Will Stinging Nettles Really Sting You?

published May 30, 2014
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(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

I was wary of stinging nettles for quite a while. Until just the other week, in fact. There was always something about the sign marked ‘DANGER’, perched in front of the bin of nettles at the farmers market, that kept me away. Not to mention their painful-sounding name. I mean, stinging nettles…not exactly the most friendly-sounding name.

So, will stinging nettles really sting you?

Yes, and no.

As the name implies, stinging nettles have tiny hairs on the stems and underside of the leaves, containing a mixture of chemicals that cause a rather unpleasant stinging and burning sensation when touched. Never use your bare hands when handling or preparing nettles, instead wear gloves or use tongs when gathering them at the market.

So, can you actually eat stinging nettles?

Yes, you can! Cooking nettles, neutralizes the stinging properties. Not only are they safe to eat but they’re also delicious, and packed with nutrients! Nettles have a distinctive woodsy, herbaceous taste and make a nice substitute for spinach.

While many suggest blanching nettle leaves, you can also steam, sauté or add them to a soup as you would any other leafy greens.

Use the leaves on the upper part of the plant, and select nettles that have not yet flowered.

Related: Cooking with Spring Nettles: Where to Begin

What’s your favorite way to cook with stinging nettles?

Updated form a post originally published April 2008.