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Stinging Nettle: Harvesting, Processing and Recipes

Ad-Blog-HerbalThose of us living in the Pacific Northwest (and many other regions around the world) are fortunate to be gifted every spring with an abundance of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica).  While it’s sting can be unpleasant, it teaches us to pay attention to our surroundings and I believe that’s a good thing.  It also offers food, medicine and fiber if one knows how to properly harvest it.  Here at the Wolf College, we adhere as closely as we can to the following Honorable Harvesting Guidelines for every plant we collect:

  1. Do you need it?  Harvest with a purpose or plan in mind, not just for the fun of it.
  2. Harvest only as much as you will use and process it as soon as possible (don’t waste it).
  3. 1 in 20 rule.  It is ok to harvest a plant if there are 20 others available to maintain the population.
  4. Leave Grandmother.  Allow the biggest and best plants to remain so they can continue to propagate the healthiest population.
  5. Leave damaged plants or plants with “residents.”  Select quality material for your food and medicine.  If a critter makes it’s home there, choose another.  Harvest 1/3 or less of an individual plant (leave some roots) so it can continue to survive and thrive.
  6. Harvest with a clean cut so the plant will heal well and continue to survive and thrive.
  7. Avoid polluted areas.
  8. Offer appreciation and bring positive energy to your harvest.
  9. Never put anything in your mouth unless you are 100% sure it is safe to ingest.

How do I identify Stinging Nettle?

Fortunately stinging nettle has a distinctive look to it.  You’ll notice the first leaves emerging from snow or soil in late January (in the Pacific Northwest).  The leaves and stem are vibrant green and pubescent (hairy), sometimes with a hint of purple.  As the nettle grows, the strongly serrate/toothed margins or edges of the leaves become more evident.  Each leaf has a twin on the opposite side of the erect central stem and they’re arranged such that one pair is in the 12 and 6 o’clock positions.  The next set down is slightly larger and is at 3 and 9 o’clock.  The next set down is even larger and back at 12 and 6 o’clock, and so on.  The leaves have a characteristic heart shape to them with a small stem attaching the cleft or top of the heart to the central stem.  The base or point of the heart aims away from the central stem.

By late spring, the nettles are 3 to 6+ feet high, the largest leaves are upwards of 7 inches long and they are flowering lovely whitish/greenish inflorescences or clusters.  These clusters will soon go to seed and become slightly brown.  And as late summer turns to autumn, the leaves will wither and fall and the stems will turn from green to brown to whitish/gray as they overwinter.  The bare stalks may decompose completely before new leaves emerge from the underground rhizomes or they may remain to oversee the beginning of the next generation of foliage.

If you are still unsure whether a plant is indeed a stinging nettle, you can opt to touch it and see what happens.  If you feel a sting and a small welt arises, then you have confirmation of the plant’s identity.  If not, then perhaps you could consult a field guide such as Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and MacKinnon (the best field guide, bar none, for this region).

Here you can see the characteristic heart shape and serrate edges of a stinging nettle leaf.

Here you can see the characteristic heart shape and serrate edges of a stinging nettle leaf.

Wolf Camp and the Wolf College founder, Chris Chisholm, about to harvest Stinging Nettle (the Pacific Northwest's #2 survival food) for dinner.

Wolf Camp and the Wolf College founder, Chris Chisholm, about to harvest Stinging Nettle (the Pacific Northwest’s #2 survival food) for dinner.

These young nettles emerged in late January here in Washington.  At this size, I harvest the top and throw them into a stir fry.

These young nettles emerged in late January here in Washington. At this size, I harvest the tops and throw them into a stir fry.

When do I harvest Stinging Nettle?

You may harvest nettles from the time the new leaves emerge from the ground until late fall after the flowers have gone to seed but before the rains begin to rot the stems (while they still maintain their green color and have leaves attached).  It all depends upon your goal.

If you would like to use nettles for food or tea, then harvest them before they flower.  Some believe that at this stage the nettles form cystoliths or calcium concretions (aka bladder stones) that are bad for the urinary tract.  You can find many online sources that say nettles at that stage are bad for the kidneys.  I’ve not personally found scientific evidence that nettles are harmful after flowering and I don’t want to spread mistruths. Alternately, I don’t want to offer advice that could do harm. So I shall err on the side of caution and recommend that you harvest prior to flowering until reliable and replicatable evidence to the contrary becomes available.

This stinging nettle is starting to flower and will soon go to seed.  Many believe nettle ought not to be harvested for food during or after this stage.

This stinging nettle is starting to flower and will soon go to seed. Many believe nettle ought not to be harvested for food during or after this stage.

Fortunately, individual plants will often be at different reproductive stages depending on their location, substrate, overstory, etc.  So, look around and you can usually find some that are harvestable where others are not. I like to harvest nettles for rope-making after they’ve gone to seed (this allows for propagation) and prior to heavy rains that will cause the stems to rot.

How do I harvest Stinging Nettle without getting stung?

