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.
Creamiest Alfredo Sauce
This Alfredo sauce is the bomb! Everybody loves it. And guess what, it is dairy-free, egg-free, nut free, and gluten-free making it very allergen friendly. Plus, it's loaded with veggies...but your kiddos (or picky eaters) would never know. It is also naturally low histamine if you choose vegetable broth and I like to pour this sauce over pasta, roasted veggies, or steamed potatoes. It's so delicious, I am sure you will find other ways to utilize this sauce.
Total Time: Less than 30 minutes
1 medium head cauliflower
1 medium leek
4 cloves garlic
1 can full fat coconut milk
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
1/4 cup (or more) veggie broth - can substitute with water or bone broth
When the 15 minutes are done, use a fork to test the doneness of the cauliflower. It should be fork tender. Turn off heat, remove lid, and allow to cool a few minutes until it is cool enough to handle. Transfer the steamed veggies* to a high powered blender (I used a Blend Tech).
To the veggies add the canned coconut milk, nutritional yeast, juice of 1 lemon, salt, and plenty of fresh ground pepper. Add the optional chili flakes for a little spice. Blend on high until smooth. Add the veggie broth or additional liquid, and blend on high for 1-2 minutes until the mixture is silky smooth. Now it's ready to be served!!
Keep leftovers in a glass container in the fridge. Reheat over the stove top or in microwave. You may need to add another splash of broth or water to thin to desired consistency.
*Note: I usually discard the main portion of the cauliflower stem.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): 170kcal, 13g fat, 11g carbs, 4g fiber, 5g protein.
This dish is delicious with in-season tomatoes and zucchini from the farmer’s market. The tomatoes, hands down, make the dish. Add your choice of protein whether its diced organic Italian chicken sausage or ground grass-fed beef or poultry. If you choose the latter, you will need to be more generous with the salt.
Makes 2 servings.
Time: ~ 15-20 minutes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 large cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
Your choice of protein (2x chopped organic chicken sausage or ½ lb ground grass-fed meat)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Chili flakes to taste
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
2 large ripe beefsteak tomatoes
2 large yellow zucchini (green is ok too)
½ cup red wine
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 – 2oz servings of spaghetti pasta (cooked to package instructions)
Toppings: extra virgin olive oil, grated pecorino/parmesan, fresh basil
Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook pasta per package instructions. Julienne the two large zucchini into thin pasta like threads using a julienne peeler. Dice the remaining core and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a large cast iron pan over medium and add the olive oil. Once warm add the diced mushrooms, yellow onion, diced zucchini core, and your choice of protein. Season with fennel seeds and chili flakes. If using ground meat, season with ½ teaspoon salt. Once the meat is cooked and veggies tender, add the garlic and chopped tomatoes. Stir well and cover with lid. Let simmer on medium low.
After about 5 minutes, add the red wine, stir, and cover with lid to retain moisture. Allow to simmer on low until the tomatoes are completely broken down and the mixture is soupy. Season with additional salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Divide the zucchini noodles (zoodles) into two pasta bowls and heat briefly in the microwave for 1-2 minutes or until tender. Top each with 1 serving of cooked spaghetti pasta and stir to combine. Divide the tomato sauce over top and garnish with a drizzle olive oil, grated cheese, and plenty of chopped basil.
Notes: Jovial gluten free spaghetti pasta is one of the best GF alternatives. To keep recipe dairy free simply skip the cheese topping.
I hope you enjoy my creative, flavorful, and nutrient dense approach to whole foods cooking. All recipes are gluten free.