How to Safely Harvest and Use Stinging Nettles


Stinging nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals and grow abundantly throughout North America (and the world!) Learn about the many benefits of foraging for stinging nettles as well as how to identify, harvest and prepare them without getting stung! When it comes to increasing your self-sufficiency, taking control of your food supply and nutrition, saving your hard earned money and even knowing how to survive in an emergency situation, there’s perhaps no more valuable, all-encompassing skill than learning to forage for wild edibles.

Wild edibles are the earliest form of food (and medicine) known to man. Human beings used to hunt and forage for all of their food long before farming was invented, and certainly before markets and grocery stores stocked everything we could ever want or need on their shelves. Our species literally owes our very existence to this valuable skill.

Today, we most often turn to stores and perhaps even to our own gardens for food and medicine. But wild edibles still exist all around us and are just waiting to be harvested and put to good use. The biggest problem is that many of us lack the traditional knowledge we need to know what wild plants are edible, where to find them, how to identify them, how to harvest them safely and responsibly, and how use them to our full advantage.

Luckily this knowledge hasn’t completely disappeared, and as people are taking a growing interest in health and self-sufficiency, foraging is becoming popular once again. And with the advent of the Internet, more people are sharing their knowledge and learning from others, just as we’re doing here today!

There are so many wild edibles that can be foraged across North America, including all sorts of edible mushrooms, berries and “weeds,” but perhaps one of the easiest and most valuable plants to learn how to harvest is the humble (yet slightly intimidating) stinging nettle.

 

Related: Homemade Tree Tip Syrup

 

Health benefits of stinging nettles

Stinging nettles are both highly nutritional and medicinal. They’re packed with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, B and K, iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium, among others. 

Studies have shown that stinging nettles can help with everything from allergy relief and boosting immunity to joint pain and eczema. But there are many other health benefits of stinging nettles as well, some that we are only just discovering. In any case, it pays to learn how to forage and use these amazing “weeds!”

 

Related: How to Use Yarrow to Cure Almost Any Ailment

 

How to find and identify stinging nettles 

Stinging nettles are one of the first wild edibles that you can forage for in the spring. Even if you still have some snow on the ground, stinging nettles may already be popping up (as they did here this year when we got an early spring snowfall). While they can certainly be harmful to touch, they’re rich in vitamins and minerals and can be consumed without worry when cooked or dried.

Stinging nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals and grow abundantly throughout North America (and the world!) Learn about the many benefits of foraging for stinging nettles as well as how to identify, harvest and prepare them without getting stung!

Stinging nettles grow wild across North America (and across many other continents), and can be found growing in thick, dense patches in rich, moist soils, usually along waterways like rivers, lakes, ditches and streams, or along fence lines and on the edges properties. 

They tend to pop up in the early spring and grow throughout the summer, eventually reaching heights of up to 8 feet tall! They are best harvested in the spring when they are under a foot tall and when the leaves are new and tender. While they can be harvested in the summer, the leaves will be thicker and stems will be much more stringy and woody.

It’s quite easy to identify stinging nettles once you know what you’re looking for. I struggled to identify them for a couple years until I found a patch and confirmed that it was indeed a stinging nettle patch. Now that I have experience harvesting it, I know exactly what to look for (and you will too).

The plant itself has a pretty distinct shape and design. The leaves are pointed at the tips and serrated along the outer edges (like a serrated kitchen knife). The base of the leaves are sort of heart-shaped and they grow in pairs opposite one another, alternating in direction along the length of the stem.

Stinging nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals and grow abundantly throughout North America (and the world!) Learn about the many benefits of foraging for stinging nettles as well as how to identify, harvest and prepare them without getting stung!

The leaves and stems are covered in tiny hairs (which is where the sting comes from), and the stems are sort of square-shaped rather than perfectly round, and hollow in the centre.

Stinging nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals and grow abundantly throughout North America (and the world!) Learn about the many benefits of foraging for stinging nettles as well as how to identify, harvest and prepare them without getting stung!

They also grow in dense patches, which is another giveaway that you’ve found nettles and not some other look-alike. 

Stinging nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals and grow abundantly throughout North America (and the world!) Learn about the many benefits of foraging for stinging nettles as well as how to identify, harvest and prepare them without getting stung!

But if you want to be 100% sure… Just touch them! If they sting, you’ve hit the jackpot 🙂 Don’t worry too much about the sting. While you wouldn’t necessarily want to fall into a patch, a bit of a sting on your hand won’t kill you. (Don’t get me wrong… It will be quite irritating for a while, but it’s not the worst thing in the world).

