For Storey’s editorial production manager, revenge is a dish best served with pasta.

Harvesting nettles

Nettles, prepare to meet your doom. Photo by Regina Velázquez

Last summer, I was pushing my way through the weeds behind our house to refill a hummingbird feeder when I walked right through a patch of stinging nettles. While wearing shorts.

Those of you who have had such an experience are already wincing. For the uninitiated, I can only say that the -ing form of the word stinging indicates how the sensation goes on and on and on (and also on). Eventually the pain subsided, but I glared at those nettles every time I passed the window.

Sweet revenge finally arrived in the form of Herbal Goddess. Amy Jirsa says you can eat the stuff. And it’s good for you. Heck, yeah!

Armed with a pair of kiddie craft scissors, a rather short pair of round-nose pliers, and the great hope that no one would see me with such ridiculous tools, I attacked the nettle patch, snipping and trying to stuff my kill into a plastic grocery bag, which quickly (ow!) proved to be (ouch!) folly (#%*&!). A quick search — and when I say “quick,” I mean to imply that I thought nettles might be evil enough to chase me when I turned my back — led me to a nice empty 5-gallon bucket I could just drop the cuttings into.

I filled that bucket to the brim with snipped nettles and set about cutting the leaves into a colander, using a pair of tongs and regular grown-up scissors so I could grasp the stems at a safe distance and let the leaves fall. Then I discarded the empty stems into a tall measuring cup. As I worked, my young son came by to observe.

“Mama, what is that?”

“Stinging nettles.”

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m going to cook them.”

“And then what?”

“I’m going to make pesto.”

(Big eyes.) “We are going to eat them?”

“Yes.”

He stared a while at my growing vase of empty, prickly stems. Then he said, “We are like the Addams Family. You’re like the mother.”

Indeed! Compliment received. “‘Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc.’ We gladly feast on those who would subdue us,” sayeth Morticia.

After clipping and rinsing the leaves, I steamed them for a quick minute. They developed into an intense green and smelled a lot like spinach. I tested some gingerly with a finger . . . no more stinging! Time to mangle them beyond all recognition.

With enough nettles to make several batches, I experimented a bit, using expensive (and inexpensive) Parmesan and English walnuts in place of pine nuts. My son stood by as taste tester, eager to try as I scraped down the garlicky smelling blend in the food processor and calling his sister over with a sinister gleam in his eye.

We found nettle pesto to be very mild — not nearly as strong as basil pesto, and even less punky than spinach pesto. In fact, next time I make some (and there will be a next time soon), I might add some basil to the mix for a more traditional flavor, even though sweet little basil never hurt anybody.

I could tell you how healthy nettles are, how full of protein and iron, how powerful against allergies, how cleansing and magical. But I’ll leave that to others. To me, it was gloriously fulfilling to have realized my place in the universe: a human with tools, thumbs, and fire who can cook and eat the things that threaten me.

Nettle Pesto

If you have nettles growing on your property, then you probably have more of them than you know what to do with. The solution? Make nettle leaf pesto. Lots of it. Make batches, and freeze them in plastic bags, pulling them out throughout the year.

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 3–4 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ –½ cup pine nuts or walnuts (optional)
  • 2–3 cups lightly steamed nettle leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste*
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. Place the garlic, one at a time, into a food processor, and mince. With the blade spinning, slowly pour in the oil.
  2. Add the nuts and pulse until chopped. Add the nettle leaves and pulse until well blended. Add the salt and pepper and the cheese, if using, and pulse again.

*Regina’s note: I left this out since my kids don’t like pepper.

Recipe excerpted from Herbal Goddess © 2015 by Amy Jirsa. Nettle pesto photo © Winnie Au, excerpted from Herbal Goddess. All rights reserved.

Regina Velázquez

Regina Velázquez is the editorial production manager at Storey. A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, she has lived in New England for the last 16 years… See Bio

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