How to prep and cook with stinging nettles + a bonus cocktail
by Kara Elder
May 01, 2020
Are you the happy owner of a bag of stinging nettles from Path Valley? If so, you are in for a treat.
And also a cocktail.
Stinging nettles, an herbal medicine favorite, are high in iron, vitamins A and C, protein, and minerals. You might know this, but just in case you don't, stinging nettles are thus named because the plant's little prickly hairs (technically "trichomes") cause a stinging sensation when they make contact with skin. Speaking from experience, it's not the most terrible pain in the world, but it's also not the best. The good news: the chemicals that cause the sting are easy to neutralize with a few minutes in boiling water. (You can also apparently make chips with stinging nettles, but I opted to just blanch and be done with them all at once. If you try that let us know!!)
To prep and blanch your stinging nettles:
- USING TONGS and/or wearing garden gloves, drop the nettles into a large bowl or your clean sink, cover with water, and let any grit or dirt soak to the bottom.
- Meanwhile, fill a medium (3-quart or so) pot halfway with water. Bring to a boil. (Trust me on using a smaller pot than you may normally reach for; we're going to keep that cooking liquid for sipping, and we want it to be strong and flavorful rather than too diluted.)
- Again using tongs, lift some of the nettles out of their soaking water and drop into the boiling water. Simmer for about 2 minutes, then lift out and let drain on a baking sheet. (You don't have to drop these cooked greens into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking; they'll stay a crazy vibrant shade of green and will cool off soon enough anyway.)
- Repeat with the remaining nettles, using the same pot of blanching liquid the whole time.
- Keep the blanching liquid when you're done!!
That cooking liquid is, at its most basic form, nettle tea. If you also have dandelion greens, you can use the same liquid to blanch those, and then you'll have nettle and dandelion tea. (Katie from Path Valley says lots of people are gathering nettles and dandelions to create a "spring tonic" to improve their "sluggish liver.")
With the nettle and/or dandelion cooking liquid: Strain through a towel to remove any little particles. Voila, you've got nettle tea. Decant into bottles or jars and store in the refrigerator for up to a week or so. Drink on ice or warm it up and stir in a little honey!
To make a nettle, vinegar, and honey tonic:
- Warm up about a cup of the nettle tea, then add 1 to 2 tablespoons of honey, whisking to dissolve.
- Add 1 more cup of nettle tea plus 1 to 2 tablespoons of vinegar, stirring to mix. I used Keepwell's ginger vinegar, their lemon would be nice too; or use apple cider vinegar.
- Taste and adjust with more honey or vinegar as needed. (Note that the honey will dissolve best in warm liquid.)
To make a springy cocktail with your nettle tonic: Shake 1.5 ounces bourbon or rye with 1.5 ounces of your tonic in a cocktail shaker with some ice. Strain into a small glass. Doubles easily. :)
Now that you have blanched nettles, which are now totally safe to handle without worry of stings, you can basically use them anywhere you'd use cooked spinach: in soups or pestos, in a Persian kuku, in gnocchi, in crepes, in a spinach and artichoke dip situation, chopped and mixed into bread... wherever your imagination takes you!
When blending the nettles to make a puree, you can blend the whole thing up, stems and all (so long as your blender can handle it, of course). The leaves are quite pretty by themselves, so you may consider plucking a few off to top a pizza or focaccia.
I followed this recipe to make nettle potsticker dough, which I'm going to fill with a mix of mushrooms, carrots, watercress, and ramp kraut. Check back early next week for an update on that, plus a run down on watercress, dandelion greens, and, everyone's favorite, ramps. Happy cooking, all!
Herbs & Things: A Compendium of Practical and Exotic Herb Lore by Jeanne Rose
Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods, by Thomas S. Elias & Peter A Dykeman