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How to Cook Nettles

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Take the sting out of spring’s best greens.

Stinging nettles are a tasty and nourishing spring vegetable, but you have to cook them the right way. Here’s how to cook nettles, why they’re so good for you, plus a recipe for easy nettle pesto.

nettles in bag


Get to Know Nettles, the Spring Vegetable That Bites Back

What foods do you associate with spring? Asparagus or strawberries may come to mind first. But spring holds a lot of b-side produce goodness, too. Like stinging nettles.

What are nettles? Do nettles sting? Why, and how, do you cook stinging nettles? Read on.

cooked nettle pesto

What are stinging nettles? Are nettles healthy?

Nettles may sound like something out of a bad fairy tale. But nettles are a nutrition power house — a perennial green, actually categorized as a weed. Here’s the trick: To get at the nutritious properties, they have to be tamed into edibility.

Nettles have been used medicinally for millennia. At least since the Ancient Greeks, people have used nettles as a diuretic, allergy medicine, and powerful anti-inflammatory. Nettles may have other strong medicinal properties as well — so many, in fact, that there are contraindications for certain medications and physical conditions.Stinging Nettle Pesto Recipe

When are nettles in season?

For our purposes, though, we are talking food, not medicine.

You’ll usually find stinging nettles at farmers markets around mid- to late May, contained in sealed plastic bags to protect bare hands from the millions of tiny, hair-like prickers on the leaves and stems. In other words, these are not the type of greens you grab by the handful, unless you want a really painful afternoon.

That’s why nettles come in pre-sealed plastic bags. Now look closer. You will see tiny hairs covering the leaves and stems. Those hairs are actually thousands of tiny prickers. Brush one against your skin, and you will feel stinging and burning, and possibly develop a short-term rash.

stinging nettle pesto recipe

How to Cook Nettles

Scared off yet? If you’ve made it past the rash sentence above, good. Because we’re about to get to the fun part: eating nettles. If you handle them correctly, nettles are actually a very simple green to prepare.

1. First, blanch them.

Heat up a big pot of salted, boiling water. Then, without touching the nettles, dump them directly from the bag into the pot. Press them with a slotted spoon or tongs to fully submerge them. Let them cook for about 45 seconds to one minute like that. This wilts and neutralizes the burrs.

2. Drain and cook.

Drain the nettles in a colander and squeeze out all of the excess moisture. At this point, they are ready to handle. Sautée them with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper for a simple side green, or turn them into this Spring Nettle Pesto Pasta. The leaves can also be brewed into a nutritious tea.

Have you ever cooked with nettles? Do you like them? Share in the comments.

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  • In my community here in Kenya, we use stinging nettle in a mash; beans (or peas), potatoes, maize/corn and stinging nettle. We also dry it and pour into mashed potatoes and other ‘mashy’ meals. Lucy

    • Unpeeled

      Thank you so much for sharing this. This all sounds so good. I love nettles and wish they were in season longer for us.

  • FYI that was a joke, meaning that i believe that recipe strongly resonates to my sense of taste 😉

  • Last year I made individual stinging nettle souffles in 6 oz Pyrex cups using a Carolina reaper shredded cheese. I froze some of them for later, and they were just as good warmed up in the microwave served with cracker crumb morel mushroom fried in butter along with a dessert of Yorkshire Rhubarb (a pannekoeken with rhubarb and brown sugar thrown on top before baking), This was an easily repeatable spring feast for different sets of friends and family.

    • OMG are you married?!

    • Unpeeled

      This sounds fantastic! How nice to make individual servings, too! There’s always something that feels a little extra special about that.

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