Many of us have met the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). As kids, we most likely encountered them horsing around in the fields of grasses with friends, only to be surprised by those stinging plants. But what we probably didn’t learn is how nutritious and delicious the nettles are as a wild edible!
Fresh, cooked nettles taste similar to spinach. Nettles are rich in vitamins and minerals and more nutrient-dense than many grocery store greens. Use nettles in recipes for soups, egg scrambles, quiches or stir-fries.
To find nettles, take to the fields in springtime (April-June) and seek out areas of nutrient-rich, damp soil. Nettles are commonly found along rivers, streams and damp fields that often flood. Avoid harvesting nettles in areas adjacent to or downstream from factories and farms, or in urban areas known for lead.
Nettles have tiny hairs along the stem that trigger a histamine reaction and can feel like fiberglass. Be sure to gather nettles wearing harvesting gloves and long pants. Back in the kitchen, wash, chop and prepare your nettles for myriad recipes! Cooking or drying the nettles dissipates the hairs, making them suitable to eat.
Pour yourself a glass of Michigan pinot blanc and try my recipe for nettle risotto below, which also can feature fresh Michigan morels.
Wildcrafted Nettle Risotto
¼ pound young nettles
12 ounces arborio rice
1 onion, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup dry Michigan white wine (an extra glass for the chef)
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped fresh Michigan morels – optional
¼ cup chopped, fresh parsley
Fresh lemon zest
Salt, pepper to taste
Heat the stock in a large saucepan. Wash the nettle leaves and sauté with the onion, morels and rice in a large skillet. Deglaze the mix with the wine and cook over low heat until all the wine has evaporated. Add 1 cup stock and leave the risotto to cook while stirring occasionally. Add ½ cup stock at a time as the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue cooking for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender. Stir in the parsley, parmesan, salt and pepper and serve immediately.