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Nettle greens.

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Do's and don'ts when picking nettle greens.

Picking nettle greens

People make several mistakes when picking nettles (Urtica dioica):

  • They pick them 5 cm high (2"). This is not a big mistake, except that if you wait for a couple weeks, until they're 25 cm (1') high, you get much more nettle for the same amount of bother.
  • People pick the leaves off the stems, one by one. This is completely unnecessary; if you pick'em young enough (25 cm high) the stems are perfectly edible. Yes, nettles are a yarn crop, and have tough very fibrous stems, but that's old nettles.
  • People pick nettles in a very rich area, like off the compost or behind the stables. The "behind the stables" thing is completely unacceptable, as there's bugs about in such places. The "off the compost" thing is OK, nitrate-wise, if you've waited for three sunny days before picking, as nettles use up their nitrates when it's sunny.
  • People pick old nettles. After a summer of sunshine and rain nettles are getting rather tough, and make crystals (calcium carbonate). These crystals can irritate the kidneys; if you eat old nettle stew and get a backache use your common sense and stop eating those nettles.
  • Boiling nettle greens

    For food, I pick nettles that are 25-30 cm tall (about 1'), or, if they're beyond that but not yet in flower, the top 2-4 pairs of leaves. Once home, I either boil, chop up and freeze - or I boil, chop up and use right away.

    Dump your basketful of nettles into a sink full of cold water (with a little salt) and leave them there for 10 minutes to give all the creepy-crawlies a chance to leave. They will. This is an essential step: it's not all that nice to find boiled larvae in your stew later on.

    Put a big kettle on the stove, fill halfway with water, add a handful or two of nettles (use gloves). After 2-3 minutes in boiling water the stems turn bright green while the leaves turn dark green.

    Properly boiled nettles don't sting. If you load too much nettle into the boiling water it's likely that not everything will get thoroughly boiled, which means that you'll have boiled nettles that still sting. You don't want that, so don't overload the boiling water.

    Use a large spoon to fish the nettles out of the water and dump them onto a cutting board, preferably all pointing in the same direction. Add more nettles to the boiling water, let boil for a short while, dump onto the same cutting board. Repeat until all nettles are done.

    Let the nettles on cutting board cool off enough to handle; then, slice them up into ½- 1 cm slices across the stems. The leaves will get fairly small, which is good. You can, if you so wish, discard the largest stems as you clear the leaves off them (from the tops on down) in your slicing.

    Take a handful or two of freshly sliced-up nettles and add to potatoes, rice, soups, etc.; put the rest into small (2-3 dl) freezing jars and freeze for later use.

    You get young nettles all summer long if you cut your nettle patch every few weeks. 2-3 weeks after cutting the nettles are ready for another harvest. The few nettles that avoided cutting the previous time are large and bushy, and will sting, so use long sleeves when going for your young nettles later on.

    A large basketful of fresh nettles will give you about 2 l boiled chopped-up nettles.

    Related entries: Nettle tea - Old nettles - Picking nettle seed - Celeriac nettle soup