Stinging Nettle –Urtica dioica
(In Irish: Neantóg / Leanntóg)
In a world that seems to be dominated by fast and convenient food, do you ever wonder if there’s such a thing as a free meal? Inspired by the “obviously” impending apocalypse and my love for survival, I aim to share the best food that can be found in the wild.
Remember as always, you may think you know a plant but always be cautious and cross-reference to be 100% sure it is the correct plant. Non-edible and poisonous look-alikes could fool you.
I know what you’re thinking, why in the world would I want to go near a wild food plant that has the potential to sting me over and over? The stuff of childhood nightmares! Well, if you don’t understand, you must try one of the delicious nettle recipes, like the mouth-watering stinging nettle pesto!
Also known as the common nettle or less commonly as Urtica dioica its scientific name, this green plant is well known for causing intense stinging pain and havoc when brushed against unsuspecting skin.
Abundant in Ireland, nettles love the rich and fertile soil that is common to this green land and is well known as a wild food.
When foraging nettles you can identify them by their lush green colour and serrated pear-shaped leaves. If you want to know where to find nettle leaves, look along rivers and streams and in damp areas. Although in truth, you can find them all over the country!
The best time of year to forage in Ireland for nettles is during March, April and May just before they blossom and seed.
When foraging pick nettles try to stay away from roadsides or crops to make sure they haven’t been sprayed.
It’s worth noting that there’s a difference between stinging nettles and dead nettles (Lamium purpureum). Dead nettles are very similar in appearance with a slightly more elongated leaf and no sting. But the good news is that they’re also edible.
For those who have had their curiosity triggered will want to know how to cook this delicious zingy plant.
How to harvest and cook stinging nettles
Pick only the young and tender leaves closest to the top of the plant. The older leaves tend to taste quite bitter whereas the young leaves are similar to spinach but with a slightly punchy peppery taste. It is a good idea to wear gloves if you want to avoid sore, stung fingers when harvesting or chopping.
I’d recommend cooking foraged nettle leaves the same way you cook fresh greens, such as spinach, and it’s great to add to a soup, stir fry, scrambled eggs or even to make a cup of nettle tea!
What’s also fantastic about the stinging nettle plant is that you can dry or freeze the leaves for later use, but to be honest when cooking they’re definitely best used fresh. Once the plant is cooked or dried its sting will be gone so you won’t have to worry about getting stung. Phew!
Aside from cooking, this wondrous wild food has also been used as a cleansing tonic for centuries. Nettle is known for its healing ability to flush away toxins from the body to keep you revitalised and restored.
Stinging nettle as fertiliser
When foraging in Ireland you can almost always find dock leaves growing near nettles which is amazing as we learned growing up to use their properties to ease nettle stings. Just rub them directly onto the affected area.
As the old Irish saying goes: “Neantóg a dhóigh mé agus cupóg a leigheas mé” (A nettle stung me and a dock leaf cured me!)
As always, happy, safe and sustainable foraging.