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Wild nettles are easy to spot on the trail--with their stinging hairs an identifying characteristic--be sure to wear protection when harvesting.Click To Enlarge
Wild nettles are easy to spot on the trail–with their stinging hairs an identifying characteristic–be sure to wear protection when harvesting.

Photo: Susan Belsinger

Stinging nettle, common nettle
Urtica dioica

Last weekend, I attended the 45th Annual Rites of Spring Campout in the Ozarks on the White River. While the campout, camaraderie, music and food were a blast, the scenery, weather and botanizing were superb. We found many plants while herborizing along the trail and came upon a large stand of healthy nettles. So armed with gloves, knives and pruners, we harvested a large amount of nettles which we brought home to cook down for a lovely mess a’ greens and we used the trimmings to make a nettle tincture.

The following information on nettles is excerpted from my new book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs, co-authored with Dr. Arthur O.Tucker, Timber Press, 2016.

While the prickles of stinging nettle may seem a deterrent, it is well worth the effort to cultivate this plant for its virtues, both culinary and medicinal. You will need to wear protective gloves to harvest and to prepare them in the kitchen; tongs come in handy.

The aroma of crushed nettle leaves is green and herbaceous, slightly sweet. Nettles have a lovely, mild flavor. They taste a bit green, slightly sweet, not bitter or strong. A cup of nettle tea is a wonderful spring tonic-it detoxifies and promotes kidney function, helping the body cleanse itself of waste. The leaves contain vitamins A, C and many of the Bs, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, phosphorous and potassium, as well as a good amount of chlorophyll. Make room for nettles at the edge of your garden or the outskirts of the yard.