Nettles (Urtica dioica), a vibrant spring medicinal, can be delicious in the kitchen
Well known for their fine stinging hairs, nettles may have risen to fame due to the pain caused by their prickly leaves. But hidden below their tough exterior lies a vibrant spring medicinal that shows their true nature. Used throughout Europe as a classic spring tonic, nettles have been revered through the ages as a valuable plant healer. One of the first herbaceous plants to emerge in spring, they offer a burst of rich, green, nutrient-dense foliage that is beneficial for humans and wildlife alike. In the kitchen, nettles are used for their flavor and rich mineral composition. When cooked, the prickly hairs are denatured, rendering the leaves edible and delicious in a variety of dishes. Take special care when handling the leaves and stems of this stinging plant, and protect your hands by wearing gloves!
Traditionally used by herbalists for their cleansing, detoxifying, and antihistamine properties, nettles make for an ideal springtime tonic following the cold and dormant months of winter. Taken most often as a tea, nettle leaves can be enjoyed fresh (after cooking or steeping) or dried and saved for the months ahead.
WHERE TO FIND NETTLES
While nettles grow wild in many parts of Northern California and beyond, I rarely encourage collecting plants from their natural habitats. Plants (and animals) are vital components of their ecosystems, and without proper training on how to sustainably harvest them, you run the risk of damaging the ecosystem you’re collecting from. Instead, I choose to support local herb growers or grow my own.
I purchase my nettles from local growers such as the Sonoma County Herb Exchange. Based in Sebastopol, the Herb Exchange is run by the Sonoma County Herb Association, a small nonprofit that promotes and encourages the mindful and sustainable use of medicinal herbs throughout the Bay Area. Started in 1999, the Exchange is a collective of local growers, herbalists, and medicine makers joined by their love and reverence for the plant world. Supporting the Herb Exchange is a wonderful option for folks looking to acquire fresh herbs.
Editor’s note: One Northstate grower is Capay Rancho Herb Co, in Orland (530.736.7308). Nettles are growing there now, if you want to phone. In June, the Company will be at the Chico Saturday Farmers’ Market. Cove Crest Farm & Winery in Montgomery Creek also grows nettles. Contact the farm at 530.337.6119.
Anna Marie Beauchemin is a trained clinical herbalist, educator, and writer based in Martinez, California. She works throughout the San Francisco Bay Area offering herbal consultations, workshops, and trainings. She loves writing about the intersection between the culinary and medicinal worlds and creating seasonally relevant herbal recipes. Learn more at eastbayherbals.com.