Gardening & Homesteading Natural Remedies Raw & Fermented

How to Use Stinging Nettles {With Nettle Pesto Recipe}

How to Use Stinging Nettles

Today I weeded my very overgrown flower garden, and learned (the hard way) that stinging nettles are the most common weed there. But despite the fire in my hands that lasted for several minutes, I was so grateful to find them!

Here’s why…

History of Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)is a fast-growing wild plant common across all of North America, though it prefers the moist, forested soil of the Pacific Northwest. People have been using nettles for food, medicine, fiber, and dyes since the Bronze Age.

Stinging nettles get their name from the fact that their leaves are covered with tiny sharp needles that release a painful combination formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine, serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), plus other unknown compounds. Some of these substances are destroyed by cooking, steeping, or drying, but not by freeze-drying or juicing.

Although gardeners and hikers have historically avoided stinging nettles, the plant has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as people rediscover its health benefits in cooking and herbal medicine.

Stinging Nettle Nutrition

Stinging nettle has a flavor similar to spinach, and is rich in vitamins A, C, D, K, and many minerals including iron, potassium, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, silica, iodine, silicon, sodium, and sulfur. Nettles also provide chlorophyll and tannin, and they’re a good source of B complex vitamins.

Stinging nettle has high levels of easily absorbed amino acids, and they’re ten percent protein—more than any other vegetable!

I like to pick nettles in large quantities so I can juice them, steam them, freeze them, or put them in soups and other dishes. I also dry them for tea, and tincture them in alcohol.

How to Use Stinging Nettles for Health

Nettles are a traditional food for people with allergies, but lest you think they are just a “folk remedy,” a randomized, double-blind study at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon showed that 58 percent of hay-fever sufferers given freeze-dried nettles rated it moderately to highly effective.

As an expectorant, nettles are recommended for asthma, mucus conditions of the lungs, and chronic coughs. Nettle tincture is also used for flu, colds, bronchitis and pneumonia.

Nettle infusion from young leaves is a safe, gentle diuretic—considered a restorative for the kidneys and bladder, and used for cystitis and nephritis. Nettles are also a great blood tonic and a helpful part of any detox regimen.

Nettle tea compresses or finely powdered dried nettles are also good for wounds, cuts, stings, warts, and burns. Other uses include treating gout, glandular diseases, poor circulation, enlarged spleen, diarrhea, and dysentery, worms, intestinal and colon disorders, and hemorrhoids. Nettles are usually used along with other herbs that target the affected organs.

It is no accident that the commercial hair- and skin-care products found in health food stores often list stinging nettle as an ingredient. Because nettles are high in silica and sulfur, eating nettles or drinking nettle tea can make your hair brighter, thicker and shinier, and make your skin clearer and healthier. Nettles are also good for eczema and other skin conditions.

Selection and Storage of Stinging Nettles

Always collect nettles using work gloves, and wear a long-sleeved shirt. Also clean and chop nettles wearing gloves, too. Once you’ve cooked them a little (or even soaked them in hot water for a bit), the stingers are deactivated, and the plant becomes wonderfully edible.

The young leaves are the best part of the plant. After the plant flowers, the leaves become bitter and can irritate the bladder and kidneys, so pick nettles when they are young and tender, and harvest only the top four inches of the plant.

It might seem a bit scary, but fresh nettles can be eaten raw. But be cautious and be sure to neutralize the formic acid that can sting you. Use your teeth, blender, mortar and pestle, or juicer to crush nettle leaves and eliminate their sting.

Try using fresh nettles the next time you make a green juice or smoothie. Use freshly crushed nettle in soup and salad recipes too.

If you do get stung, use scotch tape to remove any stingers and neutralize the acidic burn by applying a basic paste made from crushed nettle leaves (indeed!), jewelweed, dock leaves OR baking soda. In a pinch, vinegar or urine can help too.

You can dry nettles for tea or tinctures either by hanging bunches of it upside down in a cool, dry place, or by using your dehydrator. Either way, wash the leaves right after harvesting.

If using a dehydrator, wear gloves and remove the leaves from the stem. Allow the leaves to air dry for about 30 minutes or pat dry with paper towel.

Place the leaves in your dehydrator, spreading them out on the rack in single rows, making sure to not pile the leaves on top of each other. Keep enough space between each leaf so there is good air circulation.

Dehydrate for 8 to 10 hours or until the leaves are completely dry (to avoid mold). If necessary, rotate the tray a few times through out dehydrating. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Nettles can be used as a nutrient-dense substitute in any dish calling for spinach or kale, but here’s a great way to enjoy them on their own, as found in The Wild Vegan Cookbook.

