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How to Pick and Eat Nettles

Many thanks to super-forager Christopher Robbins for his advice on nettles. If you want to learn more about wild plants, check out our upcoming foraging courses.

As we move into spring, nettles are starting to appear. Sure they may sting, but they're also hugely versatile. And right now they're at their seasonal best: young, tender and ripe for picking. Nettles have a long history of numerous uses, and it's no wonder why. They are an excellent blood purifier, a mild laxative and extremely high in vitamin C. They're also delicious to eat and make a healthy relaxing herb tea.

Nettles ( Urtica dioica) are traditionally eaten in early spring as they are one of the first edible green shoots to appear, known as a “pot-herb”. In Scotland, Nettle Kail was a traditional Shrove Tuesday soup to welcome in the spring. Nettles were considered to be a tonic, useful for cleansing the body at the beginning of the new growing period. In addition to nettle soup you'll also find old recipes for nettle beer and nettle tea.

Nettle-Picking Tips

  • Nettles are best when very tender, so pick in the spring when the nettles are just coming up or later in the season. Pick the young leaves from the tips. 
  • Use rubber gloves or pinch the leaves hard, so you don’t get stung. Once picked, lay the nettles out on a tray to wilt. Once wilted they can no longer sting you. The sting relies on erect hairs to penetrate the skin and inject the stinging formic acid. When wilted strip the leaves off the stems. 
  • Like spinach, when cooked, nettles reduce to 1/4 the amount, so a supermarket bag full will be about 500g. 
  • Always cook nettles, which destroys the stinging formic acid. Nettles are not suitable for salads!

Favourite Nettle Recipes

Do you have tales of nettle foraging adventure and success?

Recipes you'd like to share?

Please do comment below or get in touch via Facebook and Twitter!

We love to chat about foraging!


Louise brandwood price on 5th May 2016 said:

First time cooking nettles

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Chris at Demuths on 19th Sep 2016 said:

Good luck!

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Lekha Choksi on 18th Sep 2016 said:

It is mid Sept. and I see nettles have started to grow again? Are they still alright to consume or should I wait for next spring?

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Chris at Demuths on 19th Sep 2016 said:

Well spotted! Yes, the new nettle seedlings are popping up and their fresh new leaves are well worth picking!

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James on 13th Aug 2017 said:

Can anyone advise as to whether I can substitute spinach for nettles to make bkeila? The recipe I found is here - - and I would like to try with some of the tender stinging buggers that otherwise do nothing good. Eating (and enjoying the process) would feel like sweet revenge. I’ve tried nettles in soup but they taste too much like school spinnach to be enjoyed.

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Monica at Demuths on 14th Aug 2017 said:

Hi James. We’ve never tried this ourselves but it would be worth a go. It will probably have a more intense flavour but in this sort of dish that could be a good thing.

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Lenny on 25th Aug 2017 said:

Is it safe to consume mature nettle leaves?

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Monica at Demuths on 29th Aug 2017 said:

Yes Lenny it is safe but we generally suggest you pick the young leaves as they are more tender and tasty!

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Hannah Garfield on 29th Apr 2018 said:

can you eat the nettle stems as well

Thank you

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Demuths on 1st May 2018 said:

Hi Hannah,

No - avoid the stems and just enjoy the young leaves once cooked.

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Mike Harrison on 6th Aug 2018 said:

Do cooked nettles have as much vitamin C as they would raw? (Not that one would eat them raw!)

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