Spanakopita, for those who may be wondering, is a delicious savory Greek pastry. It is traditionally made with spinach, but it is just as delicious, and more nutritious, when made with stinging nettle. No, I’m not Greek, but a local church has a wonderful festival each year and my taste buds definitely say yes to Greek food!
Identifying Stinging Nettle
I most often find stinging nettles growing along moist, forest trails. Urticia dioica is a flowering perennial that loves rich soil and partial shade. It gets its common name from the sharp hairs that sting when touched.
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The plant has opposite, serrated leaves which, along with the stems, contain the stinging hairs. Stinging nettle, which begins to flower mid-summer, has small green or brown flowers which grow out of the leaf axil. It is best not to consume nettle after it begins flowering; it is said that the plant can cause kidney damage after that point.
Harvesting Stinging Nettle
There are some who have learned the art of harvesting stinging nettle without gloves. I have not been consistently successful at doing so. Gloves and long sleeves make the job much easier, although I can’t say I mind being stung. I find it painfully good in some strange way.
So, wearing your gloves, use scissors to harvest the top 6 or so leaves of the plant. I have to warn you, that even with gloves, I am occasionally stung. If you find the sting unbearable, look for plantain leaf nearby, macerate it by chewing and apply to the sting.
Using Stinging Nettle
You may wonder how to use a plant that has such a potent sting. Cooking stinging nettle renders the stinging hairs powerless. Processing the leaves in a food processor for pesto will also neutralize the hairs and is one way that nettle can be eaten raw.
Nettle leaf can also be dried for tea which I find gives me some relief from seasonal allergies. And it can be cooked in any way that you would use spinach or kale. I particularly enjoy nettle chips.
Stinging nettle spanakopita is an exceptionally delicious way to enjoy nettle and you get a good boost of minerals like iron, calcium, potassium and silica in the process.