If you take the stinging nettle season very seriously- as I hope you do- we previously mentioned a couple of ways to preserve them, but now it’s high time to transition with the plant as it grows. Personally I’ll never pick anything taller than my knee and here in Pittsburgh stop right around May 1st. After this point the tender leaves and stems will become courser as the stem elongates and she prepares to flower and set seed. Let’s let that happen and let the seeds drop too, then we can cut down the tall stalks to use as an all-purpose fertilizer for our gardens. We’ll be trying out in earnest this year making some fiber from them too, which we hope using this technique will produce some good results.
Stinging nettles contain a wide span of nutrients leafy green plants love such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium. By doing a basic ferment those nutrients are released for easier access. The liquid can be dumped at the foot of a plant or sprayed on the leaves for foliar feeding. This fertilizer is best for leafy green plants or plants in their growth stage, that is, before showing any signs of transitioning to flowering.
The process is easy. Cut down the tall nettles and stuff em in a bucket. Cover them with water, with rainwater being best, and let get good and stinky (outside naturally). Use anytime really. Depending on conditions we tend to start using it once the plant looks good and broken down and use a sprayer to foliar feed a lot of crops. It’s really satisfying to leave the farm behind in a cloud of stink.
Picking wild nettles is one of the essential traditions of spring. I’m certain the world will cease to turn the first year that nettle soup doesn’t make its way to the table. (As should be the case.) For nettles all year long here are a couple things to do.
Blanch & Freeze
Prepare a large pot with boiling water and enough salt that it tastes good to you. Leave enough extra room for when you plunge the nettle in. When you achieve a rolling boil add modest handfuls of nettle, pushing them down to submerge for about 2-4 minutes. Remove, strain, and place in iced water, or the coldest water you have and repeat as necessary until all of your nettle is blanched.
When all the nettle is done and cooled, strain them from the cold water bath and squeeze excess water out. I like to roughly chop it at this point. Next, divide the nettle into portions, put them into freezer bags, or other containers, and place in the freezer. These are great for adding straight away into dishes like stews or stuffing into ravioli all winter long.
A quick and natural ways to preserve nettle while influencing its unique nutritive qualities is a quick lacto-ferment. Just pack nettles into a jar with a sprinkle of salt (3% salt by volume brine is the general comfy amount) and top with water. Screw the lid lightly shut and let it bubble up at room temperature for a couple days. Thin leaves like these do have a tendency to get mushy and fall apart if left to ferment long enough so I prefer to move my fermented nettle to the fridge a couple days into the jar getting active.
Add to Sauerkraut
If you happen to have some sauerkraut lying around or are about to make a batch, sauerkraut works as a great “bed” for leaves like nettle to help resist them turning to mush. Mix fresh leaves in with your cabbage or kraut to make a fun seasonal variation.
I think drying is the best use for the big, late spring nettles. The small, delicate ones deserve to be eaten right away. The dried nettle are great as a seasoning or nourishing tea at any time. I like to take advantage of the new warm sunny rays and simply lay the nettle out in a single layer on newspaper, flipping and turning as I remember. The gently dried nettle can then be stored in jars.