The easy answer is to use scissors and wear long sleeves, long pants and work gloves.  But it’s much more interesting to harvest nettles when you understand how the stinging process works and learn how to handle (and even eat!) them sans gloves without getting stung.  When looking at a stinging nettle, you can see little hairs on the stem and leaves.  These hairs are hollow and when they get under your skin, the tips break off and allow the formic acid (among other things) under your skin.  Now I don’t know if every hair is hollow or if every hollow hair has acid associated with it.  I do know that sometimes the lightest touch will get you stung and sometimes it takes effort to get stung.  The key is that the hairs on the leaves all aim from the cleft or top of the leaf to the point or bottom of the leaf.  If you run your finger from cleft to point, you will not get stung and you will impress your friends.  If you run your finger from the pointy end up toward the cleft and central stem, chances are excellent you will get stung.  It’s as simple as that.

Wolf Camp and the Wolf College co-owner and lead instructor, Kim Chisholm, demonstrates how to safely harvest stinging nettle leaves without gloves.

Wolf Camp and the Wolf College co-owner and lead instructor, Kim Chisholm, demonstrates how to safely harvest stinging nettle leaves without gloves.

Let’s imagine you wish to harvest some nettles, and you have your scissors but forgot your gloves.  No problem, you say, because you know the secret (or you pull your sleeves down over your fingers).  All you to do is cut the portion you need, hover your fingers above and below the leaf, then pinch it.  Voila, no sting, because you know the hairs don’t point straight out, they angle down the leaf.  All you’ve done is press them flat against the leaf where they cannot poke you.  Good job!  Now you can place the nettle in your collecting bag and continue harvesting.  If you’ve forgotten your scissors, you can harvest leaf by leaf (but that takes a long time).  If you choose to go this route, be extra careful.  When you select your leaf and pinch it, look at the location of the nearby leaves before you pull it from the stem.  Beware the smaller upper leaves that dangle down and zap the top of your hand.  And be mindful of the larger lower leaves that sneak out and get you on the wrist as you’re watching out for the wily upper leaves.  Stinging nettle is a plant that demands respect and I honor it.

What part do I harvest?

stinging-nettle-hairs-close-upI harvest the tender tops (usually 4-6 leaves or 2-3 leaf sets) for food.  There are a number of species of moth and butterfly larvae that feed on nettles.  Check the terminal (top) bud for signs of an inhabitant before harvesting.  It just takes a quick glance to notice that the tip has been chewed, is slightly blackened or there is frass (waste material from plant-eating insects) visible.  If the nettles are very young then I only harvest the top bud and first leaf set.  Harvesting the terminal (top) bud will stimulate lateral bud growth causing the plant to become more bushy and allowing you to harvest continually from the same plant.

For fiber, harvest the entire stem.  Clip it near the ground.  If you’re wearing gloves, grasp the base in one hand and run your other hand from base to tip in order to strip off the leaves.  I strip it where I harvest it and allow the leaves to remain, decompose and provide nutrients to the soil from whence they came.

How do I process Stinging Nettle for food?

Give critters a chance to escape from freshly harvested nettles prior to processing or storing.

Give critters a chance to escape from freshly harvested nettles prior to processing or storing.

When I return home with my harvest, I’ll decide whether to use them right away or store them for later use.  If using them right away, I’ll often lay them out on a clean surface or in a colander for a few minutes to allow critters a moment to escape.  Then I run them under cold tap water to rinse away any dirt or debris and give them a last look before processing.

Dry your nettles and use them to make a delicious and nutritious tea.  It is excellent on its own and also tasty when added to mint or pine family tea.

Dry your nettles and use them to make a delicious and nutritious teas.

If you’re not concerned about a little dirt or extra protein, then they’re fine to use as is.  Please do not put them directly into a salad or you and your guests will be in for an unpleasant surprise.  I recommend handling them with gloves or tongs at this point, though you can choose to do it without.  Freshly harvested nettle will store in a bag in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator, unwashed, for at least 2-3 days (probably longer).  When you’re ready for them, just pull them out, rinse if you wish and go for it!

If you would like to dry your nettles for tea, there are many options.  I put mine in a paper bag or cardboard box in front of my furnace and let the warm, blowing air do the job.  Resist the urge to reach in and stir them up because they can still sting you while they’re moist.  Once they’re dry, they are much safer to handle since they lose the ability to sting.  However, the hairs are still there and can be irritating to the skin or give you a sliver if you’re not careful.  You can tell they are ready to store in a glass jar when the stems snap.  Make sure not to dry them to the point where they lose their green color and turn brown or black.  You can also hang them to dry, use a dehydrator or be creative with your method.  It’s just fine to use fresh plant material to make tea, I just prefer the taste of dried nettle.

I run my fresh nettles through a food processor, then store them in the freezer for later use.

I run fresh nettles through a food processor, then freeze them to store.

Sometimes I like to freeze my nettles for use throughout the year.  I toss them, raw, into my food processor and process until finely chopped.  Then I put them into freezer-safe containers and store until I need them.  The mechanical action of the food processor will break the hollow hairs so they are unable to sting you.  Some people recommend blanching the nettles (adding them to boiling water, plunging into ice water, then using).  I prefer to store and use them raw because many of the nutrients I want to ingest are lost to the water and thrown out when blanching.  Experiment and you will find a way that works best for you and your family.

What kinds of foods can I make with Stinging Nettle?

Steam stinging nettle on top of your veggie stir fry or mix in as you would spinach.

Steam stinging nettle on top of your veggie stir fry or mix in as you would spinach.

