Ahhh Nettles! This is one of our teammates favorite herbs! Being from Washington state, she grew up with this plant in abundance along disturbed areas such as farms, beside walking paths, up in the mountains, and even in backyards.
To her surprise she found that this plant can also be harvested in the mountains here in New Mexico! A piece of Washington stayed with her journey to the desert. As stated, this plant typically can be found in disturbed areas, as it is one of the first plants to work towards rebuilding soil. However, disturbed areas are not only found in urban environments. In the wild you can find Nettles growing abundantly in forest clearings where sunshine peaks through the forest canopy. It is important while harvesting to not pull up the entire plant (unless you are looking to use the root, and even then to make sure to only harvest 20% of the plant or the population in a given area). In fact, Nettle loves a trim, and it actually stimulates the growth of the plant to become more bushy instead of growing tall and leggy. Cut the top of the plant off running down about 3 or 4 nodes (depending on the size of the plant). Wear gloves if you do not want to be stung by the plant, however know that these little stings will actually help increase your circulation!
Fun Fact: If you are located in an area where Sword Fern abounds, simply use the orange dots beneath the leaves of the fern to calm the stinging sensation if it becomes too intense.
Plant uses: Nettle has a wide range of uses, but is most notable for its nutrient dense composition, detoxification properties, and affinity towards allergies. Nettles are one of the highest plant forms of iron, and contain an immense amount of plant protein, not to mention chlorophyll, selenium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, vitamins A, C D, K, and most B vitamins. The constituents of the fresh plant act as an antihistamine and also work as an anti-inflammatory within the body to help relieve those nasty symptoms of itchy, inflamed mucous membranes. The key with nettle is to use it fresh, not dried as once it is dried the antihistamine properties significantly drop. Internally this plant also has been shown to have diuretic properties which help to rid the body of excess fluid or salts, among so many other uses such as strengthening the female reproductive system, hair, nails and teeth. Topically this plant continues to be a wonderful anti-inflammatory and is often used for arthritis or muscle issues. We could go on, but if you are interested, try it out and see for yourself!
To make: Many recipes will tell you to blanch the nettle before using it, which you are more than welcome to do as the nettles can still leave a stinging sensation while you are working with them. By briefly blanching them (cooking in hot water for just a moment) the stinging component to the plant is neutralized. If you can stand it though, go ahead and put those beautiful leaves in raw and the minimal heat through processing also will remove the lingering sting.
Mix all of the ingredients together in a food processor, or blend by hand and serve on top of your favorite pasta, as a bread topping, in your eggs, or as a veggie dip! Enjoy!