By Judy Morgan
I have never been a picky eater or one who is afraid to try something new. The idea of eating nettles sort of intrigued me, though I did envision my mouth feeling all prickly when placing the greens upon my tongue. That, however, did not happen, as the sting from the plant vanishes after 30 seconds in heat.
What I did find is an herb that lends itself to a stir-fry dish. Nettles have a nutty flavor and hold up much better than many other green plants. Whatever you toss spinach or kale into, you can substitute nettles and gain the same texture and taste but much greater nutritional value.
This abundant herb has a number of beneficial uses. Nettles are full of minerals, nutrients, and vitamins. They contain Vitamin A, C, E, K, and P, Vitamin B complexes and B6, Zinc Iron Magnesium Copper, and Selenium, as well as calcium, potassium, chlorine sodium, and iodine. A smorgasbord of nutrients! In addition to all these nutrients nettles contain 22% protein, 4% fats, and up to 21% fiber.
During the spring months in Vermont, you can find nettles in fields, along gardens and walls, or cleaned and packed neatly at the local farmer’s market, which is my preference. At the farmers market in Downtown Rutland, I picked up a cleaned and cut bag of nettles from Yoder Farm.
If you are going to harvest nettles on your own, remember to protect your hands with gloves. These little plants offer more than just health benefits. They contain a mix of poisons in the tiny hairs of the plant, which when touched release a stinging effect on the skin. This slight little pain can last minutes or hours, depending on the person. When harvesting nettles, the tops of the plants are best as these leaves are most tender. Cut the leaves into a bag, and you can begin adding a number of vitamins to your next dish!
In addition to their nutritional value, nettles have an interesting history. Their roots were also used thousands of years ago by Greeks and Romans as a meat tenderizer. Farmers used wilted nettles to increase production of cattle and to help with digestion in horses. They also help enhance horses’ coats.
Nettles are used heavily in treating a number of allergy symptoms, hay fever being one of them. They contain biologically active compounds that help reduce inflammation. Nettles do not contain side affects like other prescription medications and over the counter drugs. In addition to allergies, nettles have been known to help treat Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, bladder infections, and prostate enlargement to name a few.
Next time you roam the fields of Vermont or the aisles of the farmers market, keep your eyes open for nettles. Instead of focusing on their faint burning touch, think about adding them to soups, stir-fries, and lasagna!
Once you have some nettles in hand, try this simple, tasty recipe. I think it will make you become a strong supporter of this fine green plant.
Beef & Nettle Stir Fry
¼ cup Olive oil
2 crushed garlic cloves
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup Teriyaki sauce
¼ cup Vermont maple syrup
8 oz. baby portabellas mushrooms
4-5 cups cut up nettles
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ pound Beef (marinated in ½ cup teriyaki sauce and ¼ cup VT Maple syrup)
8 oz pasta cooked, or 4 cups brown rice cooked
Sauté garlic and mushrooms in heated olive oil until browned. Add beef, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Sauté about three minutes until browned. Then add nettles, cook over medium heat until nettles are reduced, and add additional teriyaki sauce if needed. Cook on low for 10 minutes. Serve over brown rice or whole wheat pasta.
Judy Morgan is the Associate VP of Administration and External Affairs at College of St. Joseph and a native Vermonter. "I believe that food is one of the greatest means of bringing people together."