Stinging nettles are famously difficult to deal with—I mean, they are named stinging nettles for a reason: those nettles don't just scratch, they truly sting. Some people have more of a reaction that others, but they'll leave a rash on pretty much any human skin they touch.
Luckily, they are easy to tame with a quick dip in boiling water, a.k.a. blanching.
To Blanch Stinging Nettles
- Bring a large pot filled with about 2 quarts of water to a boil and add at least 1 tablespoon of salt (the salt will help the nettles retain their crazily deep green color).
- While the water comes to a boil, prepare a large bowl of ice water.
- Dump in whatever big tangle of nettles you have to contend with and stir them down into the boiling water.
- Use a slotted spoon or tongs to lift the nettles out of the water as soon as they wilt, about 30 seconds or so, or drain them directly into a colander. Dunk the nettles into the ice water and swish them around until they're fully cooled off. Drain them again.
- Use your hands to squeeze as much remaining liquid from the nettles as you can. (I find that first handful a bit difficult to grab—I find myself wondering if they can really be de-stung so quickly? Yes they can!) Work with one handful at a time and repeat with the remaining nettles, as needed.
Blanching nettles this way makes them easier to handle and much easier to store.
Cleaning Stinging Nettles
Note that there's no reason to try and clean the nettles before blanching them (how would that work, anyway?).
Blanching, especially when you lift them out of the pot instead of dumping them into a colander, cleans grit and dirt out of nettles as part of the process. For particularly gritty nettles, continue rinsing and draining until the water runs clear.
What to Do with Blanched Stinging Nettles
Once blanched, stinging nettles can be stored in an air-tight container and kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Or, store them in an air-tight container or resealable plastic bag and freeze them for up to 6 months.
Of course, you can also cook them right away!
When I have blanched nettles to use, I like to whip up a batch of Stinging Nettles Soup or bake a Nettles Pizza or two. Another favorites is Nettles Pesto, to toss with hot pasta or spread on sandwiches. See other Favorite Stinging Nettles Recipes here.