yummy stinging nettles

March 7. ‘Tis the season to sing in praise of nettles. Delicious, nutritious, vitaminious, prolific, carefree. They come up on their own in the hoophouse and by February we’re harvesting. They keep producing tender leaves until the weather heats up at the end of May. I leave a plant every six feet or so to reseed the bed when I plant summer greenhouse crops, and they wait quietly to begin again when winter comes back around.

The serrated leaf tips have tiny needles filled with formic acid. When these edges bump straight on into skin, the acid is injected, raising little welts and accounting for the stinging in the name. Brush along the flat surface and feel no pain—or wear gloves, no big deal. Some people recoil even from the sight of our nettle seed packets and wonder why we’d want to proliferate such an unpleasant weed. They haven’t tried them lightly steamed, or stir-fried in olive oil with garlic, and they’ve certainly never had nesto.
I was introduced to nesto by my extraordinary cousin Jane Bell during her years on Alaska’s Kenai peninsula, where nettle-eating was an eagerly anticipated rite of spring. (See Jane’s website for her flower essence formulas and classes.) Her recipe, approximately:
         2 T. sunflower seeds lightly sauteed in garlic oil or ghee
         3-6 cloves minced garlic
         2 c steamed nettles, drained
         3T parmesan cheese
         olive oil to cover and create the consistency you want
I do it now with fresh uncooked nettles; blending the leaves breaks open the formic acid pouches and the acid is neutralized.
On her regular trips to the Bay Area, Lin delivers our nettles to Phoenix Pastaficio in Berkeley. Here’s Eric happy to get a bag. He and Carole offer nettle pasta and ravioli. The ravioli, stuffed with Eric’s mixture of cheeses and nettles, are also on the menu at Green’s Restaurant in San Francisco.
I also dry nettles for calcium-rich tea, and make a beautifully bright green vodka tincture. The old plants go into compost tea to supply garden plants with minerals. All in all, totally worth the occasional sting. (And don’t forget we have seeds…)