Nettle, or stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a green vegetable that often grows wild in Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. Despite the copious amounts of edible leaves, it is often not considered as an ingredient or commercialized. It is rich in iron, vitamin C, calcium, manganese, potassium and for being a leafy vegetable it has a high protein content (around 25% of dry weight).
Nettle's harvest season is usually in spring, but it can have many regrows and the season extended until the summer. It usually grows in the wild in dense clusters, so it's not difficult to spot. Be careful if wild picking, to the nettle that grows near roads or in possibly contaminated areas: the plant will absorb metals, PCBs and other toxic compounds and store them in the leaves, making it a health hazard. You'll also want to wear gloves, as the stinging in the name is not casual: it will provoke a rash and it can hurt.
It is best to harvest when the plant is not very tall, less than 50 cm high, and most of the leaves are young and tender. If wildpicking, leave the bottom of the plant alive, allowing it to reproduce: the bottom leaves are the oldest and not as nice to eat anyway.
Every part of the plant is edible, but usually only the leaves and the thin stems are eaten. A few minutes in hot water will remove all the poison and make it perfectly fine to eat. It is better not to use boiling water, around 50°C for a few minutes, in order to keep the vitamin C content and making it therefore last longer and not turn brown that quick. Also drying the leaves will remove the sting, and they are edible raw so can make a nice crispy addition to any dish.
- Wolska, Jolanta; Czop, Michał; Jakubczyk, Karolina; Janda, Katarzyna (2016). "Influence of temperature and brewing time of nettle (Urtica dioica L.) infusions on vitamin C content" (in en). Roczniki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny 67 (4): 367–371. ISSN 0035-7715. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27925706. Retrieved 14 April 2018. "The best temperature of brewing nettle infusions, in terms of vitamin C concentration, is between 50 °C and 60 °C as it is sufficient to extract the substance, yet not high enough to destroy it.".