For many people, stinging nettles conjure up images of nasty burning sensations caused by brushing against the nearly invisible spines or flowers of an otherwise lovely green plant. Nettles grow wild in damp, shady woods, and can reach several feet high.
However, when picked fresh before they start blooming, nettle leaves are a healthy spring tonic and a nutritional powerhouse. Cooking breaks down the chemical that causes the stinging sensation on skin, so cooked nettles are perfectly safe to eat.
Nettles can be steamed or sautéed in butter. Be sure to cook them until they are completely wilted. This isn’t a dish to sauté quickly. The top tender leaves are the best part, and they can also be used fresh in boiling water to make nettles tea.
Wear gloves when you pick nettles, wash the gloves before you handle them afterward, and I put my hands in plastic bags when working with them raw in the kitchen. Some say rinsing the nettles in cold water can help reduce the potential for getting stung. The sting is a very uncomfortable burning sensation and takes a few hours to go away. My friend Doolie says that the stem juice of ferns growing near stinging nettles will take away the burn almost immediately, but I haven’t had a chance to try it yet.
Nettles have a strong flavor that some people love and others only tolerate, so I like to cook nettles with other ingredients to blend the flavors. In this recipe they are sautéed with fresh button mushrooms. There’s something very satisfying about enjoying a walk in the woods, bringing home some leaves, and enjoying their delicious flavor for dinner.
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- 2 Tbsp butter (Breckinridge Farm, Everson)
- 8 large button mushrooms, sliced (Twin Sisters Mushroom Farm, Acme)
- 1 lb nettles leaves (wildcrafted at Gude Erth Farm, Lummi Island)
- 1/4 cup white wine (Legoe Bay Winery, Lummi Island)
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat (a little cooler than normal sauté temperature so nettles will cook thoroughly). Sauté the sliced mushrooms for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the nettles leaves and wine, cover the pan, and cook for another 3-5 minutes until nettles are completely wilted.
Goes well with Spinach and Beef Frittata.
Community Food Co-operative, Westerly and Cordata, Bellingham
Woods at my friend Nancy’s place, Gude Earth Farm, Lummi Island
Artisan Wine Gallery, Lummi Island