Every week my first stop at the farmers market is Foraged and Found Edibles. Whatever they have always sets the tone for our meals for the week. They are chefs turned foragers who harvest wild foods from the surrounding Seattle area and always have an amazing selection of things you will most likely never find in the grocery store. This last visit confirmed that Spring is in fact HERE and I walked away with wild nettles, fiddlehead ferns, miner’s lettuce and watercress filling my bag to the brim.
What I was especially excited about though were the nettles. The seasonal window of time is so brief for these barbed little things. February and March is prime for eating them as by April they start to become coarse and you should not eat them once they start to form flowers. If you are lucky enough to have them grow wild in your neighborhood, pick only the tips. The first 4 to 6 leaves on each spear are the most tender. Don’t forget to always wear heavy gloves and long sleeves when handling these ferociously stingy things but don’t worry, once cooked, the sting dies off.
It will probably come as a surprise to you (as it did to me) that nettles beat both spinach and broccoli in their richness in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C and iron. A tea made by steeping nettle leaves has long been used as a tonic. The flavor is similar to spinach and can be used in its place in most recipes. My favorite ways to eat them is on pizza, or made into a soup or pesto. Here I’m trying something new and putting them in gnocchi paired with bite size spicy pork meatballs all swimming in a nutty parmesan broth. For a veggie option you can replace the meatballs with cannelloni beans. Adding fresh peas would also be delicious.
I hope next time you see nettles at the market or growing along the sidewalk, you snatch some up and discover how tasty and healthy they really are!