For years I have heard of the nutritional qualities of Stinging Nettles, and that they are actually delicious.
I have been leery of trying them though; they are Stinging Nettles, the plant that has caused me so much irritation since I was a kid playing in the woods. Recently I have given them a try, and I have to say that I was quite impressed with their flavor and edibility. They are high in vitamins A and C, rich in minerals, and also high in protein; yes, nettles are a leafy vegetable and are high in protein!
I have recently learned that there are two types of stinging nettles in our area that I can choose from. The Stinging Nettle and the Wood Nettle. I tried both. The Wood Nettles prefer shady areas, while the Stinging Nettles like the sun.
Above is a picture of these two types of nettles together.
I sautéed each type of Nettle in butter, and I found both the texture and the flavor of the Wood Nettle to be superior to the Stinging Nettle. The Stinging Nettles were good, just not as soft of a texture and a little bit of bitterness. The Wood Nettle was delicious, with a texture like cooked spinach and a flavor that I like better than spinach.
For picking nettles I recommend wearing gloves; if the plant barely touches sensitive skin it will cause irritation and itching. I tried picking both varieties without gloves, and Stinging Nettle would get me more often.
This plant has little stingers from the beginning of the stem up into the leaves, and they are hard to avoid. The wood nettle, however, is more picking friendly, and can even be carefully harvested without gloves. The lower parts of the young stem are free of stingers. A person can carefully break them off here, and avoid getting stung. If the top part of the plant touches sensitive skin though, the stinging can be worse than that of the Stinging Nettle.
I picked about a half of a large paper grocery bag of each nettle; when cooked, this amount would make an appropriate side dish for my family of four.
The Stinging Nettle I am finding now are a little too mature for harvesting, and would be a little bitter. The Wood Nettle, however, are at a perfect stage in many parts of my woods.
I will end this post with my final concussion; do not be afraid of Stinging Nettles or Wood Nettles, they are delicious and definitely worth harvesting.