Stinging nettle can substitute for spinach in any cooked recipe (they lose their sting when cooked).  You can add them to lasagna, make pasta with them, throw them in soups or stews, etc.  Online recipes abound.

My favorite ways to eat nettles are:  a simple saute, steamed on top of sauteed veggies or a raw pesto.   To make the saute, melt a little butter, Smart Balance or heat your oil of choice in a skillet.  Toss in your nettles (I leave the stems on if tender, or I saute with tough stems and cut them off prior to serving), saute until crisp (your first time), add salt and pepper to taste, then enjoy.

Cooking the nettles will neutralize the sting, but the hairs are still visible.  This can be rather alarming when eating them for the first few times.  That’s why I recommend cooking until crisp – so you feel a little more confident.  You can vary the time/tenderness in the future to suit your individual preference.

Here’s my recipe for Raw Stinging Nettle Pesto:

  •  5-6 packed cups raw stinging nettle (you can choose to wash or not)
  • 3/4 c parmesan – grated (the food processor will take care of it, too, if you wish to throw in a chunk instead)
  • 2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 c toasted pine nuts (or nut of choice)
  • 2 garlic cloves (more if you love garlic
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil to preferred consistency (approx. 1/4 to 1/2 cup)
Jewelweed is one of the many potential remedies for a stinging nettle sting.  It works for me every time!

Jewelweed is one of the many potential natural remedies for a stinging nettle sting. It works for me every time!

Place the first 5 ingredients into your food processor and turn it on or pulse.  Slowly add olive oil until it reaches your desired consistency.  Serve with crackers, chopped vegetables or on pasta.  The pesto will turn dark on top as the plant material is exposed to air (like a cut apple turning brown), but this doesn’t impact the flavor.  To minimize this, you can add a thin layer of olive oil on top if your pesto is in your serving dish, increase the amount of lemon juice in your recipe (keep taste-testing to make sure it’s not too much), continue to stir it so the dark part mixes in, or serve promptly.  Refrigerate any un-used portion.  Also, I recommend consuming your pesto the day you make it.  I find that the flavor becomes too powerful if it sits overnight.  You can substitute basil for a portion of the nettle but it will tend to overpower the flavor.  This recipe is a Wolf College favorite!

What do I do if I get stung by a Stinging Nettle?

Getting stung is a bit of a bummer but not a very big deal.  And, it’s certainly not enough of a negative to keep me from harvesting and enjoying these amazing plants.  I rarely get stung (unless I’m showing others what it’s like) but when I do there are a few natural remedies nearby that I like to use.

Ad-Blog-HerbalYou’ll find that different remedies work for different people, so you may have to try a few to find what works for you.  My brother swears that mud does the trick for him.  Doesn’t do a thing for me except get me dirty.  My #1 go-to plant to stop the sting is Jewelweed.  Simply crush a leaf, rub it on and the sting is eliminated.  Some people make a spit poultice out of Common (Broad-Leaf) or Lance-Leaf Plantain.

Others crush and apply Yellow Dock leaves or rub the welt/sting with the spores on the under side of Sword Fern leaves.  And, if you’re so inclined, you can smash some of the stems with a rock and apply the juice from the plant that stung you or from it’s roots.  I’m not sure of the efficacy of that idea, since I think an alkaline compound would be needed to counteract the acidic nature of nettle stings.

If you’re close to home, you can apply aloe vera gel, make and apply a paste of baking soda and water, apple cider vinegar, Desitin (diaper rash cream), tooth paste, etc.  I encourage you not only to research (field guide or online) the plant remedies listed above, but go outside and look around to make sure you can identify them in the field where you’ll actually be when you need them.

Final notes on Stinging Nettles:

The internet boasts many medicinal uses for stinging nettle which may or may not be true.  I encourage you to do your research well by finding reputable and independent sources of information.  Consider working with a respected herbalist or naturopathic physician in your area – someone who uses plants as medicine on a regular basis and knows from experience what they will and will not do.

Stinging nettles have the strongest natural plant fiber in this region (Western Washington) and are very easy to process into rope.  I’ll be doing a post on this in the fall (when I harvest for fiber), so watch for that.

Yes, you can eat a leaf raw, freshly harvested from the plant.  It must be done in such a way as to break the hollow hairs or else they can sting you in the mouth.  You can find videos online that show you how to do this.  Or, come to one of our plant classes, workshops, camps or expeditions where we’ll demonstrate then invite you to give it a try.

Kim McKillip Chisholm is co-owner of Wolf Camp and the Wolf College.  She has a B.S. in Wildlife Science from the University of Washington College of Forest Resources in Seattle and has been a volunteer dog-handler with King County Search Dogs since 2000.  Her passions include sharing her love of nature with others, wild edibles and herbal medicine, wilderness preparedness, bird identification and behavior and, of course, chickens! For training with Kim on wild edible and medicinal plant topics, check out:

Spring Workshops:
Wilderness Survival Seminar
Wild Foods Foraging & Herbal Medicine-Making

Summer Camps & Expeditions in Western Washington:
Wilderness Survival Training and Trek
Wild Ethnobotany and the Herbal Foray

80 comments to Stinging Nettle: Harvesting, Processing and Recipes

  • bob fitz

    i would like like to send a pic of sting nettle and see if you think it is
    they DO NOT have any prickers on them so i am confused 🙂

  • Caroline Colbert

    I enjoyed your blog about harvesting nettles..I am in Wales, UK right now and the nettles are beginning to leaf in the garden here..I bought nettle tea last year in the USA while visiting family and found I quite liked it. Your information is very helpful. One thing I wanted to tell you that I found out years ago when studying herbs is that the dock of the nettle is its own sting cure..if you do happen to use the whole plant or a bigger stem..use the end of that stem to to rub on the has its own antidote for the toxin..

