Nettles are bad weeds in our gardens but superb ingredients in our kitchens. Long time ago we read in some book of herbs that nature is wise in having made the nettles stingy, or animals and humans alike would have speedily erased them from the face of earth, because the are among the healthiest and more useful herbs. In Bulgaria they are commonly used in traditional food, and it’s not rare to have soup of “kopriva” in any mountain hut. And, born from many days of outdoor camping, foraging and cooking, these are adaptations of three camping recipes with stinging nettles.
Nettles provide us with Iron, calcium and loads of vitamines (A, C, K). They are used as medicinal plans for more purposes than we can list right now, including as antihistamine when boiled as tea (of which Boris can give good account). As food they can be used, just like spinach, in any way you like, keeping their powerful nutritious properties intact.
Nettles grow wild, almost anywhere. While hitchhiking around Europe, anywhere off the road in places with water enough, they were a common sight. As soon as spring comes, and snow melts, nettles gather around any paths, ready to annoy any intruders with their unmistakable itch. During our travels in Asia we found nettles in the west of Georgia and Abkhazia, where a sort of spring walks along the harsh Caucasian winter months, also while hiking in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and, recently, in the northern parts of India, like Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh. Whenever we spot them, a rush of joy makes us spring and head straight for the scissors, knowing that that night our meal with have a nettles touch. If travel often feels like a gift, even more so when nature provides you dinner for free.
Nettles grow all over the world, in temperate zones. They like damp shady areas, like riversides, streams or lakes, and also near human settlements and constructions, like ditches, fences, and very often in abandoned villages. You will often see them by the roadside, but avoid picking them from polluted places, for your own health.
They are easy to identify, because of their green, paired and toothed leaves growing on a hairy stem, but specially thanks to their painful touch (the sting that gives them name). But as common sense dictates, if you can’t name a herb, don’t pick it, or at least do not eat it.
1. Picking nettles
It’s probably the hardest bit, but one needs to fear not, the sharp sting of the nettle plant. When we started picking them, we would use gardening gloves or plastic bags. But one does not always have the first ones at hand while hitchhiking and with plastic covers our hands sweated a lot. Luckily we learnt somewhere that if one holds the flat sides of the nettle leaves with two fingers the stings, which are like tiny glass sticks, will not affect pierce the skin. And also that if by mistake one touches them the wrong way and they sting a little bit, they are apparently a helpful remedy for blood circulation, and knowing that makes the pain feel like healing. So while we hold the tip of one leaf, we carefully cut with scissors just the tender tops of each branch (4-6 leaves at a time) and put them in a cloth bag.
2. Making nettles un-stinging
One may accept that a numb finger is not such a big deal, and a fair price to pay for a free meal, but it’s not so easy to swallow nettles without absolute certainty that they will not claim vengeance in our stomach. In order to appease our fears, and to ease with washing and cutting them before actually dropping them in the pan, we use several methods we use to make them “un-stinging” or “de-sting” them, if there is such a concept at all: pouring boiling water, crushing them in a mortar or with a stone, or bringing them near fire (in nature or at home).
3. Simple nettles recipes (for camping stove)
Like any other vegetable, nettles can be cooked in more ways than we could imagine: boiled, fried, breaded, crushed… in this post we are bringing you three simple recipes that we have tried while hitchhiking and hiking around, knowing that very often one can gather just a few ingredients on the way. With simple things, we promise, nettles make for a great meal.
Camping Nettles Soup
Utensils: Camping stove, one cooking pot, knife, chopping board (or substitute)
Ingredients (for 2 people):
1 onion, 1 carrot, ½ cup of rice, nettles, 1 liter of water (or more), salt and seasonings to taste.
Chop the onion and carrot in tiny pieces (to allow faster cooking)
Cut the nettles in tiny pieces
Pour in the pot all ingredients and seasonings and let cook together for 30-40 minutes, till the rice is soft and the nettles tender (time will vary according to the power or your stove).
If water evaporates too fast, add more.
**optional: if rice is not available but potatoes are, this soup can be cooked with 2 medium-sized potatoes cut in very tiny pieces. It may take a bit longer, but will be equally tasty, if not more.
Camping Nettles Rice
Utensils: Camping stove, one cooking pot, one cup (to measure), knife, chopping board (or substitute)
Ingredients (for 2 people): 1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 cup of rice, nettles, 2 cups of water, one spoon of oil, salt and seasoning to taste. Optionally, add any other vegetables you have at hand (tomatoes go well with this recipe, for example)
Chop the onion, carrot and nettles in tiny pieces (to allow faster cooking)
Fry the onion in a spoon of oil. Add the carrots, and then the nettles, and stir fry together for a minute or two.
Add the rice and double the amount of water (for one cup of rice, two cups of water).
Let cook everything together until the water evaporates
If your stove is too powerful and the rice is hard, add a bit more cold water and let cook for a little longer, till the rice is soft and the nettles tender.
Camping Nettles Breakfast
Utensils: Camping bowl, knife, chopping board (or substitute), mortar or stone, spoon.
Ingredients: Yogurt, walnuts, honey (or suger, or jaggery, or jam), nettles.
Break the walnuts in tiny pieces
Crush and cut the nettles
Mix in the yogurt and whatever sweet thing you like (honey, sugar, jam…)
Have a wonderful morning!
***We have cooked the first two recipes in both multifuel and spirit stove without any major differences except a few extra minutes cooking time on the second one. If you enjoy camping recipes but are still wondering which stove is the best for your journeys, you can have a look at the camping stoves we have used.
– Know what’s edible and what isn’t. Some plants can be poisonous. If you can’t name a herb, don’t eat it. Rule number one is only for your safety.
– Pick herbs where they are abundant, it’s the best place for them to be nutritious. If there are just a few scattered leaves, be kind and let them grow.
– Take only what you need, other animals and the earth will benefit from the rest
– Be careful with the plant, select the leaves or flowers you need, and do not uproot or damage it unnecessarily. Nature is generous, let’s not abuse it.