This undated photo shows stinging nettles in New Paltz, N.Y. Nettles is a weed and it stings, but it also is a healthful and tasty plant. (Lee Reich via AP)

This undated photo shows stinging nettles in New Paltz, N.Y. Nettles is a weed and it stings, but it also is a healthful and tasty plant. (Lee Reich via AP)

Yes, stinging nettles sting. But they have many assets too.

At a time of year when weeds may be getting the better of you, what sweet revenge it is to turn them into an asset. Eat them!

And one of the best weeds for this purpose is stinging nettle.

Yes, that “stinging” in the name is off-putting, and rightly so. Grab a clump of stinging nettle leaves and stems in your bare hands and you’ll feel like you’ve been stung by a horde of angry ants or bees. That’s because the plant is covered with short, hollow hairs that are poised like miniature hypodermic needles. Their swollen bases are filled with formic acid, the same stuff that causes the pain of ant and bee stings. Even accidentally brushing against the plant is enough to inflict stings, and the pain could last a whole day.

Stinging nettle does not seem like the kind of plant anyone would want to harvest, let alone put into their mouth. But putting on gloves takes care of the harvesting problem. And cooking or drying the plant removes the sting for eating.

There are good reasons to go to the trouble of eating stinging nettles, beyond wanting to remove it from your garden. Stinging nettle is a healthful weed, or, shall we now say, healthful “vegetable.” It’s high in vitamins A and C, and in the minerals calcium and iron.

Stinging nettle also has a number of medicinal properties, including some anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties. Poultices of nettle tea are said to soothe aching joints, and nettle has been used to treat urinary problems and offer some relief from hay fever.

Probably the most famous medicinal use of stinging nettle is for treating arthritis. The stinging seems to stimulate blood flow to afflicted areas when locally applied. (Interestingly, bee stings have also been used to treat arthritis.)

I’m not suggesting choking down stinging nettle as famine food or as medicine; the stuff also tastes good. I’ve enjoyed it as a tea and as cooked greens, the latter in the same way as spinach. If you aspire to loftier culinary heights, borrow some dishes from around the world: nettle beer from Britain or, from Ireland, nettle cream soup, which also calls for leeks, milk, butter and, of course, oatmeal. The best season to harvest nettles is now, in spring, when the shoots and leaves are young and tender.

If you don’t know the plant, you probably don’t want to discover it by accidentally brushing up against it. So here’s what to look for: a stem 4 to 6 feet high with pointed, somewhat heart-shaped, toothed leaves directly opposite each other at each node along the stem. The leaves are smooth on their upper sides, their stinging hairs on the undersides. The flowers and the seeds that follow are both small, and appear in branched clusters that emerge where leaves join the stem.

Don’t flog yourself too much for letting this weed find its way into your garden. You’re a good gardener. Stinging nettle is a weed of damp, rich soils. Now, if only I could find some use for creeping Charlie and quackgrass, two other weeds of damp, nutrient rich soils.

More in Life

Cabbage, potatoes, salmon and an assortment of pantry staples make for a culinary challenge. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Take a culinary pop quiz

Get creative with what’s in your pantry

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes I wonder, who needs who

Dog whispers we are not. Suckers for unconditional love, you bet.

This undated John E. Thwaites photo, perhaps taken near Seward, shows the S.S. Dora grounded. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 3

Her long career had come to an end at last.

Meredith Harber (courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Don’t let termination dust bring you down

If I’m honest, this time of year is the hardest for me mentally and emotionally.

Pieces hang on display at the Kenai Art Center for the open call show on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘They felt like they could share with us now’

Art center open call offers space for new artists.

The Cosmic Hamlet Entertainment film crew prepares for a new scene to roll on the set of “Bolt from the Blue” at the Kilcher Homestead on Sept. 28. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
‘Bolt from the Blue’ film features Homer

“The Office” star Kate Flannery cast in feature film produced in Homer.

These old-fashioned doughnuts don’t skimp on the fat or sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Memories of old-fashioned doughnuts

My recipe is for old-fashioned doughnuts, and since I make these maybe twice a year, I don’t skimp on the sugar and fat.

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: October is here again

The days are shorter. We are losing nearly six minutes a day. It’s getting colder.

This John E. Thwaites photo shows the S.S. Dora near Sand Point, Alaska. Thwaites sailed as mail clerk on the Dora between at least 1905 and 1912. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 2

The S.S. Dora touched lives on and became part of the history of the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska.

Steller Sea Lions can be seen in an enclosure at the Alaska SeaLife Center on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska SeaLife Center to Alaskans: We’re still here for you

You rallied and kept us alive. Today, we’re writing to say thank you.

A wood-carved whale hangs in the Nikiski Senior Center on Sept. 23, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Nikiski Senior Center)
Whale of a job

Nikiski Senior Center gets addition to dining room.

Tomato soup with grilled cheese. (Photo by Tressa Dale)
On the strawberry patch: The comfort of tomato soup

When I was very young, my mother would make me tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on days when I was feeling down.