    • Hi Caroline,
      Thank you for your kind words and suggestion. I’ve read before that stinging nettle provides its own remedy for the sting but have yet to try it. Looks like I’ll have to do a bit of urticating this spring and see if it works for me. 🙂 I’m not sure what pine family trees you have in Wales, but I really like to drop a few Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), western hemlock tree (Tsuga heterophylla) or grand fir (Abies grandis) needles into my nettle tea – very tasty. Anyway, thanks again for reading and commenting on my blog!

  • Chris Reaves


    I have these growing in my garden and around my shed. I was ready to kill them all but maybe I won’t after reading this. In the So Cal area. I will post some pics if you are interested.


  • Jack Phillips

    Question: have you tried vacuum packing fresh, unwashed nettles for later eating? i.e. using plastic packaging,sealed edges? That would make for easy transport and delivery in prime condition. Is that practical? I find harvesting in the early morning before the heat of the day to be best for the plant and me! If later in the day, a little spritz from a spray bottle keeps nettle happy and fresh. jp

  • Sheryl Musfeldt

    I just researched stinging nettle for the past 3 years and finally got to pick some young ones today and they are very tasty. All I did was saute them good in butter in a pan till fully cooked and ate them. I was impressed.

  • Bonne King

    I came across this site whilst looking for foraging tips, which led me to nettles. We were going to cut down the nettle bush and chuck it but now I think we will be making a few meals out of them 🙂

  • Mary Ellen

    I learned about stinging nettles about 2 yrs. ago, and really love anything that is a powerhouse of nutrients. I looked everywhere in the woodsy trails in upstate NY, near creeks, and only found a very small patch. I ordered some seeds online and planted them in a big pot outside, near my garden, and they came up last year, only a couple of plants. This year I have more. I plan on planting lots of them in pots. Supposed to be very good for bone strength. So is horsetail tea. I love this stuff!

  • Denise

    Are nettles suppose to smell like cat urine? I started growing mine in a large wooden planter this spring; i love them but they sink! Also, some stems are starting to flower and others not; I’m growing them for tea and one source of calcium; are the stems that are not flowering still good to harvest for tea?

    • No one I ever knew thought they smelled like that. Sounds like a cat is using your planter. As for the flowering, as mentioned in the article, you can’t use nettles extensively after they flower because at that point, they develop compounds that are hard on your bladder and related organs. You can cut them back before they flower and keep the green leaves coming instead. But after they flower, it’s best to let them live out their annual growth and use the skin of the stems for fiber after they start to die but before they mold.

    • Leah

      Denise, late reply but just out of interest did you get to the bottom of the issue? Are you sure you have nettles and not something like jack-by-the-hedge (wild garlic mustard) which you have mistaken for nettles?

  • […] strained to release the goods. The dried tea leaves are tasty all on their own, but the experts at Wolf College say it also pairs well with any member of the pine […]

  • Lara

    You mentioned you would be doing a post on using fibers to make rope. Would love to read that!

    • I wanted to write it with a video demo last month, but no time was available. It’ll rise to the top of the list soon I hope! We are doing a workshop on fibers and rope making the third Saturday in October, so maybe we can videotape the instruction then and post it soon thereafter. Crossing fingers:)

  • Jennifer

    Hi Chris, thanks for the ethical guidelines to foraging. I feel these are important. It brings us into a greater awareness of what we are participating in as we gather. I’ve been juicing nettles raw and find that to be a superb tonic. Also, this year, I started to work with the seeds, once they are dried, brown and dangling like catkins. They are easy to brush into a container on a dry day and offer no resistance. I sprinkle them on salads and soups, the taste is neutral. I would be interested to know other’s experiences of this. I contemplate that after several years relationship with the plant, the suggestion to use different parts for medicine is offered.

    • Thanks for the comment, and for the other redirecting it to Kim. Hopefully others will respond to your note about their experienced with seeds, etc. I agree with you about the seeds. I love them fresh, but I haven’t seen any study about their nutritional value or potential negatives.

  • Yenia

    I actually learned about stinging nettles out of a book by Victor Hugo – yep, the “Les Miserables” guy. I love using them for cooking and I like using nettle rope in the garden, too, though I wouldn’t call it quick to make – easy yes, quick no. I especially like throwing some stinging nettle into a stew or fruit smooothie, though beware – it doesn’t work with all fruit, you need something with a strong taste.

    About the stings – I stopped using rubber gloves (fabric is not much use) years ago and just pick the by hand. I get stung a little, but you get used to that. More importantly: I used to have a very unpleasant, itchy neurodermatitis condition on my hands. It lessened quickly once I started picking the nettles by hand and is gone for years now. Yay for doing weird and unusual stuff!

