Nettles are originally from Northern Europe but are now found all over the world. They have been used for hundreds of years as a medicinal herb for hormonal imbalances, fatigue and lethargy, forgetfulness, allergies, constipation, and detoxification support. Hildegard von Bingen, a German nun and healer who was well known during the Middle ages, spoke of nettles highly. Today, functional medicine practitioners use nettles as part of treatment plans including seasonal allergies, detoxification, blood building, and balancing hormones.
Besides their medicinal background, nettles are a very nutritive plant, rich in protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. It is also a great source of polyphenols, plant compounds known to provide many health benefits, including reducing inflammation and supporting the health of our good gut bacteria. However, today I want to highlight nettles and their ability to help reduce seasonal allergies.
Nature often works hand in hand. As the pollens burst into the air with the first warm spring days, nettles start to pop out along trails in the Pacific Northwest woods. Individuals struggling with seasonal allergies may find relief from the consumption or supplementation of nettles because they help inhibit the production and release of histamine from mast cells as well as their breakdown. Mast cells release histamine in response to foreign proteins, such as pollens, causing the classic symptoms of allergies including a runny nose, itchy and red eyes, and sneezing. Furthermore, nettles have been found to inhibit COX-1 and COX-2, enzymes that play key roles in the inflammation cascade. Although, clinical studies are lacking, there is one study from 1990 that found some improvement in allergy symptoms with the consumption of 600mg of freeze-dried stinging nettle powder 1-3x per day. Another more recent study in 2017, found that 150mg of stinging nettle powder taken for 1 month, significantly improved symptoms compared to standard treatment of allergic rhinitis (anti-histamines and inhaled corticosteroids). However, the placebo group also had improved symptoms post-treatment.
Although at present we only have two human clinical studies, that doesn't matter. Practitioners have used nettles successfully for thousands of years. This type of experiential clinical data also counts.
How do You Pick Nettles?
You will see nettles along your local hiking trail during the months of spring and early summer. You only want to harvest the top 2-3 tiers of leaves. The younger the plant, the more delicate and tender the flavor. Using gloves and a small scissor, cut the nettle at the desired point. If you don't want to forage for them yourself, farmers markets will often sell these during the early Spring months.
How Do You Use Nettles?
For starters you can buy nettle tea, and drink that. It is easy and requires minimal preparation. It is earthy in flavor. However, if you want to use nettles in your meals, I recommend making either nettle pesto (recipe below), nettle potato soup (recipe below), nettle frittatas or quiches, or use nettles any way you would use spinach. Personally, I feel like nettle pesto is the most versatile. You can make 1-2 batches, and freeze what you will not use right away. Then you can add cubes of thawed nettle pesto to soups, sauces, egg dishes, pasta (of course), parchment baked chicken breast or fish, etc. The list goes on.
How Do You Prepare Nettles?
First wash all your foraged nettles in clean cool water. Then, in order to use nettles culinarily, you must heat or vigorously process them to remove the sting. Interestingly, once the hairs on the nettle are broken, the nettle no longer stings. I personally prefer blanching nettles. Blanching gives the nettles a brilliant green color and makes them easy to handle and trim. Blanched nettles can be frozen for use later.
Making Your Own Nettle Pesto
The nice thing about pesto is it's versatility. I suggest making two batches of this delicious pesto to freeze for year round nettle infusions. You can also add basil or other herbs to this as desired. Makes ~ 3 cups.
1 produce bag full of raw nettles (to make about 2 cups blanched and trimmed nettles)
½ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup organic extra virgin olive oil
½ cup grated parmesan or pecorino
3-4 cloves garlic
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
Sea salt (I used ½ teaspoon)
Fresh ground pepper
Soak the nettles in fresh, clean water. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Using tongs, transfer the nettles into a colander, and then transfer to the boiling water. Blanch for 1 ½ minutes. Meanwhile, make an ice bath with 1 tray of ice cubes and a bowl filled with cool clean water. Transfer the blanched nettles to the ice bath and let sit a few minutes and strain.
Once the nettles are strained, squeeze the nettles by hand, to squeeze out the excess water. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel and spread them out. Using your scissors, cut the thicker stems off, leaving behind only the leaves and delicate stems.
Measure out 2 cups of these blanched and trimmed nettles and transfer to a food processor along toasted pine nuts, olive oil, cheese, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse until cohesive but not too smooth. Adjust salt, pepper, and lemon juice to your liking. Freeze what you don't use right away in a silicone ice cube tray or small glass mason jars.
Nettle and Potato Soup
Another less work intensive recipe for nettles is simply soup! This creamy, green soup can easily be made dairy free by substituting the cream for canned full fat coconut milk. Use bone broth in place of vegetable broth to increase the protein if desired. Serves 4-6
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 small shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 medium sized yellow potatoes, rinsed and dice
2-3 slices bacon, cut into small pieces (or ¼ cup diced pancetta)
3-4 handfuls rinsed baby nettle leaves, base stems trimmed*
3 cups vegetable broth or bone broth
1/3 cup heavy cream (may replace with canned full fat coconut milk)
1 tablespoon honey
Juice of ½ lemon
Splash of apple cider vinegar (optional)
Pinch of red chili flakes (optional)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Garnish with fresh parsley
Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil and when hot, add the shallots, garlic, diced and bacon/pancetta. Allow the shallots to turn glassy and the pancetta to turn crispy. Stir occasionally. Add the nettles to the pot sauté until wilted.
