How to Harvest and Prepare Nettles

  • 01 of 05

    When and Where to Harvest Nettles

    Gardener holding fresh nettles
    Mint Images / Getty Images

    Apart from the fact that nettles do actually sting (even the very young ones), nettles are a wonderful ingredient to use in soups, pasta dishes, frittatas—basically in any cooked dish where you would use young spinach. They’re certainly worth the slight challenge involved in picking them, for they are rich in vitamin C, calcium, potassium, flavonoids, histamine, and serotonin—all the great chemicals one needs to reenergize after a cold winter and to combat spring allergies.

    The best time to...MORE harvest nettles is in late March and April. If they’ve begun to flower, you’ve waited too long.

    Make sure that your arms and legs are well-covered, including your wrists and ankles. Find a good stand of nettles well away from roadsides (where they are at risk of being sprayed with chemicals or contaminated by car emissions). Nettles thrive in the same conditions as blackberries and can often be found competing for the same territory.

    Supplies Needed for Harvesting:

    • Sturdy leather gloves
    • Plastic bag
    • Scissors
    • Long-sleeve work shirt or jacket, jeans, sturdy shoes
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  • 02 of 05

    How to Harvest and Prepare Nettles: Step 1

    Harvest nettles
    Annika Vannerus / Getty Images

    Put on your gloves, and begin looking for tender young plants. Harvest the nettles by cutting off only the upper leaves (no larger than about 3” wide). Check the undersides of the leaves to make sure there is no white spittle present.

    Because you want only the leaves, not the stalks, you’ll save yourself a lot of effort (and perhaps a few stings) later by cutting the leaves from the stems as you go. But you’re pressed for time you can cut the upper third of the young plants (about 5” from the...MORE top) and separate the leaves from the stalks when you get home.

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  • 03 of 05

    How to Harvest and Prepare Nettles: Step 2

    A bag of nettle leaves. Careful not to touch!. photo ©Kari Diehl, licensed to About.com

    Collect the nettles in a plastic bag. You’ll need about a shopping-bag full of leaves to make a pot of soup that yields about 10-12 cups.

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  • 04 of 05

    How to Harvest and Prepare Nettles: Step 3

    Washing nettles. photo ©Kari Diehl, licensed to About.com

    Make sure that all of the leaves are separated from the stalks. Drop the leaves into a sink or bowl of warm water and let them sit for about 10 minutes. This washing process by itself will remove much of the sting from the nettles (although I still prefer not to touch them at this point!). You’ll see that the soaking water becomes a rust-orange color; this is nothing to worry about.

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  • 05 of 05

    How to Harvest and Prepare Nettles: Step 4

    Hmmmm ... looks like spinach!. photo ©Kari Diehl, licensed to About.com

    Bring a large pot of water to boil, and add a few pinches of salt. Using a spider or slotted spoon, transfer the washed leaves to the pot. Blanch the leaves for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    While the leaves are blanching, fill a large bowl with cold water and ice for an ice-water bath. Transfer the blanched leaves to the ice water, and stir. Lift them from the bath and spread them out onto a clean dish towel or paper towels, and pat them dry. The ice-water bath stops the cooking process and...MORE locks in a beautiful green color. 

    Alternatively, if you plan to cook with the leaves right away, you can skip the ice bath and add the leaves to your recipe.

    Store blanched leaves in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days, or you can dry them well and freeze them in a sealed bag. 

    Here are a few fresh ideas for preparing your spring harvest:

    • Celebrate spring with a beautiful, green, delicately fresh Nettle Soup (in Swedish, Nässelsoppa).
    • Chop the leaves and use them as a garnish, sprinkling over salads, sauces or egg dishes, much as you would with parsley or cilantro. 
    • Infuse Italian or Greek dishes as you would with spinach: nettles are great for adding to fillings or making colorful pasta.