    • Thanks for the great comment Yenia! The Les Mis connection is super cool. I saw nettles used in northern Europe for skin conditions like you describe, as well as arthritis. So glad they worked for you.

  • Rita D'Alvarez

    I’m always surprised to hear of folks propagating these. Here in the foothills in Central Ca they are a noxious week that ruins pastures and woodlands. Once established its virtually impossible to eradicate and the lands are lost to grazing. When we moved here almost thirty years ago they were growing far down under some oaks were its moist and shaded. The animals just avoided that area. Since then they’ve moved up the slope and now we are surrounded by them. They’re even in my garden beds. While I’ve learned to cook with them and appreciate sites like this I want to caution people about propagating them. We’ve tried flaming, covering, and hoeing with little success. All is needed is one flowering plant. The ones flamed have just grown back. No animal wil eat these – if there was I would obtain them. Even when hoed some take root again. I would be especially cautious about introducing them to an area where they aren’t naturally found.

    • Thanks for your note. It’s the first I’ve heard about them considered a problem weed – technically not a noxious weed if they are native and unless the conservation district categorizes them as such for your area – but they do spread by rhizome so once established they do have to be dug out to be removed. It’s not too hard to dig them out (just time consuming) since their rhizomes are not too big or deep, and they tend to grow in rich, healthy, loose soil. As such, don’t throw out the soil when removing the rhizomes:)

  • […] I’m using my nettle leaf. For eating and for tea! This site has great tips, including how to freeze nettle for later eating and a recipe for raw stinging […]

  • […] Stinging Nettle: Harvesting, Processing, & Recipes […]

  • Kathi

    I live in North Florida and nettle grows everywhere, or at least I think it is nettle. The ones I see have long leaves and flower a white fuzzy cotton-like flower. The leaves are fuzzy also with a prickly edge to them. They do sting however I have been stung by others where the sting lasts a lot longer. The latter nettle grows like a dandelion and the first nettle grows very large and tall. Do you think the large plant is a nettle? Thanks for your help.

    • Hi Kathi. Please email us (go up to Contact Us to find the hotlink) with a photo of the plant you are describing, and we’ll take a look. Also, we highly recommend purchasing Botany in a Day by Thomas J. Elpel to give the best foundation for plant ID and wild edible/medicinal/utilitarian knowledge. Thanks! – Chris & Kim

  • James Wutzke

    If you have calluses on your fingers, you can pick them carefully without gloves. I have done this many times without getting stung. Make sure you don’t let them touch uncallused areas. Note, this is only for times you do not have gloves with you. Personally I use the thin latex gloves.

  • Kylie

    hello. I live in the UK. I went out to my garden to pick stinging nettles, I was told to pick the young leaves to make nettle tea. When I picked what I needed it was also suggested to wash each nettle individually. When I did this, I found that there was quite a lot of I think aphids on them, they seemed see through and crawling over the leaves…….this put me off completely in washing out the other plats and I was afraid of eggs and other insects that I could not visible see on the leaf.

    Please can you advise me what to do for next time…,can I just wash the aphids off or will they cause me harm if ingested. The leaves themselves looked nice and it hey were slightly dam as is was drizzling outside.

    I really wanted to make my own nettle tea, but now feel put off…can you help?

    Thank you Kylie

    • Hi Kylie. We try to pick the top of the nettle stalk including stem and a couple leaf pairs, but only those without many aphids or much aphid damage, and then always give them a quick shake before putting them in our collecting bag. At home, we do a quick sort-though looking for the same problem, then put them in front of our forced-air home heater (not too close) to dry without washing, but that’s up to you. Always be sure to harvest in an unpolluted area. Good luck!

    • Hi Kylie – I wanted to add that I do try to harvest leaves without visible critters and I also give any I accidentally collect a chance to escape before I process the nettles. I put everything I’ve collected in a laundry hamper with a lot of holes and let them sit for an hour or so, stirring occasionally with tongs. But it’s mostly because they probably don’t want to be eaten as much as I don’t want to eat them. 😉 I don’t believe they’d be harmful to you but it depends on the insects in your region. Another thing to watch for is what looks like little grains of sand around the top bud. That would indicate a larvae was living in the bud (the “sand” is actually frass aka poop). But, I don’t usually have the time to inspect every leaf and I usually don’t wash them so I’m certain I’ve eaten plenty of insects (especially aphids!). I hope you’ll consider giving them another try because they’re so very good for you! 🙂

    • Roxanne Smith

      As far as I know all species of aphids are non toxic to humans. Very few insects are toxic to humans either through their bite or compounds in their bodies. To be on the safe side, you could always check with a local specialist if you’re concerned.
      If its just the ‘ewww bug’ factor I’d say just give them a good shake like mentioned above, and then a good sloshing in a pail of water. I find that is the quickest way to knock the extra bugs off plants from the garden or while harvesting. I have a very large stainless steel bowl which I will fill up with water and agitate whatever leaves or plants I’ve harvested back and for a few times under the water then give it them a shake then drain. If I’m harvesting plants for myself out of the garden, I rarely ever wash them, and consider bits of bugs a bonus source of nutrition. But if company is coming over, I try to respect the majority of people’s sensibilities about eating insects.

