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Spring Produce Primer

Everything You Need to Know About Nettles

Pizza with Garlic Cream and Nettles. © Fredrika Stjärne

Three cheers for the first person who dared to pluck a stinging nettle from the ground and cook it. The delicious leafy greens are a favorite of foragers and they’re a breeze to cook—as long as you respect their painful stingers and wear gloves at all times while preparing them. Also, don't touch your eyes!

Flavor Profile: Nettles have a rich, earthy, spinach-like flavor with a slight tang.

How to Eat Them: Nettles are of the genus Urtica, derived from the Latin uro, which translates to “I burn” and, boy, do they. Luckily, cooking nettles or soaking them in water gets rid of the stinging chemicals in the plant. Once that’s taken care of, the greens can be made into a delicious sauce for pasta, pureed with cream for a fantastic soup or used as a seasonal topping for pizza.

Health Benefits: They’re high in iron, potassium, manganese, calcium and vitamins A and C, plus they’re a good source of protein. Nettles are also used in some shampoos to control dandruff and boost hair’s glossiness.

Fun Fact: There’s an annual World Nettle Eating Championship in England. Brave/crazy competitors face off to eat as much of the raw plant [ouch!] as possible.

Where to Buy Them: Anywhere in the US, except for Hawaii. Nettles are most abundant in places with lots of rain.

When: January through July (though they are best during early spring, when the leaves are small and tender).

What to Shop For: Bright green leaves with pale green undersides.

Related: F&W's Foraging Guide
31 Recipes for Spring Produce
Delicious Spring Soups

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