Common nettle, Urtica dioica, like many plants, originated in Europe and Asia, and has since migrated all over the world. You have likely encountered this at some point in your life, and it is one that is hard to miss when you come into close contact. Many of you likely remember your first accidental brush with stinging nettle as a child and the painful (but thankfully short-lived) dermatitis it caused.
There are six subspecies of common nettle, five of which have the signature stinging hairs. There are also many other plants with nettle in the name that may resemble nettle in appearance or may have stinging hairs, but are not a part of the Urtica genus.
So, what actually makes them sting? Stinging nettle leaves have small hairs which, when contacted, act like hypodermic needles and inject a small amount of formic acid, histamine, and other chemicals which irritate the skin. Interestingly, two of the additional chemicals are acetylcholine (a memory-related neurotransmitter) and serotonin. While it really doesn’t hurt too much to be stung, it is also something that we would all probably rather avoid, so wear gloves when handling them. Fortunately, the hair are destroyed by either cooking or drying the leaves.
Nettles are a staple for herbalists. They are rich in many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant protein. They also have a wide history of medicinal use for just about everything: arthritis, gout, kidney disorders, influenza, GI issues, etc. The one that really caught my eye, though, was rhinitis or hay fever. Consuming nettles may reduce the effects of seasonal allergies, which are really running rampant in our house right now given the very wet spring we’ve had.
For this recipe, we first need to make nettle powder. Start by bundling and hanging your nettles. In Colorado, the air is very dry, and these things crisp up very quickly. But I can’t speak for elsewhere. Just hang them somewhere with good airflow until they get nice and crunchy. Hopefully it won’t take more than a week.
Once they are crunchy, remove the leaves and run them through a coffee grinder. A mortar and pestle would work here as well, with just a bit more labor. Grind them to a fine powder and try to sift out any larger pieces. And there you go, nettle powder.
When you are grinding, you will likely notice that the powder smells a great deal like matcha, the finely powdered green tea popular in Asian cuisine. And that’s about what you can expect using it. The flavor iis not exactly the same, but it is similar enough to make a good substitute, and you can find the materials in the woods by your house.
1 tsp nettle powder
2 tsp sugar
3 tbsp warm water
1 cup milk of your choice
Begin by making a paste with the nettle powder, sugar, and warm water. Stir this to get it really smooth.
Next, add your milk either hot or cold. For a hot latte, you can warm it in a saucepan and hit it with a milk frother. If you prefer an iced latte, just pour in the cold milk. Stir to fully incorporate the nettle mixture into your milk.
Pour this over ice for a cold drink or into a mug for a warm drink and sprinkle a bit more nettle powder over the top to garnish.