  • connie

    I have some limited uses for nettle so when a patch grew in my yard next to my goat pen I looked forward to harvesting a bit for my friends and myself. Having said that, they are rapidly taking over my yard and my goat run. They are out of control and I can’t have them everywhere – they sting and they are popping up everywhere ! How do I get rid of them, Ive gone from about a 4 x 8 ft patch to a 15 by 20 ft patch and spreading!

    • Hi Connie – I definitely understand where you’re coming from. I had some pop up in my garden and was delighted at first until I got stung every time I went to harvest my chard or lettuce! Nettles have a very strong root system and spread via both root and seed. They also really like to grow in fertile soil (and I’ll bet the area by your goats is mighty fertile!). My recommendation (since I don’t use herbicides) would be to do your best to dig them out, roots and all. Perhaps autumn would be the best time to attempt it – after the foliage has died back a bit. You could also harvest the stalks in the fall and dry them to use the fiber for rope, then dig up the roots. Or, perhaps now is a better time (before they go to seed). You could also mow/cut them way back then cover with cardboard or burlap. Or you could lay a cardboard/burlap ring around them (form a perimeter) in order to keep a small, isolated patch. Then just keep trimming them back and they’ll get bushy so you can have multiple harvests instead of getting tall and going to seed right away. Perhaps your goats will eat them? If you have chickens, I know that they’ll eat them, too (that’s how I got them out of the garden – I set the girls on ’em). Best of luck to you. 🙂

  • Greg Miller

    Ed Burke, a highly respected herbalist, mentioned in one of his classes, that traditionally in certain parts of Europe, people would wrap themselves ,in the spring, in crushed nettles. This was done to stimulate the immune system. I have not been able to confirm this, in my own research, but feel that it is worth mentioning.

    • Hi Greg – I’ve not tried this process myself, nor do I know anyone who has done it so I cannot speak to the impact on the immune system. Nettles are often used in a process called urtication where someone suffering from, say, joint pain, would whip themselves in the painful area with fresh nettles. Many swear by the process and it’s done in many countries around the world. I do know that crushing the nettles eliminates their ability to sting (breaks the hollow hairs so they cannot deliver the acid under the skin). So I wonder if the stimulating agent is something in the juice of the nettle applied topically or if they were not truly crushed (still retained their ability to sting) and the immune boosting was caused by the stimulation of the acid getting under the skin. I’ll look into it more. Very interesting and I thank you very much for your comment!

  • Eva

    Hi Kim, I just came across this blog and it is interesting on how many people know about nettles. I am from mediterrenean and we use it a lot. I made a pie with fillo dough the other day and kids loved it. We also mix it with corn meal, adding scallions, dill, parsley, sorell, spinach and some feta cheese. Bake it in a pan and eat it with homemade yogurt (each I make every three days). My grandmother used to make the nettle pie often in the spring.

  • Randy

    Hi, pleased to come across this site about stinging nettles and so much interesting and helpful information. I have just very recently had stinging nettles and their many attributes come to my attention. Though I live in the Puget Sound area of Washington State and grew up around stinging nettles I had no idea of their usefulness. I began searching for information after seeing them used for food in a reality show.

    I soon saw references to it’s historical use as treatment for arthritis and joint pain. This intrigued me as I have had shoulder pain for almost four months now and limited mobility of my arm. It was quite painful to reach out or up. I cancelled an MRI scheduled when it seemed a little better and someone was trying pressure point massage, however it only helped to a limited extent.

    I read that the procedure was to touch the stinging portions directly to the skin over and around the affected joint. This seemed dubious at best to me but decided to test it out – I had little hope that skin being stung by nettles could affect problems and pain from deeper down in a joint. I went out and picked some fresh tops with a gloved hand and brushed around the top of my shoulder and upper shoulder blade several times. When I showed my wife what I was up to thought I was a little nuts to say the least. Though I could certainly feel some stinging, that area is much less sensitive than the back of hands and arms.

    I was shocked to realize that within 20 minutes I had noticeably less pain than before. The effects increased over the next hours until I told my wife that the pain had decreased at least 90%. Not only that, it was clear to me that there was definitely an anti-inflammatory effect. I arm was much more mobile as well. I really was amazed and shocked at how effective it was. While the treated area was sensitive, feeling like a moderate sunburn, the relief of pain and increased mobility more than made up for it. Not only that, the good effects have far outlasted the stinging effects. More than 24 hours later my shoulder is still better than it has been for months.

    I intend to learn as much as I can about this plant and it’s many other uses. I would love to hear about anyone else’s experience with nettles pain reducing/anti-inflammatory experience.

    Thank you for this great site.

    • Wow. Please keep us updated in the long-term!

    • Yes Randy! I also was inspired about nettles, and there anti-inflamatory constituents. I did harvest the leaves, and roots, with BARE hands. The intense stinging lasted 20 min. or so. By the evening, my swollen, and painfull arthritic hands were painfree!!!!! Truth. And I could make a fist! It has been 6 months since, and I am drinking fabulous nettle wine and nettle root tincture.

  • Sonali Narayan

    Hi Chris,
    I live in Dallas,Texas. I have been buying dry nettle leaves online and they are expensive. I want to grow in my backyard. is Texas climate suitable for
    nettle leaves to grow?
    If so where can i find those seeds?

