in spring water (a 5 gallon bucket) that diluted acts like a compost tea…plants love it. Google nettle French compost tea and you will find the sites that talk about it.
    All in all is a very valuable and underrated plant helper.

    1. Hi Liz,
      Thanks for your hints on using nettles. If it ever starts to rain here we’ll probably get another crop of them. I’d never heard of the use as tincture. I could see the vodka killing of the germs and the nettles helping with the healing…

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