Stinging Nettle Pesto
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  1. 10 cups stinging nettle leaves
  2. 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  3. 1 small mild to medium chili pepper, seeds and ribs removed
  4. 1 small onion, peeled
  5. 1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
  6. 1/2 cup walnuts, previously soaked and dried
  7. 1/4 cup hazelnuts, previously soaked and dried
  8. 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  9. 2 Tbsp light fermented miso (Tahini will work in a pinch, but isn't nearly as tasty.)
  10. 1/2 tsp. freshly ground coriander seed
  11. 1/2 tsp. hot paprika
  1. Wash nettle leaves carefully, and shake or spin off any excess water.
  2. Place nettles in a pot with no additional water, cover and heat on low until just wilted, about 10 minutes. (Watch them carefully!)
  3. Chop the garlic and chili in the food processor.
  4. Add nettles and remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
  5. Pesto will keep in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days if tightly covered. Freeze to keep longer.
  6. Enjoy on crackers, veggies and more!
Adapted from The Wild Vegan Cookbook
Small Footprint Family

About the author

Dawn Gifford

Dawn is the creator of Small Footprint Family, and the author of the critically acclaimed Sustainability Starts at Home - How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. After a 20-year career in green building and environmental sustainability, chronic illness forced her to shift her expertise and passion from the public sphere to home and hearth. Get the whole story behind SFF here.


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  • That is amazing information! Curious though about how much you need to consume to get the benefits of the vitamins (particularly K) and minerals? I picked up some dried nettle from a local co-op for tea and wondered if I could just add to smoothies or other foods. Thanks for this great post!

  • I’ve just planted my own nettle patch. The soup is so yummy! Here in England they are quite plentiful once you start looking 🙂

    Does anyone know how to make a cleaning liquid with nettles please? I bought some multi surface cleaner in a spray bottle from a Nettlefest and it is so good that I want to make it myself. The label says green tea, soap , nettles and tea tree but I don’t know the proportions and I don’t want to waste stuff.. I’m just beginning to move towards making my own household cleaners so all help gratefully received.
    Best wishes to you all from Carol

  • Hi I just started using this and I was just wondering how much can I drink per day and the only way I konw to do them is boil, strain then place it in a jug in the refrigerator and then drink in class but if its everyday and um 2 glass I dont know….also I wish to know if I should pick the fresh ones or the old ones???

    • It depends on what you are using nettle tea for. I would consult with a good herbalist or herbalist website for more information. You will always want to pick the freshest nettles though. The old ones are quite bitter.

  • I just started drinkg frozen nettles in my coffee. Iam no longer having bleeding problems from hemroids..and joint pain is getting better too. Iam 54 years old & feeling younger than ever..btw I also drink a tablespoon of cayenne everyday !!

  • Hi Dawn, I’m in England (I’d rather not be, but that’s another story) and we have nettles growing by the road and on bridlepaths *everywhere*. I cycle in shorts and you can hear me coming from miles away due to the ‘ouch, ow, ****’ sounds I make 🙁

    I’d like to get my own back on the darn nettles by making lotions, soup and tincture. My questions are: as we are coming to the end of summer here, are the current crop still edible? And considering how close they are to road traffic, is pollution a problem?

    Altho I’m guessing / hoping the Council or Highways authority don’t use chemicals to clear the paths (‘cos they’re *never* clear, grr) I’m still concerned that any good points to nettles could be negated by the poisonous industrial environment that they have to grow in… 🙁

    • The best nettles for eating are the early spring ones because they aren’t bitter, but for tinctures and medicinal use, older nettles are ok. I would avoid nettles that have road exhaust and grime on them. Try to find some a bit off the beaten path. 🙂

  • I’m a breast feeding mother who’s child has eczema. If I drink the tea will she also receive some of the benefits?

    Thank you

    • It’s hard to say how much she will get and whether it would be helpful. However, eczema is very often a symptom of food allergy. My daughter had terrible eczema until I removed what she was allergic to from my diet (dairy, wheat, soy and a few other things), so they wouldn’t be in my breastmilk and make her sick. Once I eliminated her allergens from my breastmilk, her eczema cleared up almost overnight.

      My friend Emily’s daughter also had really terrible eczema and, as an acupuncturist and holistic health practitioner, she wrote a book on how she cured it. You can find her book here. Best to you and your little one!

  • Stinging nettle above ground parts are used along with large amounts of fluids in so-called “irrigation therapy” for urinary tract infections (UTI), urinary tract inflammation, and kidney stones (nephrolithiasis). The above-ground parts are also used for allergies, hayfever, and osteoarthritis.*;*-

    My favorite web page

  • I recently made a tincture with Stinging Nettles, I used fresh leaves. Does the tincture have the many benefits that the tea and ingesting the leaves do? It’s just easier for me to include it in my day to day with a tincture but if i’ll get better health benefits having them a different way, then I’ll do that. Thanks!

  • Is I only the top 4″ regardless of how you will be using them? How do you know if they are too big and bitter? Our wild plants are pretty tall now but I don’t believe they have flowered.
    Thanks! 🙂

  • I added nettles to my cabbage, onion, jalapeno kraut. This is my first time doing so. Do you think fermenting them will “kill” the sting?

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