March 12, 2014

Stinging Nettle Misadventures: Nature's First Harvest

So we finally went on a foraging expedition that we had been talking about for years: the elusive stinging nettle (and by elusive I mean ubiquitous). We had read and heard about the benefits of nettles as food, medicine, and fertilizer. But for anyone who has ever had the misfortune to run across this plant in the woods with exposed skin; surprise, surprise, it really stings. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has many hairs that break off at their ends when brushed, releasing a combination of formic acid, histamine and other chemicals... basically turning the hairs into needles that cause a painful but innocuous stinging sensation.

In particular it seemed crazy to us that people would eat this stuff, but it turns out that steaming or food processing the nettles removes the hairs leaving a sting-less, healthy vegetable. Last summer one of our neighbors here at Kailash Ecovillage made a raw nettle pesto with pasta. She had just put the nettles in the food processor with the other pesto ingredients, and I can attest that it was delicious and in no wise painful.

Stinging nettles have a multitude of specific benefits listed on many blogs and websites. The best and most succinct description I found was in the book, Edible Forest Gardens, "Stinging nettle is one of the most nutritious leafy greens in the world, as well as being a dynamic accumulator and a wonderful compost plant." And it is free and easy to obtain.

So last weekend we went to the Reed College Canyon about 15 minutes from our apartment where some small, young nettles were just starting to pop up along the trail (it is recommended to collect nettles while they are small because the smaller they are the easier they are to collect, and the easier they are to collect, the less likely one is to feel a stining sensation afterwards.) Harvesting was simple. We put on thick gloves (a must to avoid the hairs) and used hand clippers and scissors to cut the tops of the nettles, leaving at least two leaves on every plant so that they will grow back unharmed. We put the collected enough nettles to fill two small plastic bags. The actual collection process took no more than 10 minutes.

That was the easy part. On Friday I will talk about how we actually turned the nettles into something edible and delicious (and share some tasty recipes for you to try).

Update: Check out our recipe for Raw, Vegan Nettle Pesto here.

(This post was shared at the Homestead Barn Hop, Natural Living Monday, Mostly Homemade Mondays, the Backyard Farming Connection Hop, Tuesday Greens, Tuesdays with a Twist, the Down Home Hop, Simple Lives Thursday, the Home Acre Hop, Old Fashioned Fridays, From the Farm Hop and the Maple Hill Hop)


  1. Love it!! I can't wait for part two! :)

  2. Hi, I found your post at the HomeAcre Hop. Love this article. We've been homesteading for 21 years, but we've never tried stinging nettles. Thank you for the info and looking forward to part 2.

  3. I just can't seem to find them!!!

  4. Your best bet is to try looking near streams and other wet places. Also ask around with hikers, hunters, and others that spend time exploring the woods. And if you really can't find them Baker Creek actually has seeds you could buy (


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