Foraging Focus - Stinging Nettles
Updated: Aug 16, 2020
Common names: common nettle, stinging nettle, nettle leaf, nettle or stinger
Scientific name: Utrica dioica
Season: January to December
Habitat: woodland, hedgerows, urban areas, waste ground
Nettles are arguably the most abundant wild food growing extensively across the UK. They are often used as a substitute for spinach alas they have their own district flavour; a massively underrated superfood, nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals and have a wide range of medicinal uses. Drying and blanching will neutralise the sting; in cooking nettles are particularly versatile having been used for thousands of years there are a plethora of possibilities when considering how to use this wild food.
Found in Northern Europe, Asia and North America; favouring moist soil.
Stinging nettles are a herbaceous perennial, growing back yearly. Typically growing in groups of males and females.
Leaves: green arrow shaped with toothed edges. Tiny stinging hairs grow on the underside with some on top. Leaves grow on opposite sides of the stalk.
Flowers: Stinging nettle is a dioecious (male and female flowers on different plants) plant with very small flowers. Male flowers are tiny and round varying in colour from green, yellow and purple tending not to droop. Female flowers are similar but have tiny stigmas emitting from the and tend to droop.
Seed: The seeds are left from the female flowers and are green and triangular.
Could be confused with: dead nettles, they are typically smaller that stinging nettles, not to worry they are still edible.
Caution: when collecting nettles always cover up exposed skin and wear gloves to minimise any irritation caused the nettle hairs.
When foraging be sure to only pick from areas where there is a plentiful supply, by only picking a small amount you will be able to avoid damaging any wildlife habitat and will leave enough for other foragers. Never pick protected species or cause permanent damage. Britain’s wild plants are all protected, which makes it illegal to dig up or remove a plant.
Nettles and their extracts have been clinically proven to aid rheumatism and arthritis. Over the years various parts of nettles have been used in teas, infusions, tinctures and cream to aid with: prostate cancer treatment, cleansing the blood, digestive issues, Inflammatory conditions, healing woulds, lowering blood pressure, releiving pain and many more
Young leaves: pestos, sauces, beers, soups, pickled, crisps and as a spinach substitute
Mature leaves: stock, cordial, syrup and powdered.
Stem: edible when young and used similarly to leaves, mature stems tend to be fibrous and have alternative uses.
Roots: Herbal uses.
Seeds: edible when roasted or fried.