 

How to harvest stinging nettles

Due to their trademark sting, you want to take extra precautions when harvesting stinging nettles. For starters, always wear gloves, and not just thin, gardening gloves: make sure they’re thick garden or work gloves that the stinging hairs can’t penetrate. You should also wear long sleeves and pants and closed shoes rather than sandals. Basically cover up as much as possible any body parts that might come into contact with the nettles. 

Stinging nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals and grow abundantly throughout North America (and the world!) Learn about the many benefits of foraging for stinging nettles as well as how to identify, harvest and prepare them without getting stung!

While some seasoned nettle foragers swear by foraging with their bare hands (there is some evidence that stings from stinging nettles can actually help to prevent and treat arthritis), I don’t recommend it. There is also evidence that consuming stinging nettles has a positive effect on arthritis, so personally I’d rather save my skin and enjoy them steeped in a cup of tea or sautéed on my plate instead:)

 

Related: How to Harness the Healing Powers of Calendula

 

Once you’re all geared up with gloves, etc., harvest nettles by either cutting or pinching them off just above a set of leaves. Much like basil, nettles will produce new shoots if they are harvested just above a set of leaves. I usually harvest the top three to four sets of leaves and leave the rest of the plant as the lower leaves and stems are tougher and woodier anyway.

Place stinging nettles in a basket of paper bag (somewhere they can breathe and won’t get moldy while waiting to be cooked or dried) and head on back to your kitchen to prepare them!

 

Related: The Easy Way to Grow, Harvest & Preserve Basil

 

How to use, prepare and preserve stinging nettles

First thing’s first: Give your stinging nettles a good wash to ensure there are no bugs, dirt or any other possible residue on them. Do this with gloves!

Stinging nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals and grow abundantly throughout North America (and the world!) Learn about the many benefits of foraging for stinging nettles as well as how to identify, harvest and prepare them without getting stung!

I pour a sink full of cold water and dunk batches of stinging nettles in the water and swish them around real good. Then I let them dry completely in the drying rack or pick off the leaves and throw them in a salad spinner to dry. From here you can either cook them up or dry them out for later use.

Stinging nettles lose their sting when they are either cooked or dried. NEVER EAT THEM RAW! You don’t want to be adding fresh stinging nettles to your salads, but a light sauté is all they need to wilt the stinging hairs and make them edible.

 

Cooking Stinging Nettles

If cooking nettles, steam them or sauté them in a little butter or oil like you would if you were cooking spinach, then add them to soups, pasta or rice dishes or even eat on their own with a little garlic or lemon juice.

You can also blanch them and freeze them for later us. Simply steam them for two minutes until they wilt, then dunk in ice water to stop the cooking process. Next, spin in a salad spinner or lay them on a paper towel for a few minutes to allow excess moisture to run off (I like to fold the paper towel over them and squeeze gently to release the moisture). Then pack tightly in a freezer bag, being careful to squeeze all the air out, and freeze for up to a year.

 

Drying Stinging Nettles

You can also dry stinging nettles to use as tea. The drying process will also cause the sting to disappear. You can either tie them in a bunch and hang upside down like you would with a bunch of herbs, or lay them out to dry, turning them regularly to ensure that no leaves mold if there is still moisture in them. 

Stinging nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals and grow abundantly throughout North America (and the world!) Learn about the many benefits of foraging for stinging nettles as well as how to identify, harvest and prepare them without getting stung!

I lay mine out to dry on one of the metal shelving racks we keep in our sunroom. It’s perfect because it allows air to circulate from all sides, but I still regularly turn them and move them around to ensure air is getting to all of the nettles.

Allow stinging nettles to dry completely (about two weeks will suffice). You could also dry them out in a dehydrator if you have one to speed up the process. If drying in a dehydrator, set the dehydrator to its lowest temperature setting and set it to dry for about 12-15 hours.

Once dried, pick the leaves off of the stems (if you haven’t already) and pack in a jar or bag out of direct sunlight. It’s best to leave the leaves whole and then crumble them up to put in a teapot or tea bag when you’re ready to use them. You can preserve nutrients for longer by keeping the leaves whole.

Stinging nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals and grow abundantly throughout North America (and the world!) Learn about the many benefits of foraging for stinging nettles as well as how to identify, harvest and prepare them without getting stung!

To make tea, crumble a few leaves and steep in a looseleaf teapot, french press or put in a tea bag. Steep for about 5 minutes (longer if you prefer a more potent tea). Then discard or pour out a cup of tea and add a little honey and lemon to enhance the flavour of the tea.

What about you? Do you already use stinging nettles? Do you have any other ideas or suggestions on how to use or preserve them? What else do you forage for? Be sure to let me know in the comments section below!

Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness 🙂

P.S. Want more modern homesteading advice and inspiration? Subscribe for FREE to Modern Homesteading Magazine and get our free monthly magazine delivered straight to your inbox! Plus get the latest posts, recipes and all around great content from The House & Homestead sent to you weekly so you never miss a thing:)

 

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9 Comments

  1. Bob

    see previous comment. Lost it all on the email line

    Reply
  2. Ron Harmon

    Thanks for sharing this information. I spent my early childhood in the country in the hills of Western Mass and the only thing I knew about this wild plant was that you should avoid it unless you want to get stung! Now my mother came from a farm family of 12 kids, so I bet they knew about the good use of this plant, but it was never told to me. I haven’t seen any of these plants on my property, but if I were to go to the fields, I probably would find some. I must admit that I try to avoid wild fields and meadows to keep from getting ticks which there are many here in TN. I can see how it would be a beneficial plant to find and use. Always great to learn something new!

    Reply
  3. Mila

    I make shampoo bars out of them . It’s an old hair remedy to make your hair strong and beautiful

    Reply
  4. Donna

    Last summer I unwisely ran back to quickly water some garden plants while wearing shorts and sandals. I had to go through a large patch of brushy weeds. After a short time, my legs really started to hurt like I’d been stung by wasps or something! Now I think I know what happened… and this year I will take my sweet revenge on the stinging nettle plants by harvesting and cooking them to eat. Maybe it will even heal the touch of arthritis that has just started affecting my elbows. Thanks for this article!

    Reply
    • Anna Sakawsky

      Yasss! Sweet, sweet revenge:) And once dried or cooked, they’re powerless (and tasty!)

      Reply
  5. tonimarie

    a friend of mine made me some roasted Brussel sprouts with kale. I loved it. when I got home I made some but used stinging nettle instead. I also made creamed asparagus and nettle soup. love this plant! thanks for the article

    Reply
    • Anna Sakawsky

      That sounds delicious!

      Reply
  6. Lana Sajaja

    Hi, yes we use stinging nettles in teas and hydrosol, I usually add 2 tbsp hydrosol ( we get it from Lebanon )to a cup of warm water. It’s an old tradition in the middle east. Even though you don’t eat them raw! we do ?, in the spring when they are fresh and abundant, soaking them in salted water lessens the sting effect.

    Reply
    • Anna Sakawsky

      Oh wow! That is brave!

      Reply

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ABOUT ANNA
Hi! I’m Anna, and I’m a city girl turned modern homesteader who’s passionate about growing, cooking and preserving real food at home, creating my own herbal medicine and all-natural home and body care products, and working toward a simpler, more sustainable and self-sufficient life each and every day. 
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This is why I do what I do and why I share it with you on a regular basis; I WANT TO EMPOWER YOU TOO!

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I’m excited to announce that I’ll be reopening the Society doors for a limited time starting next week, and wanted to give you the heads up NOW so that you can get on the waitlist and make sure you don’t miss out when enrollment opens.

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The other day when I had a few minutes to spare, I was out in the garden doing a little work when my neighbour said hi over the fence.

I lamented to her about how busy we’ve been and how hard it’s been to keep on top of this year. Very sincerely, she replied “wait until you have another one,” referring to our baby on the way.

“You’ll be moving back to the suburbs so quick, mark my words,” she said.

Now, I don’t for a second think there was any ill intent behind her statement, but still, it took me aback.

“We’ll never move back to the city or the suburbs,” I replied with a laugh. “This may be hard work but we love it.”

She then repeated her statement and followed it up with “just you wait and see.”

I decided not to continue the back and forth. After all, I told myself, it doesn’t matter if she or anyone else knows what’s truly in your heart. It doesn’t matter if she understands that there’s no amount of difficulty that would make me run back to the suburbs and leave this life behind. In fact, our dream is to upgrade to a bigger property someday where we can grow an even bigger garden and add more livestock to our homestead!

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I used to get offended by these questions because I felt unseen; I felt like nobody took this life that I’m so passionate about seriously, and thought it was “cute” that I was “playing farmer” for a bit, but eventually I had to grow up and become part of the “real world” once again.

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In this issue you’ll find:

• Preparedness tips, tricks and advice to help you be ready for anything on the homestead (and in life!)
•The ultimate guide to growing garlic at home and it as both food and medicine
• Drool-worthy recipes that feature garlic as the star!
• Expert advice from A Farmgirl in the Making’s Ann Accetta-Scott on what to look for (and look out for) when buying or selling a homestead property
• Advice on how to learn and grow from perceived homesteading “failures”

And more!!!

Go to modernhomesteadingmagazine.com or click the link in my bio @anna.sakawsky to subscribe or login to the library and read the latest issue if you’re already subscribed!
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31 3

When I first started homesteading, I had a burning desire to become more self-sufficient and live a more sustainable life.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a rebel at heart, and learning how to homestead and become more self-reliant was a way for me to “throw a proverbial middle finger to the system” and live life on my own terms.

