Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Harvesting Nettles with Children.....

Nettles you say? You mean those pesky weeds that grow like wildfire and sting me if I get too close? Yep. These little plants are a powerhouse of nutrients! Once cooked, blended, or dehydrated they lose their "sting." Nettle season varies each year but since this winter has been particularly warm and sunny here in the Pacific Northwest, it is already here! If you are following the Elimination Diet then adding in fresh nettles to all phases will help in the healing and detoxification process.

The other day the kids and I were out for a walk on the trails by our house when we came upon our favorite nettle stand! It was full of nettles ready to be picked. You see, nettles are best harvested when they are young and only a few inches high. All of the nutrients are going to the leaves at this time, instead of say, in the summer, when the energy of the plant is going to seed production. Anyway, I called Tom on my cell phone and asked him to drive up and meet me at the trailhead with a few pairs of scissors, paper bags, gardening gloves, and my camera.

Harvesting nettles is not just for adults. Young children can participate too! We've been harvesting nettles for as long as I can remember. Babies and one-year-olds can ride in a sling or backpack. 2 year olds can play and run about while you do your work. 3 year olds can help and play. Once my girls were 4 years old they were both really interested in doing all of the harvesting. On our most recent excursion, the boys (2 years old) ran around, put extra gloves on, then darted down the trail as far and as fast as they could go. They did eventually come back (and slept very well after that)!

What about potential nettle stings?

Well, I think it is all about how you approach it. For us, nettles are viewed as nourishing, wonderful plants that do posses a risk for stinging. I tell them it isn't a big deal and it will go away soon enough. All of my kids seem to get a few stings at every harvest but brush it off and keep on going. The boys even fell into a nettle patch the other day, then looked at me holding their hands up while making little grunting sounds. I said "Oh I see, it looks like you have a few nettle stings, yep that can happen" and off they ran. Still, it is best to educate your children so they tread lightly through the nettle patch. This teaches patience and respect for the environment around them. Wearing gloves and thick pants is best, though as you see from these photos my daughter was wearing a skirt and tights. Since the nettles were still so small it wasn't as much of an issue.

What do you do with your nettles?

Well, we dehydrate them to use for tea throughout the year. I simply place the whole plant in the dehydrator. Once dried, I pack them into the food processor and process until finely ground. I then pour the ground, dried nettles into glass mason jars. You can also use fresh nettles in green smoothies (this is my favorite), in lasagna, soup, stock, or sautéed with garlic and olive oil. Really, the options are endless. Just don't add them to a salad, they only lose their "sting" when blended, cooked, or dehydrated.

What are the health benefits of consuming nettles?
  • Nettles are a blood-building herb, being high in iron, calcium, trace minerals, protein, and chlorophyll; they are very beneficial for the anemic person. 
  • Being mildly diuretic and rich in minerals, nettles help to stimulate breast milk production after delivery.
  • Nettles may be used as a treatment for hay fever.
  • Nettles are stimulating and cleansing to the liver, kidneys, and bladder.
  • They taste good; sort of like spinach some say.

How do you harvest them?

The best method, so the plant can keep growing, is to cut the stem just after the second set of basal leaves. This doesn't always happen when young children are involved, but remember it is a learning process for them. If you live in the Midwest or East Coast your nettle season may not come around for another few months. Nettles like nitrogen-rich, moist soil so look for a place with a lot of decaying organic matter.

I'll be posting recipes using nettles soon, like lasagna, bone broth, and soup. In the meantime, get out and enjoy the beautiful sunshine and go on a nettle hunt with your children!

If you are an Herbalist or someone who has a lot of knowledge in herbal medicine, please leave a comment and add anything I might be missing here, thanks! :)

  1. Gladstar R. Herbal Healing for Women. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993, 177.
  2. Mittman P. Randomized double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica diocia in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Med 1990;56:44–7. 
  3. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 216–7.

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About the Author

Alissa Segersten holds a Bachelor's of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University. She is the founder of Whole Life Nutrition, the mother of five children, a whole foods cooking instructor, professional recipe developer, and cookbook author. She is passionate about helping others find a diet that will truly nourish them, and offers elimination diet recipes, healthy gluten-free recipes, paleo and vegan recipes, as well as tips for feeding your family a nourishing, whole foods diet. Alissa is the author of two very popular gluten-free, whole foods cookbooks and guidebooks: The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook and Nourishing Meals. She is also the co-author of The Elimination Diet book. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram!


