When to Forage Stinging Nettle?
This is a great plant to know even if you aren’t going to eat it simply so you can avoid it while hiking. Just one light touch has my legs itching for 5-10 minutes.
It is usually one of the first edible plants to arrive in South Dakota forests after winter is over but doesn’t get thick and big until early April. Going into the summer this plant gets huge and covers large areas making bushwacking difficult. Now that I’ve been eating it for a few summers now I HIGHLY prefer gathering the young shoots in early May when they are still tinged with red and no taller than 8-10 inches.
Where to Find Stinging Nettle?
I’ve noticed that Nettles don’t like full sun so I mostly find them in forests or on the edge of moist shady areas.
When in doubt, you can see the fine clear hairs on close inspection. These are the source of the stinging fun. (always stay positive! right? RIGHT!?)
How Do You Eat Stinging Nettles?
If you want to eat it raw simply pinch off a leaf and roll it in your hand to break the fine hairs. Once the hairs are broken they can’t sting you. This isn’t my favorite way to eat nettles but is a cool trick!
My favorite way to eat stinging nettle is to take the young plant, cut the stem and leaves into two inch pieces with a scissors then fry them in vegetable butter, onion powder, and salt with just enough water to cover them. When the water disappears they are usually crisped and taste like asparagus!
With bigger plants gathered midsummer I usually just cut a bunch of stems near the ground and toss them in a plastic bag. Then when I get home I can easily pluck the leaves without worrying about rolling into other large nettles behind me. Stinging qualities disappear upon cooking so simmer leaves (and YOUNG shoots) for 10 minutes, drain, then top with lemon and plant-based butter!
I’m also a huge fan of nettle tea. In fact, I started drying nettles as one of my first homemade teas. Drink it straight-up or add a little lemon and sugar for a very tasty drink.
How to Cure the Sting?
I usually scratch the itchy spot a few times over 5-10 minutes and it goes away on its own but apparently jewel weed is the natural antidote! I gotta try it this summer.
Want to learn more about edible plants in South Dakota and the Northern Plains?