    • Hi Sonali –
      I’ve not had the pleasure of visiting Dallas but a quick check online shows that nettles are found in Dallas, Kaufman and Tarrant counties (per the U.S. Dept of Agriculture). So, they definitely can grow in your neck of the woods. I get my seeds from a local park but I’ve seen them advertised on (, and among other options. Something to keep in mind is that they spread very well so make sure to plan where you want them and how to contain them if needed. Good luck! – Kim

    • Roxanne Smith

      I have found nettles are quite adaptive plants. My friend has nettles growing around her yard in Australia even! I have found nettles growing all across Canada and Europe.
      If your yard is particularly hot and dry, try to start them in the coolest dampest area. I find nettles prefer a soil rich in organic matter, partial shade and plenty of water. In dry areas in Canada they are only found either along creeks or in damp gulleys or where the ground water is high most of the year.

  • Hello from Edens Garden Farm in northeast Tennessee! Just found your blog and read with great interest what you offered on good old ‘stang weed’, as the locals call them! They grow here in WILD abundance on our mountain farm.
    My wife has been adding dried nettles as well as nettle tea to our daily morning smoothies for quite some time. I can honestly say that these are truly wonderful and HIGHLY under-utilized sources of nutrition and medicine. As Randy noted above, the deeply therapeutic value of nettle for joint pain cannot be matched. Long-lasting, and best of all, FREE! Researching some of the local history, I’ve found this plant along with many others has been used by the Appalachians and Native American population for centuries.
    Thanks for the great info, Kim and Chris!
    p.s., Chris, have you made any vids on the rope-making project yet? Very interested to see what you have to share!

  • […] harvesting, be sure to keep the tenets of Honorable Harvesting in mind, then enjoy your ox-eye daisy fritters in any of the following […]

  • Jill


    I would like to harvest my nettle leaves, dry and make a powder to add to soap….will the sting be lost with this processing method?

    Thank you!


  • Lynn

    Sorry, I want to be clear before I try this (I am quite excited to try!) how do I eliminate the sting if I would like to eat in a salad? =)

    • Hannah

      Hi Lynn —
      Personally, I find that nettles are not an ideal plant for salad — it is kind of time intensive to use nettles in a salad since you will need to process them to remove the sting. If you really want to use them, you could saute them like spinach until crispy, and then sprinkle the crispy nettle as a topping on your salad.
      Some easier ideas for your salad would be other backyard wild edibles like dandelion, hairy cat’s ear, siberian miner’s lettuce, nipplewort, chickweed….
      Check out ‘Edible Wild Plants’ by John Kallas for more information on backyard foraging!
      – Hannah

  • Dr.D

    I have found that the antidote for stings by nettles is to take a leaf from the plant carefully from behind (the back side) fold it as many times as possible and squeeze that leaf until juices flow.
    Rub the juice on the affected areas..

  • Roxanne Smith

    We always harvested the nettle early on in the spring, when it was about 6″ high or so. The lore being it gets high in Oxalic acid as it matures. Later in the year though we would still harvest it to make nettle tea for the garden. We’d cut as much as we could and stuff it into 5 gallon pails, fill them with water and let it sit out in the sun for two weeks. It stinks horribly, but they’re what we called an intensifying plant and one of the best ways to add trace minerals as well as phosphorous to the top soil. We did this with Comfrey as well, a plant with similar healing properties. Although, unlike nettle which you can eat every day if you wish, comfrey has compounds which stress the liver, so is more useful topically. Some say you should never eat Comfrey but I’ve heard some varieties are very low in PAs.

  • Saw some growing a few kms away from here 1 month ago about 18inches tall I remember them from when I was a kid 70 years ago in our backyard in West Australia ,Found they recommend them for prostate problems so bought some capsules at health store.
    Just waiting to see what they can do ,me wife has OA arthritis and hair loss so try them too.

  • Ros

    Hello from Adelaide Australia,
    I have wanted to try eating stinging nettles for years. I have a great harvest from my kids house – but the deal is I have to take the whole plants or they will poison (mainly because of rental house inspections.)
    Would it be better for me to replant them at my house or use the root as well?

    My Grandparents were living on a nearby island called “Kangaroo Island”. 80 years ago my Grandfather was one of the first light house keepers there. Three families would live there and they would get supplies every six months. My Aunt often told me the stories about how they picked and ate stinging nettles as one of their main vegetables and that they rarely got sick. Go Stinging Nettles!

  • jean mcconkey

    Hello I planted nettles at the edge of my garden because I love the plant and it’s nutrition especially now that I am almost 60. My question is can you make nettle soup from the plants in the Fall as it seems to be growing again and I would like to try.

    • Hi Jean. We do harvest for consumption when they start coming up again in warm, wet autumns, and also new growth after they are cut back in the spring and summer, but we haven’t tested / found out whether the compounds that develop after it goes to flower in the spring are also present in new growth in the spring/summer/fall so we can’t advise others on that risk. Thanks for your comments!

  • jean mcconkey

    I have to say, I don’t mind a little sting and heard that long ago, folks would use it for arthritis. so when harvesting , i certainly wear gloves but occasionally pick a little for me hands.

  • Hello! I recently came across some great info on the benefits of the fresh seeds. Do you know if they freeze well? I’ll be drying some but
    I want to take advantage of them being fresh as well. Thank you.