  1. AGain, I think that your posts and my brain are somehow cosmically connected - I was literally just talking about harvesting nettles and then came across this post! What a great write up - and what a fun thing to do with your children! I can't wait to live in the Pacific NW, to even think about being able to harvest green things in February is beyond my snow-covered Minnesotan comprehension :) I can't wait for Spring, and I must go harvest some nettles of my own around here! Nettles are so tasty.

  2. Cool! I read in your book about Nettles, but I'm embarrassed to say that as a city girl I had no idea what they looked like until now.

    I might look for some out on the greenbelt when I go back home to visit my parents. Are there any precautions to take besides against the stingers? I would worry about grabbing the wrong plant or harvesting where someone has sprayed a lot of weed-killer (ick). Is that a valid concern? Maybe I'm too dis-connected with nature. :)

  3. Thanks gals! ;-)

    evaline - Yes, you should be concerned about herbicides, I need to update the post. Private property owners may spray for weeds. Possibly parks too? You may need to do a little investigative work. Also, be sure to pick off the trail to avoid dog urine and so forth. :)

  4. I have a question...I'm not sure where I would find nettles to harvest in my area, but would like to use some in a tea, as I know they are very nourishing. Would you happen to know of a resource where I could purchase dried nettle leaves that would be good quality, or a particular store that I can order them on-line from? Thanks!

  5. Rose - You can find dried nettles at an herb store or at your local health food store. Traditional Medicinals also makes a pure nettle tea in tea bags if that is easier (sold in the tea section at a health food store). Hope this helps! :)

  6. I think they are "growing" in my yard/garden. I had mistaken them for strawberry leaves when they were small.....(is this sound right?) Because if so, I'M LUCKY!?

  7. Just had the first potful last night! I also like them steamed and in lasagne. Also as an Indian greens curry--saag. The best thing about them is that they never seem to get mushy, even if you think you overcooked them. WAY better than spinach. Which I love.


  8. Thanks for sharing such informative and great info. I am curious if I could go nettle hunting here in Western Michigan, I will have to research and see if maybe this spring I could go out and search for them. I love forging for food ;) Thanks for all you do!

  9. It's so neat you get your children involved in all your food-related activities. It makes a huge difference when people of any age know where their food comes from and play a part in getting it ready.

    We have nettles on our mtn property, but we've never picked them. We have been stung by them before and dealt with crying kids who have. Usually it's a matter of bare legs and a quick dip in the river solves the problem.

    I don't have a dehydrator, but I'm intrigued by the comment that says they taste better than spinach which I also love. If I harvested them and put them in a bag in the cooler, I'm assuming that would allow them to "keep" for our 2-hour drive home. What do you think?


  10. Ali - thanks so much for this detailed post. you inspired us to head to the secret garden where we clipped a bagful of nettles. i've dehydrated them and food processed them - they really reduce down to very little. the tea is delicious. we will have to do lots more harvesting... Lily is beautiful - I miss her - and I miss all of you... At least we have the recipes and the blog. Love, April

  11. I enjoyed reading this post and marvel at your wonderful photography. I tried picking nettles once and got them way too late, so they were like eating sweaters, full of prickly bits, but I am hoping to forage some up this Spring.

  12. Ali-
    From what my mother-in-law says, you can use "horsetails", those plants that look like asparagus, to alleviate the sting of the nettles naturally.
    I haven't looked this up specifically, but she seems to know a lot about PNW plants
    Aaron R.

  13. Lovely pictures! This brings back many memories of my childhood, back in the 1970s, picking nettles for dinner. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Hello! Thanks for the great posts!
    I work as a Naturalist for a local non profit. We teach science and conservation. I lead a lot of nature tours, while doing so I occasionally get a brush with the nettle. Best remedy I know of is usually right there, Sword Fern. Use the back side of the sword fern for instant relief if you are stung.
    Note you have a frond of sword fern in one of your photos here. Be sure and use a frond with the spores. It's the spores that provide the relief. Happy trails!


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