Would You Eat Stinging Nettle?

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Nettle soup. ©iStockphoto.com/adel66

Wild lettuces, forest mushrooms, gathered berries—there are plenty of foraged foods we’re used to seeing at the market or on the menu. But stinging nettle?

The plant ranks right up there with poison ivy for its effect on the unsuspecting hiker—a single touch can bring on an immediate, painful sting. But according to Seattle foraging expert Langdon Cook, author of Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager, properly-prepared nettles make a perfect stand-in for spinach—whether in soups or pastas, as a cooked green, or as a base for pesto.

Of course, nettle-eaters should handle the raw plant with care—using gloves when holding the uncooked green, and blanching the leaves in order to get rid of that powerful sting. But once tamed, the stinging nettle packs quite the flavor punch. “It’s a distinctive taste, characteristic of edible wild plants in general,” Cook tells the Wall Street Journal: “A bright green note that makes you sit up and pay attention, with a peppery zing.” Just make sure to cook the nettles thoroughly, so it's the taste that gets your attention—and not your suddenly throbbing tongue.