Why do Nettles sting?

Almost all wild plants that are as tender and delicious as Stinging Nettles have some kind of protection, be it poison or prickles, to prevent them from being eaten into extinction. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. So I usually carry a pair of leather gloves in my car for spontaneous foraging of any well-protected species. Recently, though, I was face-to-face with a beautiful patch of Stinging Nettles (Urtica holosericea) in our local mountains without my trusty hand protection. I did have clippers so I carefully snipped them into a bag or moved them into it by gently grasping the clipped tops with the clippers.


Back home I used kitchen gloves and scissors to trim the leaves from the stems, wash them and place them in a steamer basket. IMG_2810I like to steam Stinging Nettles a little longer than other greens to be sure the trichomes (“hairs”) that contain the formic acid and histamine have wilted all the way. About 15 minutes should do it. IMG_2814

Then onto the plate with a little clarified butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon. So good! And good for you, too.


Stinging Nettles are arguably one of the most nutritious leaves on the planet. Nettles contains significant amounts of protein, especially for a green vegetable, as well as lots of chlorophyll and fiber. They are very high in Vitamin A and calcium and have numerous other minerals and vitamins such as vitamin C, potassium, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. Just be sure to harvest them before they flower when the leaves develop gritty particles called “cystoliths” which can irritate the urinary tract.

2 thoughts on “Why do Nettles sting?

    1. Good idea. What you have in your garden is the invasive Dwarf Stinging Nettle, still edible but a lot smaller leaves and more stems than the wild Giant Stinging Nettles that I harvested and prepared. Just make sure you are getting them before they flower, as mentioned in my blog post. Thanks for your reply!

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