Spend a little time outside in spring and summer, and chances are, you’ve been introduced to the stinging nettle. Brush against its leaves, even just slightly, and it will make its presence known by leaving a definite stinging sensation on your skin. Whether you’ve had this experience, or are just now envisioning it, you may not be too keen on my suggestion to eat it. However, you really should. The nettle offers unparalleled nutrition, completely free of charge, plentiful in a field near you, and you only have to wear gloves while picking it, since the stinging property quickly wears off after washing and/or drying. It cooks up and tastes similar to spinach.
There are many ways to prepare nettles, such as on these flatbreads. They are quick to make for a meal at home, and pack and travel well for a picnic or a packed lunch out.
Stinging Nettle Flatbreads
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion (Vidalias are particularly good), chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- several handfulls (well, glove-fulls) of nettle leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- chili flakes (optional)
- 1 cup cheddar cheese (or any good melting cheese), shredded
- 3/4 cup soft goat cheese (or cream cheese)
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan
- 6 tortillas, flatbread, naan, slices of a country loaf of bread, english muffin or pitas.
- Preheat oven to 400º, or if you’re cooking outside, you can put these directly on the grill.
- Heat oil in a skillet, and caramelize the onions over low heat for about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and nettle leaves and sauté for another couple of minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and chili flakes if you like a little heat.
- Lay flatbread bottoms (your crust of choice) on a baking sheet and layer on top: grated cheese just to cover crust; a few small dollops of soft goat or cream cheese; several good-sized spoonfuls of your nettle mixture; topped off with a thin sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese.
- Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese starts to melt and brown slightly.
Nettle commonly grows along the edges of yards, fields, road sides, vacant lots… just about everywhere. According to wild food expert Euell Gibbons, “…this detested weed is one of the finest and most nutritious foods in the whole plant kingdom.” It comes high in vitamin A and C, contains vitamin D (rare for a plant food) and is incredibly high in plant protein and iron as well as many other minerals, including potassium and calcium. In addition, it is known by nutritionists and herbalists worldwide for its cleansing properties. Similar to many plants which come up early in the spring, it is very useful for washing out internal winter stagnation. Taken internally either as a leafy vegetable or more commonly as a tea, it has also been used to treat asthma, arthritis, anemia, sinusitis, eczema as well as improving respiratory, urinary and prostate issues. The external use of the stinging nettle has traditionally been shown to decrease symptoms of rheumatism by intentionally irritating the skin with the stinging acid of the fresh leaves. This I have not tried, but I am fascinated by the concept.
If you too are interested in learning more about foraging for food – learning what and how to eat that grows freely in your immediate environment, let me recommend two books by Euell Gibbons, Stalking The Wild Asparagus, and Stalking The Healthful Herbs, as well as Samuel Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants.