Nettle, or stinging nettle, is a general term for the genus Urtica, an invasive species with painful little stingers and medicinal properties. You may have learned what nettles are the hard way, brushing against them and wondering why you suddenly developed painful little welts. Just the kind of plant you want to eat, right?
Well, the stinging goes away when they’re cooked, and then they become a wonderful, deeply-flavored green that’s absolutely worth harvesting.
To harvest nettles: bring a thick bag, a thick pair of gloves (some people seem to have the magic ability to resist nettle stings; I’m not one!), and a pair of scissors. Make sure you’re somewhere where pesticides aren’t being sprayed, and be aware that you’re technically not supposed to harvest at city parks.
Harvest nettles when they’re young, about 4-8″ tall and not yet flowering. Cut the young stalk and collect in your thick bag.
I feel it’s obvious to say, but NEVER to eat nettles without cooking them first. These things hurt to touch fresh; you don’t want that in your mouth and throat. Luckily, tossing them into boiling water completely erases the problem.
To cook your nettles, do the following: Boil a pot of water. Wearing thick gloves, pick out any non-nettle bits among the nettles. Wash them in a colander. Dump the nettles straight from the colander into the boiling water and cook for a minute or two until the nettles go limp. This destroys the stingers.
Here’s a quick recipe for a nice, mild savory souffle of nettles and ricotta made in small ramekins. You can use other wild greens too, but the nettles are especially nice.
Makes four ramekins
- 1/2 cup cooked nettles, packed down
- 1/2 cup cream
- 2/3 cup ricotta
- 2 eggs, separated
- 4 tablespoons rice flour, coconut flour, or flour of your choice
- 2 generous pinches of salt
- grated nutmeg to taste
- parmesan for the top
- butter for ramekins
1. Butter four ramekins and set aside. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Separate eggs, keeping whites in a bowl and placing yolks in a food processor.
3. To the food processor with egg yolks, add nettles, cream, ricotta, rice flour, salt, and a few grates of fresh nutmeg. Close and process until combined and the nettle is finely chopped.
4. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the nettle mixture.
5. Divide batter into four buttered ramekins. On the top, grate a little parmesan cheese and a little more nutmeg. Bake for about half an hour or until golden brown on top, and serve. Goes well with soup or salad.