Harvesting in your backyard: Stinging nettles

It's so excellent when you can find local produce, but free and hyper-local - what could be better?

The last few years I've been drinking nettle tea. Yes, stinging nettles don't sound too appealing, but they're terrific for you: loaded with iron, up to 40% protein when dried, vitamins and minerals galore! Saute or steam them like other greens or drink in fresh or dried form, nettles are an inexpensive and interesting way to get essential nutrients in your diet.

First step: Harvest the nettles. Right now is the prime time to harvest stinging nettles. The properties of the plant change when they become mature and/or go to seed. *Note: Consult wild edible guidebooks for instructions, pictures and notes on harvesting or just look for them with a knowledgeable friend.* But, whatever you do, I suggest wearing gloves - that stinging sensation, though not harmful, is not always a welcome feeling.

If you want to make nettle tisane (not technically tea since it's an herbal mixture), cut the nettles. You can drink them fresh by letting the leaves steep under boiling water for at least 10 minutes to allow the stinging property to dissipate. I prefer to dry the nettles; they store for months in mason jar. Simply tie them with kitchen twine or a twist tie, hang in a paper bag with holes or upside down in a cool yet dry place where your nettles aren't susceptible to moisture or mold. The other option(s):

  1. Place nettles on a baking sheet, set your oven to the lowest setting and dry until the leaves easily crunch/break apart when touched. 
  2. Microwave for 1-2 minutes or so (never used this option, so consult preserving or drying resources for instructions as well as your microwave settings).
If using dry, simply put a heaping teaspoon of the dried leaves in a tea ball or strainer, submerge in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove and add a sweetener of choice (optional). Also delish as iced tea - alone or as part of an herbal blend.

(Beautiful image above from the flickr photostream of sassyradish)