Stinging Nettle Hummus
Light, creamy, packed full of nutrients, and easy to make - there is a lot love about this stinging nettle recipe!
The humble stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is regarded by many as a noxious plant to be eradicated. However, nettles have been important for us humans for thousands of years. If you give nettle a chance, you will soon realize what a special plant it is.
Throughout history, stinging nettle has offered us humans many good things. For thousands of years we relied on nettle as an important source of food, as a medicinal plant, and as a material from which we created many things. Native American and European cultures for example used nettle fibers to make cordage, fabric, carpets, sail cloth, fishing nets, fertilizer, and more.
In old times, people sometimes carried nettle with them because they believed these would help keep sorcerers and evil spirits away, and help break curses. In Norse mythology, nettles were associated with Thor (the god of Thunder) and Loki (the trickster god). Loki had a magical fishing net that was made of nettle. He used this special net not only for catching fish also as a means of escaping when someone tried to capture him. In Celtic lore, an abundance of nettles indicate that fairy folk are sure to be living nearby!
Although their prickly exterior makes them tricky to handle, stinging nettles are very worth the trouble, be it only because they're so flavorful! Because of their rich, earthy spinach-like flavor nettle leaves are delicious in soups, pesto sauces, to make nettle chips, or as an addition to dishes where you would otherwise use leafy green vegetables.
Nettles not are a great ally to humans, but they also help their plant neighbors. They mine and distribute minerals from the soil that benefit other plants, and help them in the defense against pests and diseases. Nettles also are a host plant to many insects, including the caterpillars of many different butterflies. Like all other species, they too play a very important role in the web of life.
You might not expect it of a plant that occupies what we might see as less regarded spaces like ditches or disturbed lands, but nettles are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. Traditionally, nettle shoots and leaves were picked as a spring tonic, and nettle pudding was eaten in Britain as a ‘pick-me-up after the winter’. This might be because nettles provide us with even more nutritional benefits than spinach, kale, or asparagus. They are a rich source of various minerals including iron, magnesium, calcium, and silicon. Nettles also have high levels of vitamins A and C, and more protein than any other green vegetables (dried leaves contain 25 percent protein!).
Stinging nettle has been used medicinally for thousands of years. In medieval Europe, the plant was used to treat arthritis, joint pain, and as a diuretic (to rid the body of excess water). Research now shows that nettles have many more health benefits, including that they can help detox the body, reduce the symptoms of hay fever, help treat urinary problems, high blood pressure, and gout, they help the body to control blood sugar levels, and they support heart and reproductive health. Quite an impressive list I would say!
FINDING STINGING NETTLE
The best time to harvest stinging nettles leaves is in the spring. In Southern Sweden where I live, stinging nettle starts to appear around the end of April, when the ground starts to warm up after the cold of winter. Depending on your local climate, this can happen earlier or later for you. Nettles will continue to grow and can be harvested throughout their growing season, and can reach an impressive 1.8m (6ft) in the fall. Nettle roots are usually harvested in the fall.
Nettles like to grow in rich, damp soils, so you can for example find them growing in thickets near stream banks, on disturbed lands, or in ditches. They also like to grow near us humans, so you might be able to locate some around old villages, farm houses, or historical sites.
When you think you have found stinging nettles, there are ways to make sure you have indeed found this nutritious friend, and not a lookalike. The most straightforward (and courageous!) way to identify stinging nettles is...to touch them. If you brush them against your arm or leg and don't feel anything, you probably found another plant species.
Another way to identify stinging nettle, is to inspect the plant visually. Look if you see small hairs on the stems and leaves. The stem will be square and hollow, and will have opposite leaves that are shaped like an oblong heart with sharply toothed edges. A more mature plant will also have clusters of tiny flowers that hang down the stems like catkins. These will produce small seeds in the fall. Nettle has some non-toxic and sting-free lookalikes that include wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum), slender nettle (Uritica gracilis) and Clearweed (Pilea pumila). It is good to always consult quality guidebooks or experts if you are in doubt to ensure proper identification.
HARVESTING & PROCESSING STINGING NETTLE
When you have found stinging nettles, try to find young and tender shoots. Harvest the nettles by cutting off only the section with the top 4-6 leaves of some of these plants, and leave the rest. Whether with nettles or anything else in nature, it’s important to walk softly on the Earth and to forage with care. We are guests and receivers of gifts from wild lands and forests, so please consider how you can do this respectfully and only take what you need.
The sting you feel on your skin when touching a nettle is caused by thin hairs that are called trichomes. They grow on its stem and the underside of the leaves. For many people including myself, the tingling sensation only lasts for 15-30 minutes, but for others some people, it can last for up to 24 hours.
Wearing gloves can surely make the job of harvesting stinging nettles a lot easier. However, for perhaps a more interesting and mindful experience, you could also try to harvest them with your bare hands. In this way, you really have to observe the plant and take your time.
To harvest without gloves, when clipping, position your basket or bowl underneath the plant, pulling the tip of the plant over with your scissors. This way, when clipped, the tip falls directly into your basket. If you want to use your hands, touch the plant gently and use your fingertips. Your skin is thicker here, and you're less likely to feel the prickly sensation.
It's important to make sure there's no more sting when it comes time to eat the nettles. Luckily, it's very easy to remove the sting. People use different methods for this. The nettle tops can be blanched, cooked, or steamed for a few minutes. When you dry the fresh plants for later use, the sting will have disappeared during the drying process.
Now that you have learned all about stinging nettles, let's make nettle hummus!
VISUAL GUIDE NETTLE HUMMUS
This recipe is made with all-natural and plant-based ingredients. The images below guide you through the different steps of making this recipe. The whole recipe can be found at the bottom of this post on the recipe card.
STINGING NETTLE HUMMUS RECIPE
Disclaimer: Every year there are people that are poisoned or experience other negative health effects from eating inedible wild plants or mushrooms that resemble edible species. For this reason it's essential to ensure proper species identification and to consult multiple quality sources for doing this. It's also important to always check and follow all local foraging regulations before you harvest anything in nature.