Stinging Nettles Medicinal Benefits & My Famous Nettles Paté Recipe
Written and Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor
The following article and recipe are a sneak peek excerpt into my debut book, The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies, a detailed herbal reference, decadent cookbook, and garden manual all in one. This book is written for home gardeners and anyone looking to bring the therapeutic benefits of healing herbs into their garden, kitchen, and apothecary. You can purchase a copy of your own wherever books are sold. You can find more details on the book and its accompanying bonuses here.
The emerald nettles queen reigns over the herbal realms with vim and vigor. The leaves of this legendary herb are packed with vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll, and this vitality infuses into nutritive herbal teas, vinegars, and medicinal foods.
It’s true that nettles (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae) wears a crown of nearly invisible silver prickles, primed to sting any who might dare to trespass, but the sting is disarmed when the leaves are dried or cooked.
The plant forms dense colonies through spreading rhizomes. It is native to Eurasia, northern Africa, and North America but is now widely cultivated and naturalized throughout the temperate world.
How to Use Stinging Nettles
As a seasonal skin and energy tonic. Nettles is a traditional spring tonic and blood cleanser, and it’s an excellent herbal ally during fasting and cleansing. The herb is prepared into teas, along with red clover and burdock, to assuage eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Nettles will perk you up when you feel tired or depleted and can help build reserves after a long or intense illness. I often add the herb to milky oats and tulsi to support people undergoing challenging transitions and periods of extra workload.
As a delicious nutritive tonic. Nettles is a supreme blood builder and nourishing tonic. If you’re hankering for the minerals in nettles, take the herb as an infusion, broth, or vinegar, or enjoy it as a food. (Alcohol-based tincture won’t deliver the minerals.) Because it’s a food plant, nettles can be consumed frequently, with less attention to dosage as compared with other herbs.
How to Grow & Harvest Stinging Nettles
ZONES: 2–9; full sun to partial shade
SOIL: pH 5.5–7.8; rich, moist soil with a high nutrient content
SIZE: 3–5 feet tall; indefinitely wide
LIFESTYLE: Herbaceous perennial
Planting nettles into the garden requires foresight and planning, as the plant can spread by seeds and runners alike and become a troublesome and painful weed. But with strategic placement and management, it is a valuable asset in the landscape: nettles are a perennial food crop, medicinal herb, and garden amendment. If you already have nettles growing nearby in a pristine locale, perhaps you don’t need to invite it closer. I’ve found, however, that our family consumes more nettles when we have easy access. Throughout the spring and summer, my partner’s morning ritual consists of clipping a few shoots from the nettle patch for his herbal infusions, and I’m apt to run out the back door to harvest the greens for dinner.
If you do decide to grow it, enrich the soil with abundant organic matter, and mulch heavily the first year; nettles will soon fill the entire bed, excluding most weeds.
When harvesting nettles, wear thick clothing that covers arms and ankles, and use leather gardening gloves, preferably ones that cover the forearms, such as leather rose gloves. Use a scythe or similar tool for large-scale harvesting and pruners or kitchen scissors for smaller yields. The shoots emerge in the earliest spring and can be harvested weekly. When you pick the greens repeatedly, you’ll be rewarded with tender new regrowth throughout the spring.
When harvesting for food, take only the tender upper leaves; pinch off the tips or strip the upper leaves from the stem. Later in the summer, the leaves become too chewy to eat. For medicinal uses, harvest the plants when they are knee-high but have not yet flowered. Don’t crush the leaves. If you pile up the shoots in a harvest basket, the bruised leaves oxidize to an unsavory black color, diminishing the herb’s vitality. I learned this the hard way one spring. After hiking a few miles to a lush, pristine nettle patch, I eagerly stuffed a large duffel bag full of shoots, only to discover the crop ruined when I returned home.
For details on propagating nettles, starting plants from seed, siting considerations, problem insects, and more, see my book, The Healing Garden.
Nettles Pâté Recipe
Nettles pâté is pesto’s voluptuous cousin, thicker and earthier by nature. Smother it on pasta, bake it into lasagna, or spread it on pizza or focaccia. Serve as a dip with crudites or crackers. You can enjoy this dish year-round by following the directions below for dried nettles. If you avoid dairy, substitute extra olives for the feta and Parmesan cheese. Or, use a coconut or nut-based cheese alternative, tasting for saltiness as needed.
You’ll find this Nettles Paté recipe in the book, along with a full profile on the cultivation & harvesting of nettles, and the medicinal uses of the herb.
- 15 to 20 (60 grams) small to medium sun-dried tomatoes (about 1/2 cup)
- 4 quarts (225 grams) loosely packed fresh nettles, or substitute 2 ½ cups dried nettles (55 grams)
- 1 cup (105 grams) walnut halves
- 10 medium (100 grams) shiitake mushroom caps, chopped
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little more for sautéing the mushrooms
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/2 cup (70 grams) whole pitted Kalamata olives
- 1/2 cup (115 grams) feta cheese
- 1∕3 cup (70 grams) grated Parmesan cheese
Yield: 4 cups with fresh nettles; 4 ½ cups with dried nettles
1. Pour just enough hot water over the sun-dried tomatoes to cover, and let sit for 3 hours. If you don’t have the time to presoak, soaking them in hot water while you prepare the other ingredients is sufficient. You can also substitute jarred sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil. Strain the soaked tomatoes after hydrating.
2. Prep your nettles:
IF USING DRIED NETTLES: Bring 1 ⅔ cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat, add the dried nettles, and stir every 5 minutes as the nettles rehydrate. Set aside (you won’t be straining the rehydrated nettles).
IF USING FRESH NETTLES: Strip the nettle leaves from the fibrous stem using leather garden gloves. Wash the leaves thoroughly (it may require several washings). Steam until the nettles are tender yet still vibrantly green. Let the nettles cool with the lid off.
3. Toast the walnut halves in a dry, preheated skillet over medium heat, stirring continuously, until their aroma permeates the kitchen and they are slightly browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Do not leave unattended, as they can quickly burn. Place the toasted walnuts on a plate to cool. In a small skillet, sauté the mushrooms in a little extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes.
4. When the nettles and mushrooms are cool enough to handle, combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend until the p.t. reaches an even consistency. Add more olive oil and salt, if necessary. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze in small portions.
If you’re like me, and you adore salty, savory, herbal dips, this recipe will promptly become a classic in your home. I make batches all throughout nettles season and freeze the extras for use during the winter months when mineral-rich foods from the garden are scarce. Everyone gets excited when they see these green jars defrosting on the counter!
Want to learn more about using nettles medicinally and growing its green greatness?
You can read my heartfelt ode to nettles in my book, The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies! You’ll also find dozens more of my favorite herbal recipes and detailed medicinal, culinary, and cultivation profiles for over 30 beautiful, healing herbs.
You can purchase your copy anywhere books are sold! To learn more about the book (and the exceptional bonuses that come with it), visit The Healing Garden Gateway.
Meet The Green Mastermind Behind Blog Castanea
JULIET BLANKESPOOR is the founder, primary instructor, and Creative Director of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, an online school serving thousands of students from around the globe. She's a professional plant-human matchmaker and bonafide plant geek, with a degree in botany and over 30 years of experience teaching and writing about herbalism, medicine making, and organic herb cultivation. Juliet’s lifelong captivation with medicinal weeds and herb gardening has birthed many botanical enterprises over the decades, including an herbal nursery and a farm-to-apothecary herbal products business.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession through her writing and photography in her online programs, on her personal blog Castanea, and in her new book, The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies. Juliet and her family reside in a home overrun with houseplants and books in Asheville, North Carolina.
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