Add the potatoes and pour in enough vegetable broth until the potatoes are covered. Bring the soup to a simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
Once the potatoes are tender, remove the pot from the burner, and using an immersion blender puree the soup. Return the pureed soup back onto the burner and heat on low.
Next add the cream and honey. Stir well to combine. Finally, add the lemon juice and a splash of apple cider vinegar to brighten the soup. Season with chili flakes, sea salt and pepper to taste. You could even add some frozen nettle pesto if desired. Garnish with fresh parsley.
Serve with buttered fresh bread and a side salad.
*Note: By trimming the nettles, and leaving only the delicate stems, keeps the soup more delicate and smooth.
It can often be a struggle to get babies and toddlers to eat their veggies for a variety of reasons. But mostly commonly what I see is that babies and toddlers are offered plain/bland veggies. Although some may like that, I find that most do not. Babies like flavor just as much as adults do. AND adding flavor encourages them to be a more adventurous eaters as they get older. That's where these little patties come in! They are flavorful, veggie rich and nutrient dense! The nutritional yeast adds a cheesy flavor and an excellent source of B vitamins. The garbanzo flour adds protein and fiber, but most importantly acts as the binder to keep these veggie patties together. These patties can easily be adapted with different herbs/spices and cauliflower can be used in place of broccoli. Toren especially enjoys these patties with Karam's Garlic Sauce or hummus. I am sure pasta or marinara sauce would also be tasty.
Makes 12 patties
Time: <30 minutes
2 cloves garlic
1 small head of broccoli (florets only, ~15)
3-4 medium crimini mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup garbanzo/chickpea flour (Bob's Red Mill)
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (I used large flaked)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
~3 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon grass-fed butter/olive oil for frying
Place the garlic cloves into a food processor and process until finely minced. Add the broccoli florets, mushrooms, and oregano. Process until finely minced and sticking together. In a separate medium bowl mix together the garbanzo flour, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, and baking soda. Stir in the broccoli mixture with a spatula. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture sticks together without being too wet, ~3 tablespoons.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add butter (or olive oil). Once melted and sizzling reduce heat to medium low. Using a tablespoon add the broccoli chickpea mixture to the pan, making ~ 12 patties. Flatten with spatula and cook for 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook another 3-4 minutes.
Serve warm (not too hot) or room temperature with Karam's Garlic Sauce or hummus.
Note: Store patties in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The patties also freeze well and can be briefly reheated in microwave (~15 seconds). Make sure to let them cool before serving.
Nutrition (for 2 patties): 57kcal, 2.3g fat, 6.5g carbs, 3g fiber, 3.3g protein.
If you like chocolate and enjoy roasted nuts, then these little bites of heaven are for you. Whenever I offer one of these truffles to friends or family they always ask me, "Are you sure there is no sugar in these?". My answer is always, "Yes, it's just nuts, cacao, and dates!". I chose to use two different cacao powders. The extra dark cacao powder gives the truffles that rich dark chocolate flavor, but I didn't want it to be too rich, so I used regular cacao powder as well. Depending on your preference, or what you have at home, you can make your own personalized cacao blend. The cacao nibs give the truffles a little crunch (which I love). These truffle bites are the perfect little whole food treat that all will enjoy, trust me. You might as well make a double batch while you are at it! My favorite way to eat these truffles is to pair it along side a cold glass of unsweetened almond milk or a cup of hot green tea.
Make ~15 Truffles
Time: ~ 1 hour (including 45 minute cool time)
1 heaping cup raw whole nuts (hazelnut/almonds, walnuts/pecans, cashews)*
8-9 medjool dates, pitted
1 tablespoon extra dark cacao powder (I got mine at Whole Foods)
2 tablespoons organic cacao powder (I used TJ's organic cacao powder)
1 tablespoon raw cacao nibs
Generous pinch sea salt
Optional: 2 scoops Healthy Origins Sunfiber
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place nuts on baking sheet and roast for 6-8 minutes, depending on oven. Remove from oven, transfer to a plate, and allow to cool, about 15 minutes. If you are using smaller nut pieces they will roast faster. If you are using whole nuts they will roast slower. Make sure to watch your nuts carefully so that they don't burn.
Once the nuts are cooled, transfer the nuts to a food processor and add the pitted dates, cacao powders, cacao nibs, and generous pinch sea salt. You can add optional Sunfiber to increase the prebiotic content of these nut balls. Sunfiber is partially hydrolyzed guar gum, a safe low FODMAP fiber that has been shown to increase the growth of good gut bacteria and help modulate bowel movements positively. Also, Sunfiber is naturally sweet, adding a little bit of sweetness to this treat.
Process until the mixture sticks together when pressed between fingers, about 1 minute. Roll into even balls and store in an airtight container. Store in fridge or freezer. They are softer when stored in fridge and a bit firmer when frozen (my personal favorite).
*My favorite nut combo is a blend of walnuts, hazelnuts, and cashews.
I hope you enjoy my creative, flavorful, and nutrient dense approach to whole foods cooking. All recipes are gluten free.