Urtica dioica. It’s a wonderful food plant, easy to gather in large quantities. It’s delicious, with a deep green flavor that reminds me a little of seaweed. Nettle is a nutritional powerhouse, famously higher in iron than just about any plant food, boasting a good deal of protein and a suite of beneficial micronutrients. It’s been employed medicinally by European types for ages. I’ve had multiple friends who’d gone through many medications for severe seasonal allergies, and daily drinking of nettle tea has been a boon to them. If you can take the sting, it also helps with arthritis and muscle pain when you rub it on the sore area. I’ve recently heard a lot more about nettle seeds as good medicine to support adrenal functioning. Along with a handful of other plants, nettle seems very good at holding back waves of garlic mustard. That’s a personal observation, and I’m curious about its broad accuracy–but, in any case, this old import (wood nettle is our native species) seems to have naturalized here beautifully.
In any case, I’m supposed to be primarily making a post on how to cook this plant. When they’re only a few inches high, you can eat stinging nettles raw, if you’re bold. I don’t do it much. I tend to pan-fry them (no chopping necessary) in olive oil or bacon fat, sprinkling it with a little water and a little salt. They’re even better with ramps or garlic greens. Young nettles make a great soup; blend them in stock with cream. I’ll update this post sometime with a recipe for nettle malfatti, an Italian dumpling that knocks my socks off.
The main things to know are that nettles are better than spinach, and that frying, blending, blanching and drying for tea all dismantle the stingers. Any recipe is likely to start with a 30-second dunk in boiling water.