  • CM Justice

    I have read that some indigenous paddlers used nettle to keep themselves alert (and awake) on long paddles from the North through the Salish Sea. I believe the reference is in Plant Technology of First Peoples of British Columbia. What information do you have on using the seeds? I look forward to your post on processing for fibre.

  • […] → Click here to read Wolf College’s comprehensive Stinging Nettle guide, including how to find, iden… […]

  • peter hutchinson

    Try a salad of stinging nettles and apple. Fry stinging nettles in olive oil, cool and add chopped fresh apples, delicious, with a little salt.

  • Thanks for your article, I have replaced my iced tea in the summer with a Nettle tea. I harvest wild mint along our creek bed. I have been doing so for a couple years a NezPerce friend gave me some of his Nettles and I have been hooked ever since. I was wondering though, somewhere I read that the root also has medicinal benefits.

  • Dana

    Hi! I don’t know much about nettles but I had some nettle soup at a friend’s house and loved it.

    I live in a flat so don’t have a garden. Can I use dried nettle leaves (which can easily be bought online) for soups?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Dana – Yes, dried nettle can be used in soups. Keep in mind that the proportions will look different. Fresh and frozen would have a higher moisture content so that would change the amount you add. If a recipe calls for 1-2 cups of fresh, I would substitute with 1-2 tbsp of dried. Also, they will need more time in cooking to re-hydrate (and your soup may need additional liquids/stock). There are plenty of recipes out there that use dried nettle so start with one of those and then modify to accommodate your taste and texture preferences. Perhaps your friend could tell you where they came upon the fresh nettles? If you can find them, don’t hesitate to freeze them for later use! Some of our local farmer’s markets are starting to sell them so if you have something like that where you live, perhaps you can find them fresh that way? – Kim

  • […] there are many ways to cook with Nettle – from adding the herb to your soup or stir fry (Nettles lose their sting when […]

  • Alison Shaw

    We have so many nettles growing in our horse paddock areas that sometimes my husband cuts them down to make more pasture space for the horses. This year in the Snoqualamie Valley area of WA , the nettles flowered very early (in May, but then again the were out of the ground in late January) and I had picked and dried many, many leaves, so I okayed their cutting–knowing of course that he was fighting a loosing battle and they’d grow back. It’s now mid June, and the next wave of nettles are about three inches high. My question is, can I now harvest afresh as if they’ve never flowered without worrying about cystoliths and kidney damage? After all, those roots still know that the plant has flowered this season–not sure what impact that has on the new growth. Thank you–your information is wonderful.

    • We are unaware of any study which has checked to see if cystoliths or other kidney/bladder damaging compounds are found in late-season non-flowering nettle plants, many of which are connected by rhyzomes (thus the same plant) to flowering portions, but personally, we do harvest and eat them nonetheless, though not in great quantities.

  • Lynne Dresman

    Please clarify the need to quit harvesting if flowering has already begun. We just move to NW WA. and I have lot so nettles to practice with. I made tea and really like it, but now I realize that I used the flowering tip as well. Please advise. Lynne

    • I’m not sure we can explain it more in writing other than the research we note in the article above, although one of our faculty recently wrote a FAQ article on nettles as well so check that one more recently posted on our blog. Probably fine to use any part of the nettle even if flowering if you are harvesting for a one-time use, but for regular consumption, simply always use nettles that were harvested and preserved (dried/frozen/etc) before they flowered in order to avoid the risk of liver/kidney damage. Thanks, – Chris

  • Narayan Joshi

    I am interested in planting this plant on commercial basis.How can I get the seeds?Please guide me.

    • We have started seeing a variety of live nettle plants being sold at farmer’s markets that have very few of the stinging hairs, so you’ll probably want to check into those. I’ll ask them the next time I get to a farmer’s market where someone is selling them. Otherwise, we always buy from “Abundant Life Seeds” or “Seeds of Change or other heirloom seed preservers/distributors to get our seeds for Blue Skye Farm here at the Conservation College. Good luck!

  • Hi from Australia and thank you for the very interesting blog and excellent information.
    I have stinging nettles in my garden and having grown up in Europe, I remembered eating them in stews as a child, so I tried making a nettle pie, which was a total hit with everyone who tried it.
    I also know that at least the European communities over here would be very happy to be able to buy them in the shops, so I am seriously considering buying a piece of land and growing them to sell in frozen form.
    Has anyone tried growing them commercially? Are there any tractors / machinery that could be used for harvesting more efficiently? Then, would they just grow back the next season without replanting? are there any other considerations I should take into account (other than preventing the spread in the neighboring properties)?
    Your advice will be much appreciated!

  • […] Nettles are very useful for many reasons, and you can read about their many herbal uses in a fun chapter by Susun Weed in her book Healing Wise, but in the backcountry, their external application (whipping) can stimulate blood flow to cure sore joints, while their internal consumption is great nutrition, especially to treat anemia after blood loss. In the meantime, take a look at my wife Kim’s article on nettles for more information. […]

  • […] Stinging Nettle: Harvesting, Processing and Recipes […]

  • […] Stinging Nettle may seem like a plant you wouldn’t want to touch, it is easy to respectfully harvest and process. It is a staple plant to have on hand — Nettle is full of wonderful medicinal properties. Its […]

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