Hunter? No, gatherer – foraging stinging nettles

19 May
Stinging Nettle Botanical Illustration: Urtica dioica

Stinging Nettle Botanical Illustration: Urtica dioica

I have to admit that I am continuously intrigued by the idea of collecting food that I eat. There’s no real garden here at my apartment, so no chance to grow my own food (and to be fair, probably not enough time for me to spend in the garden…although everyone does choose their priorities.) But the more I look, the more I find here growing wild in the neighborhood, at least in the spring and summer months.

And these days as I run along the Isar, I keep seeing huge swaths of stinging nettles (“Brennessel” in German), which you want to avoid at all costs so that you don’t get stung. But I also see nettles on menus everywhere and can’t help but do fly-by readings of recipes with nettles (saw this one today by a food blogger I read who lives in Istanbul). I even saw wild nettles being sold at the Viktualienmarket in the past couple weeks right next to the ramps.

Today I finally gave in and read how to harvest the nasty prickly plants. Very easy, in fact. Just put on some rubber gloves. I got on my bike and only had to go perhaps 500 meters before coming to the first big patch of the weed. I read that it is best to only harvest nettles that have not yet flowered, and to take only the top-most leaves of the plant, which are more tender and flavorful.

Foraging for nettles in my neighborhood

Foraging for nettles in my neighborhood

I gathered a big bagful of them and headed back to the apartment to prepare them. I don’t recall ever actually eating nettles in the past, so I did wonder what to cook with them. What would they taste like? According to Wikipedia:

Stinging nettle has a flavour similar to spinach and cucumber when cooked and is rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Young plants were harvested by Native Americans and used as a cooked plant in spring when other food plants were scarce.

This morning one recipe had finally caught my eye: a fresh pasta sauce made with nettles, mint, parsley, chives, lemons and ricotta cheese. Wizzed up in a blender, the sauce becomes a velvety brilliant green coating for the pasta, which gets tossed with toasted pinenuts and watercress (my slight adaptation from the original recipe).

After you get the leaves back to your kitchen, you soak them in cold water for a few minutes, which I did, and then spun them dry. Supposedly that should start to neutralize the stingers.(I didn’t test them yet at that point. Rubber gloves stayed on).

Prepping the nettle leaves

Prepping the nettle leaves

Then you boil them in water for about 5 minutes. And that *does* neutralize the little stingers. After that, you’re almost done.

And the flavour? Very nice. Quite subtle – especially with the ricotta cheese to smooth things out. I found another recipe which perhaps I’ll try in the next few days. It looks more focused on the flavor of the leaves. They do indeed taste quite spinachy, although the leaves look not SO unlike marijuana leaves, and I thought there was a hint of a pot/hemp flavor/smell to the sauce.

But I think the Hugo I was drinking was the only thing that made my head swim a bit. πŸ™‚

Stinging Nettle Pasta

Stinging Nettle Pasta


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2 responses to “Hunter? No, gatherer – foraging stinging nettles

  1. Larry Nathan

    May 22, 2012 at 12:43 am

    Your double negative is quite impressive!
    Not from Larry.

    • diginibble

      May 22, 2012 at 6:28 am

      Don’t think I have a double negative in there….:-P Just a negative.


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