As a teenager, I was the girl who drove around town with punk rock music blaring from my car, Misfits sticker on the back and studs around my wrists. I felt misunderstood and angsty and like I desperately didn’t fit in with the world I grew up in.

I always knew in my soul that I wanted something different; Something more.

Today I’m the mama with stretch marks on my belly and battle scars on my heart. I’m the woman who gardens and cans food and makes her own tinctures and believes in something greater than herself and fights every day to stay free in a world that feels increasingly engineered to keep us hopelessly dependent.

Today I feel whole and at peace, and connected to a higher power and a higher purpose. I feel like I’ve finally found the place where I belong.

This journey has been about so much more than homesteading for me, and I've learned, lost, gained and loved so much more than I ever could have imagined.

Because, as I've said before, homesteading doesn't happen in a vacuum. Life is always happening at the same time.

This is the full, raw and unfiltered story of my homesteading journey, and how I've gained so much more than a pantry full of food along the way.

Click the link in my bio @anna.sakawsky to read more or check it out here >> https://thehouseandhomestead.com/how-it-started-how-its-going
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66 5

The news we’ve all been waiting for…

IT’S A BOY!!!

After so many years and too many losses, our hearts are so full and it feels like we are inching closer to our family finally being complete.

I’ve always known in my heart and soul that we were meant to have a girl and a boy. I know, it sounds cliché and very “nuclear family,” but years ago I saw a psychic who told me I would have a girl who loved to be centre stage and had a personality larger than life, very much how our daughter has turned out!

She also said I would have a boy who would be much more introverted and in tune with nature and with his own intuition. That’s yet to be seen, but I’ve always had this unwavering vision of a son and a daughter that fit these descriptions, and my heart has been set on a son ever since we had Evelyn.

Of course, things went sideways for a few years. Shortly after Evelyn was born, I became pregnant again, but we made the heartbreaking decision to terminate that pregnancy at 24 weeks due to a severe medical diagnosis. We lost our son, Phoenix Rain on June 15, 2018. Our hearts were shattered and have never fully healed.

Over the next few years, I had 3 more early miscarriages. None of the doctors knew what was causing them as most didn’t seem to have any sort of genetic explanation. We were told it was “something environmental,” but weren’t given any clues as to what that could be.

After pushing to see several specialists last year (after our most recent loss), and being told once again that there was “nothing wrong with me,” I finally got another opinion and found out I had something called Chronic Endometritis: A low-grade infection in my uterus that I believe in my heart was caused by my c-section with our daughter; A c-section I didn’t want and probably didn’t need, but felt I needed because I was under pressure to make a decision before the surgeon went off duty.

I’ll never know for sure, but when I pushed for more testing and finally got a simple round of antibiotics, the endometritis cleared up. I got pregnant again almost immediately and so far we now have a healthy baby boy on the way.

(Continued in comments…)
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556 43

We’re living through interesting times. Many people have even used the term “unprecedented times,” and while that may be true in that there has perhaps never been another time in history when we’ve faced so many existential threats all at once (ie. a global pandemic, climate change, political divisions, AI advancing at an incredible rate, cyber attacks, nuclear threats, globalization, food shortages, supply chain issues, hyperinflation, social media and the age of information/misinformation, etc. etc. all converging at once). But despite all of this, we are not the first generation(s) of humans to face hardships and threats of great magnitude, and in fact we’ve had it better than any other previous generations for most of our lives, especially here in the west.

The fact is, there are lots of things we can do to ensure we’re not sitting ducks when these threats come knocking at our door. But it takes action on our part, not waiting around for someone else to fix things or take care of us.

In the Summer issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine, I sat down with The Grow Network’s Marjory Wildcraft to talk all about the realities of our current climate, including worsening inflation and looming global food shortages, as well as what every day people like you and I can actually DO to improve our food security, become more self-sufficient, care for our families and communities and ensure our own survival and wellbeing even in difficult and uncertain times like these.

While I don’t believe in fear mongering, I do believe in acknowledging hard truths and not burying your head in the sand. That being said, things may very well get worse before they get better, and we would all do well to start learning the necessary skills, stocking up on essential resources and preparing now while there’s still time.

Check out the full interview in the summer issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine. Link in bio @anna.sakawsky to subscribe or go to www.modernhomesteadingmagazine.com to subscribe or login and read the current issue.

#foodshortages #selfsufficiency #selfreliance #foodsecurity #foodsecurityisfreedom #homesteading #growyourownfood #fightinflation #stayfree
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