Nutritional Value of Stinging Nettles
Stinging Nettles may be a weed to some, but are also known for their incredible nutritional value. I tend to think about this wonderful plant in spring as they are one of the first to make their appearance on the forest floor or around your garden. As you probably know, the Stinging Nettle has tiny thorn like stingers which can create much skin irritation if not handled properly, yet the value of the plant is much greater than fearing it itchy reputation.
When harvesting this plant, I like to wear a long sleeve shirt, cloves and cut them with a scissors. When harvesting stinging nettles, know it is like being a Bee keeper, you are bound to get stung. The entire plant should be harvested when it is less than eight inches tall. If it is over that only the tender young leaves at the top should be used. The larger more mature plants become very tough and not near as tender and delicate as the younger leaves are. When they are older they develop a hard calcium crystal called “cystoliths,” which can be irritating to the kidneys. That is why it is best use as a small plant or just the tops of mature ones.
Stinging nettles, like many bitter herbs, are one of the best blood purifiers of Western Herbalism. It has a long history of traditional uses. To name a few, it has an ability to help increase urine production, it has a mild laxative effect and it increases the efficiency of the liver and kidney functions. This is why it is so wonderful to use it in spring when the leaves are filled with all that great chlorophyll. Spring is a great time to be doing some cleansing and detoxification of your body’s blood, which we will talk about in later blog article. It has the richest amount of iron and vitamin C. It is high in calcium, chromium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, Vitamin A, B1, B2, B5, E, K1, choline, folic acid and zinc. It also has extremely high protein content. Stinging nettles even has vitamin D, which is rare in a plant source. Vitamin D is found mostly in mushrooms, but from very few plants.
When using sting nettles as a culinary treat they really should be cooked. The leaves and tender stalks can be boiled or steamed and immersed into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. The cooking or steaming process will kill the stinging attributes that this plant is so known for. The process only takes a few minutes. Nettles can be used to replace cooked spinach or kale in different recipes. To avoid a bronze color forming in the leaves, use plenty of water so the plant is completely immured.
During the peak season of nettles don’t forget to harvest large quantities so you can freeze them for later use in soups and other dishes. After cooking, lay them on a towel to get as much moisture off of them as possible. Place them on a cookie sheet pan, but be careful not to stack them. Once frozen, remove them from the cookie sheet pan and place them into freezer bags. This makes it easier to use at a later date without dealing with a frozen chunk of nettle greens. Freeze in quantities you will use in future dishes; whether that be for lasagna, soups or even a dip (replacing spinach). Use a dehydrator and start drying stinging nettles for tea to use later in the season. You can also create a stinging nettle tincture with alcohol to preserve your harvest as a blood purifying medicinal supplement.
Don’t let the stingy reputation keep you from enjoying this valuable herb. Harvest carefully and enjoy the many benefits this wonderful plant has to offer.