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Taming the snack that bites back: Bake tangy crisps from foraged, wild stinging nettles
September 26, 2022
“Why would you want to eat a nettle?” asked a doubtful coworker when I mentioned my plans to collect some after work.
The skepticism is well-earned. Anyone who’s spent time outdoors knows to give stinging nettles a wide berth in the garden or forest to avoid receiving their namesake sting.
But if you know the secret to get past the sting (it’s heat!), a nettle patch yields a savory green similar to spinach, historically eaten around the world. In addition to their appealing taste, they’re recognized for a host of nutritional benefits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that nettles are a good source of fiber, magnesium, iron, vitamin B6 and calcium, with a surprising amount of protein for a leafy vegetable.
But if you’re not really excited by greens – how about chips?
Baking seasoned nettles in the oven will turn stinging leaves into a delicate, crispy snack reminiscent of kale chips. Think of this recipe as a blueprint for your creativity – feel free to add in other herbs, swap the cider vinegar for red wine vinegar (or leave it out entirely) or add some red pepper flakes for a spicier kick.
Crispy baked nettle chips
Vegan; yields approximately 1.5 cups chips
- Young nettle leaves
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garlic powder
- Apple cider vinegar (optional)
- Nutritional yeast (optional)
Heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with a silicone liner or foil to prevent sticking.
Drizzle 2-3 cups nettle leaves with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a few teaspoons of vinegar; stir with a long-handled spoon until well-coated, but not soggy.
Sprinkle leaves with a teaspoon each of salt and garlic powder and add fresh ground pepper to taste. Add a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast, if using. Stir again to incorporate.
Spread the leaves onto the baking sheet and separate them so they do not overlap much (stuck-together leaves will not crisp as well and can be soggy.) Chopsticks are a good tool to use, if needed, to separate the leaves since they will still sting at this stage.
Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, checking frequently near the end of cooking time. Gently turn once with a spatula during baking.
The heat of the oven will crisp and shrink the nettles as water evaporates, turning them into a tangy, tasty chips.
- Cook thoroughly to eliminate the nettle’s sting, which is neutralized by heat.
- Crisps are best eaten the same day, but you can store them for a few days in a sealed container lined with paper towel or a flour sack cloth. Crisps will soften a bit in storage.
ID and gathering
Stinging nettle ID - Urtica dioica.
Nettles can be identified by their deep green, heart-to-oval shaped toothed leaves that come to points. Both the leaves and stems are covered in fine, stinging hairs. Nettles are perennial, easily growing to three feet tall. Younger plants have tender leaves and with less stinging power than older plants.
To gather nettles, wear long gloves and use scissors or garden shears to snip leaves into a bowl. We recommend wearing long pants and shoes to avoid kneeling or stepping into a patch.
Collect younger, heart-shaped leaves; longer, older leaves are more fibrous and can be stringy.
Rinse and dry sandy leaves in cold water with a salad spinner, if necessary.
Nettles can be added to soups, stir-fries or baked. They should not be eaten raw.
Get stung? Don’t panic
A nettle’s sting is a two-part affair. The fine hairs on the plant will poke, and deliver an irritating dose of formic acid, the same chemical in ant saliva that causes a sting when they bite.
To treat a sting, first wash the affected area to remove the hairs and calm the reaction. Make a paste of baking soda and water, or try rubbing crushed jewelweed on the area, to help alleviate the sting.
If a rash persists for more than a day or two, see a physician.
Rachel Coale (she/her/hers) is a DNR communications representative who helps connect to people to nature through all things trees and forestry. She enjoys hiking, foraging and tending to a backyard garden.