While hiking with my husband a few weekends back, we happened upon some weeds that I felt fairly certain were stinging nettle. I didn’t have a guide book with me though, so I decided to come back when I had done more research. I consulted Samuel Thayer’s book The Forager’s Harvest and confirmed that what we had seen was most likely stinging nettle. I made my way back to the same spot this morning and was happy to see even more of the plant than I’d spotted on the last trip. I also found out the way to confirm without a doubt that the plant was nettle: get stung by it.
Thayer has this to say about the sting from nettle: “I find that the hinderance of getting stung is not nearly as great as the hinderance of having to find and carry gloves, or the simple displeasure of wearing them…In my area the plants have few stingers, and these inflict mid stings.” I’ll part ways with Thayer on this point, since although he is correct that the sting is not particularly painful, it’s still annoying and something I prefer to live without. It’s not a hassle for me to put on gloves and I’d rather not get stung if I don’t have to. The pain of the sting lasts about 20 seconds and is followed by a little raised bump that lasts a few hours, as you can see in the above photo.
Most books on wild edibles will caution the reader against over-foraging. It’s important to leave enough of the plant so that it can continue to propigate itself. As you can see from the photos below, there is enough nettle in this particular area for me and about a hundred of my closest friends. No danger of extinction here.
(The photos show just a tiny portion of the nettle growing in this area. It was by far the most prolific plant there.)
I took home enough stinging nettle to try two experiments. The first experiment will be making a tea with the fresh plant. The second experiment will be drying the rest of my harvest to make an infusion with at a later date. (The plant has strong nutritional value, is high in vitamins and minerals, and is sometimes used to treat allergies.) Thayer advises using nettle as a side dish to meat or fish. (The stinging property of nettle goes away when the plant is boiled or dried.) I’ve even seen recipes on the internet for nettle pasta, which might be fun to try.