Many people identify the stinging nettle - albeit unintentionally - by touching it.
Its prickly protection mechanism can start you off on the wrong foot with stinging nettles, but the plant really doesn't mean you ill. It's actually kind enough to provide its own antidote: when you're stung, just pick a stinging nettle leaf, chew on it, then rub the leaf on the spot and the stinging disappears in seconds.
Plantain leaves, sage or toothpaste will do the same but aren't always readily available when needed.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a member of the nettle family and native to North America, Asia, Europe and North Africa. The perennial can grow from 3 to 7 feet tall and enjoys gardens, waste areas, hedges and forests.
In addition to the stinging, you can identify the plant from a safer distance by its ribbed stems, opposite coarse leaves and countless little hairs covering both stems and leaves.
"Nettle" comes from the Dutch word "netel," meaning "needle." It is a fitting name because the hairs on the stinging nettle are, in fact, little hollow needles containing a mix of chemicals such as serotonin, histamine and formic acid.
Stinging Nettle Quiche
3 packed cups fresh stinging nettles, cooked and drained for easy handling
5 slices bacon
4 ounces shredded Swiss cheese
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
1/4 cup milk
9-inch pie dough or 1 pack puff pastry sheets
1/4 cup roasted pine nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line bottom and sides of spring form with puff pastry sheets or regular dough.
Slice bacon and place in a large, deep skillet.
Cook over medium high heat until brown.
Drain bacon pieces and set aside.
Saute onions in the bacon fat until translucent.
Sprinkle the pie sheet with cheese and bacon.
In food processor, combine eggs, stinging nettles, butter, onion, salt, flour and milk.
Process until smooth and pour into spring form.
Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes, or until set.
Serve hot or cold. Sprinkle with pine nuts if you choose.
When you touch the plant, the tiny hairs penetrate your skin, releasing a mixture that causes the burning sensation and little bumps. The stinging may be harmful in extremely rare cases, but some people actually seek it to relieve their arthritis pain, hives and rashes by slapping the plant on the affected areas.
As a food, stinging nettle tastes a bit like spinach and works beautifully in soups, juice, stews, as cooked greens and as tea. It's loaded with many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, C, D, iron and calcium, making it one of the most nutritious foods.
If the stinging really bothers you, harvest using gloves and handle using tongs. Once the nettles are cooked or gently boiled for just a couple of minutes, the stinging will be gone.
Believe it or not, stinging nettles also can be eaten raw, which I only would recommend if you're training for the annual stinging nettle eating contest in the United Kingdom.
Many books and sources mistakenly state that older leaves should not be used as they could cause kidney stones, but research has shown just the opposite result. It's safe to use them from early spring to late fall.
Stinging nettle has many other uses. It provides fiber for clothing, juice for dye and has proven beneficial for a wide range of diseases.
The garden also benefits greatly from stinging nettles. Birds and butterflies use it as a food plant, it makes a good companion plant, insecticide, fungicide and mulch, as well as excellent compost.
One of my favorite dishes is stinging nettle quiche. It's very delicious and quickly is eaten in my household.
Coming in June: Lamb's-quarters is spinach's more nutritious cousin.