Foraging for Nettles: It’s Fun, I Promise!

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If you think that gathering stinging nettles is not your cup of tea, I really hope to change your mind. Nettles are one of the first things that can be foraged, at the first sign of spring, and they are extremely plentiful. Stinging nettle has a long list of health-enhancing properties, and is good for eating, drinking, and use as a medicinal tonic (both internally and externally.)  The stems of the plant have also traditionally been used for making fibers– twine and linen-like materials. And to think that we generally regard them as weeds!We hadn’t gone to gather anything for a long time– since we had ventured into our neighbor-woods and came home with baskets full of elderberries (which we turned into elderberry wine!)  After a couple days of mild weather, we thought that maybe there might be some nettle making their appearance nearby. We all grabbed thick gloves, scissors or clippers, bags and baskets, and headed out to our nearby greenways. I really wondered if we might be too early, but it was nice to get out for a walk, and the end of winter has such a unique beauty. Plus, it’s always exciting to spot some of the first signs of spring!

There were nettles growing back, after all. At first, I was a little unsure, since there were so many varieties growing together. I did a quick google search to make sure that everything was nettle, and of course did the old sting test on myself as well. Sure enough! We’ve all been stung by nettles before, and it does really hurt. Amelia has become an expert at identifying them. I had stopped to point them out to her many times last year, but it wasn’t until she put her face into a bunch to smell them that she really developed an eye for the plant! No problems ever since, as you might imagine! We were all gloved and wearing long sleeves, so besides my voluntary test and a couple other minor pricks, no one got hurt.

We were good foragers, and only snipped the tops off of about 10% of each section we found. It took  a long time to gather the amount we were after, but it couldn’t have been more pleasant!

There was so much to see, all within a mile from our house (and yes, we live inside a city!)

There were clusters of snowdrops, warty tree trunks, and algae-coated swamps…

I loved seeing the remains of last summer’s bounty…

And watching my two favorite people hunt for food.

After a couple of hours, we realized that we would, indeed, have enough nettles for making beer!

As if having two bags stuffed full of nettles wasn’t enough, we had a wonderful visit with a flock of very friendly sheep on our way home. I think they wanted some of our bounty.
We weighed our haul when we got home, and it was almost a kilogram. That is a really good amount! Stings were minimal, and we all had such a relaxing afternoon. I started the process for making Nettle Beer as soon as we got home, and it’s bubbling away in a demijohn nearby as I type this. I’ll write up a full post on how to make it in about a week or so, when I have the finished product. (Update: It turned out great, and now you can read about Making Wild Nettles Beer.)

After I used the nettle to brew the beer tea, I also pureed the greens and made a really wonderful dip with roasted garlic– it was a gorgeous deep emerald color, and was so delicious. Nettles are a new favorite over here, and we have a few months of good picking ahead of us!
If you are new to foraging and want to learn more, I would recommend picking up a book or two about it. I have Food for Free and The Thrifty Forager, and like them both. The Forager’s Harvest is on my wishlist, and of course there are regional guides for where you are living, providing helpful info on when and where to look for what. Foraging is tons of fun, and we have a whole year ahead of us of tasty pickings!
Have you picked nettles before? Would you like to give it a shot?
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Foraging for Nettles...

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41 Responses to Foraging for Nettles: It’s Fun, I Promise!

  1. Joanna March 5, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    So jealous of all that spring green, we had another foot of snow over the weekend. Heh ho! I like to pick nettles in spring too, that and ground elder as they are both up about the same time and by then we are craving green foods. I have used gently nettles to make a nest for eggs and then cooked them like that as well as nettle soup.

    • Ariana Mullins March 7, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

      Joanna, I will have to look up ground elder and see if we have some around. We really liked the flavor of the cooked nettes (except my daughter, unfortunately– this was one fo those rare foods she really struggled with.) I hope your snow melts quickly!

    • Joanna March 7, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

      I think you will find plenty of ground elder. It is annoyingly invasive and is often found in veg and flower beds. By eating it, you are keeping it under control.

      Here’s a recipe to get you going when you find some

    • Ariana Mullins March 8, 2013 at 11:39 am #

      Oh, yes– we do have plenty of that! Will definitely have to start eating it. Another that we have a serious abundance of is stickyweed– but that is a little harder to eat (we’ve tried– still velcro-like and stringy.) We might have to turn it into wine or a medicinal vinegar…

  2. Hazel March 5, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    I love stinging nettles (and actually, you can cook red and white dead nettles in exactly the same way. We used to suck the nectar from the flowers as children.)
    I’ve made nettle gnocchi and pasta,(though they won’t be of much use to you!),frittatas, pesto and lots of nettle soup. I use them in any recipe where you’d use spinach- I do like the sound of the dip.

    I also dry some and grind it to a powder for humans and animals over the winter- I occasionally add it to poultry feed, dog food, dog biscuits, stews…

    • Hazel March 5, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

      Oh, and nettles are actually anti-histamine (rubbing a nettle sting with a nettle is a remedy I haven’t tried, but that’s reputed to work!) so I make nettle tea for my eldest daughter who has hayfever. I mix it with peppermint or lemon balm as she’s not keen on the taste!

    • Ariana Mullins March 7, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

      I hadn’t thought of drying and grinding them… I am guessing that would work alright for the later nettles that might be too tough to eat ordinarily? Also, you have some very lucky pets!

  3. Bonnie Rose March 5, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    Wow I had no idea! Going to read up on nettles now. Would love to find a book of things to forage for because that sounds like a great idea for our country walks.

    BonnieRose | The Compass Rose

    • Hazel March 6, 2013 at 8:31 am #

      Hi Bonnie Rose- Just had a quick look at your blog and I think you’re still living in the UK?

      Food for Free by Richard Mabey is a ‘classic’ foraging book, and I like that it will fit in a pocket. Wild Food by Roger Phillips is another.
      I also like The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler and she lives in a city so she includes foods that you’d find in large parks.

      I often find books in second hand and charity shops, so it’s worth keeping an eye out in those.

      (BTW I saw you lived in Upper Heyford as a child- that’s just down the road from me!)

    • Ariana Mullins March 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

      Yes, those are the same two (Mabey and Fowler) I have, and I really like them. I highly recommend picking up a book or two to get you started. We don’t have a TV, but I remember when we first moved here I watched quite a bit in our temporary housing and love that there was a show devoted to foraging and preparing the found bounty!

  4. March 5, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    You are SO my kind of girl!!!!!

  5. Nell Heshram March 5, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    How wonderful! Makes me feel envious. Fantastic pics…

    • Ariana Mullins March 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

      It was pretty wonderful! So glad you enjoyed coming with us through the photos.

  6. Coombe Mill March 6, 2013 at 12:08 am #

    I love the afternoon out and that you all had a purpose with nettle collecting. I am intrigued to see the beer making. Please do join my Country Kids linky too, a perfect family afternoon out.

    • Ariana Mullins March 7, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

      I’ll hopefully be able to post all about the beer-making process next week– I used a wild yeast, and it is working hard and fast!

  7. Anonymous March 6, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Ariana, i’ve never picked nettles before but was stung by them once many years ago when i was living in england. Never knew they were edible. Enjoy the beer. Lina

    • Ariana Mullins March 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

      It kind of redeems them a bit, don’t you think? 🙂

  8. Amanda March 6, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    If you suffer during allergy season, i would highly recommend drinking a cup or two of nettle tea mixed with local honey. I didn’t really believe that teas were effective remedies, but my boyfriend has introduced me to echinacea tea (immune system boost), nettle tea (stuffy nose), and more… and they do have a surprisingly strong effect!

    How cool that you are able to spend an afternoon gathering some up and be able to say hi yo some friendly sheep along the way!

    • Ariana Mullins March 7, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

      Yes, the sheep are always a huge bonus. It makes an outing feel so much more complete. And I have heard the same about nettles and allergies– great to hear your success story! We do try to eat local honey, since that is also supposed to help. I love learning about local plants– most of them have so many valuable benefits, and we’re just treating everything like weeds– for shame!

  9. Nicole March 6, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    Stopping by from Wildcrafting Wednesday! This is awesome! And perfect timing. Did you know you can make rennet for making cheese from stinging nettles? I’m going to try it soon.

    • Ariana Mullins March 7, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

      I did NOT know about making rennet from nettles. Thanks for letting me know!

  10. Mindie Dittemore March 6, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    I found your post on Wildcrafting Wednesday. Your title crabbed me 🙂 I had never thaught about nettles before but you have opened my eyes to possibilities! Thank you!

    • Ariana Mullins March 7, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

      I’m glad you came over, Mindie, and I hope you try it!

  11. livesimplenatural March 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    Nettles are popping up here in Northwest Washington, US as well and I’m looking forward to picking some! I found you via Wildcrafting Wednesday- lovely blog and those sheep were just adorable!

    • Ariana Mullins March 7, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

      Thank you for introducing yourself, so glad you found me, and that you enjoyed the sheep. Having them nearby is one of our favorite parts of living in England.

  12. [email protected] March 8, 2013 at 1:33 am #

    I am thinking about making soup with nettles! This is a lovely post — from foraging to kids to sheep! Just what I love! This is going on my facebook page!

    • Ariana Mullins March 8, 2013 at 11:51 am #

      So glad you enjoyed this post, Jill, and thanks for sharing!

  13. Carolyn March 9, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    If you lived near me, you wouldn’t have to forage for them. They are taking over my flowerbeds and son’s play area! Your family gets sick for a few weeks and they just creep up on you!

  14. bellavistafarm March 12, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    I bought my first stinging nettle plant saturday and can’t wait to plant it! Could not find any wild near me in Georgia so hopefully these multiply quick. 🙂

  15. Kathy @ Mind Body and Sole March 13, 2013 at 4:37 am #

    Great post, and beautiful pictures! There’s so much I don’t know about wildcrafting! 🙂 So thanks for sharing this on Wildcrafting Wednesday, and congratulations on being this week’s Featured Blogger! 🙂

  16. Nancy W March 13, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    Love this post, I didn’t know about using nettles to make beer! So glad you shared this on Wildcrafting Wednesday! Congratulations on being featured as well!

  17. Jason A. Dennison April 8, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    Awesome Post! I Love all things wild edible or foraging related. Nettles are a favorite resource of mine as well, and your Love of nature and the outdoors as well as your appreciation for the seasonal changes are infectious! I Look Forward to reading more of your posts and supporting your wonderful site!

  18. Meg April 29, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    I have a ton of these in my yard. I am not sure I will be able to do the beer this year, but are you going to post the spread recipe you made? I have never done anything with nettles, so I have no clue on how to figure it out on my own. Thanks!

  19. Ingrid Sperow June 11, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    I love your blog!! Thank you for sharing your life and love.
    -Ingrid, nearby San Francisco, CA


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