Spring Forward Foraging Wild Greens: Stinging Nettle Sauté

Spring Forward Foraging Wild Greens

Hunter-gatherers foraged for seasonally available foods and with the spring season came an abundance of fresh, wild greens. Many wild greens like shotweed and dandelions are commonly considered weeds, and are neither desired nor used by modern man. Albeit, while these greens are bitter compared to commercially available vegetables,1 the variety and nutritional content in our diets have become limited2 through our reliance on grocery stores to source food for us.3

Spring is the perfect time of year to embrace the nutrient density these wild foods offer. Edible wild greens like quercetin4 are rich in phenols and antioxidants,5 provide significant alpha-linolenic acid,6 and contain high levels of bioavailable forms of minerals, like iron.7 Even in urban areas it is easy to experiment with foraged greens, and once you are armed with a basic education of how to prepare them, you can reclaim your foraging roots while also broadening your culinary prowess.

Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, is a wild green that can be found alongside blackberry bramble, rivers, streams, or on cultivated farmland during early spring. Nettles are high in tannic acid, chlorophyll, iron, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur, and vitamins A, D, K, C and B complex. 89 Nettles, prized as a natural health remedy for many ailments 10,11,12,13,14 are highly versatile and can be substituted in any recipe that calls for leafy greens, such as kale, chard, or spinach.

As their name implies, they will actually sting if not handled properly. This natural defense mechanism keeps most animals and insects away, thus preserving the plant from being eaten. However, we can avoid this consequence by wearing long sleeves and thick work gloves.  The underside of each leaf is covered with hairs that contain a stinging liquid,15 which includes formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine and 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin)16 and it will leave a burning sensation on skin. If you are inadvertently stung, look for either jewelweed or dockweed leaves, which both frequently grow alongside the nettles. Crush the leaves to expose the juices and apply them against your skin.

Many farmers’ markets also offer seasonally foraged foods, including nettles. Care must be taken to deactivate the stinging liquid before eating. Simply heating the nettles, either through blanching or sautéing deactivates the stinging potential, rendering them completely safe to eat.

Stinging nettles can be transformed into Paleo pesto, hearty soups, as a filling for chicken breasts or boneless legs of lamb. This simple sauté highlights the fresh flavor of the nettles and makes a great vegetable side dish for any meal, such as alongside roasted meat.


Serves 2


    • ½ lb (8 oz) fresh nettle leaves
    • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    • 1 tspn of avocado or olive oil
    • ¼ tsp dried red pepper flakes (adjust up or down to taste)


Spring Forward Foraging Wild Greens
1. Using thick garden or kitchen gloves blanch the raw nettles in boiling water until wilted (about 1-2 minutes). 2. Strain and squeeze them dry.
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[1] Leonti, Marco, et al. “Wild gathered food plants in the European Mediterranean: a comparative analysis.” Economic Botany 60.2 (2006): 130-142.

[2] Marshall, Fiona. “Agriculture and use of wild and weedy greens by thePiik AP Oom okiek of Kenya.” Economic Botany 55.1 (2001): 32-46.

[3] Heath, Anne-Louise M., and Susan J. Fairweather-Tait. “Clinical implications of changes in the modern diet: iron intake, absorption and status.” Best Practice & Research Clinical Haematology 15.2 (2002): 225-241.

[4] Trichopoulou, A., et al. “Nutritional composition and flavonoid content of edible wild greens and green pies: a potential rich source of antioxidant nutrients in the Mediterranean diet.” Food Chemistry 70.3 (2000): 319-323.

[5] Gülçin, Ilhami, et al. “Antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiulcer and analgesic activities of nettle (Urtica dioica L.).” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 90.2 (2004): 205-215.

[6] Guil-Guerrero, J. L., M. M. Rebolloso-Fuentes, and ME Torija Isasa. “Fatty acids and carotenoids from Stinging Nettle (Urticadioica L.).” Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 16.2 (2003): 111-119.

[7] Konieczyński, P., and M. Wesołowski. “Determination of zinc, iron, nitrogen and phosphorus in several botanical species of medicinal plants.” Pol. J. Environ. Stud 16.5 (2007): 785.

[8] Konieczyński, P., and M. Wesołowski. “Determination of zinc, iron, nitrogen and phosphorus in several botanical species of medicinal plants.” Pol. J. Environ. Stud 16.5 (2007): 785.

[9] Hojnik, Maša, Mojca Škerget, and Željko Knez. “Isolation of chlorophylls from stinging nettle (Urtica dioica L.).” Separation and Purification Technology 57.1 (2007): 37-46.

[10] Chrubasik S, Enderlein W, Bauer R, and Grabner W. Evidence for antirheumatic effectiveness of Herba Urticae dioicae in acute arthritis: A pilot study. Phytomedicine 1997;4(2):105-108.

[11] Dathe G and Schmid H. [Phytotherapy of the benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Double-blind study with an extract of Radicus Urticae (ERU)]. Urologe B 1987;27:223-226.

[12] Edgcumbe, D. P. and McAuley, D. Hypoglycaemia related to ingestion of a herbal remedy. Eur.J.Emerg.Med. 2008;15(4):236-237.

[13] Namazi, N., Esfanjani, A. T., Heshmati, J., and Bahrami, A. The effect of hydro alcoholic Nettle (Urtica dioica) extracts on insulin sensitivity and some inflammatory indicators in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized double-blind control trial. Pak.J.Biol.Sci. 8-1-2011;14(15):775-779.

[14] Randall, C., Dickens, A., White, A., Sanders, H., Fox, M., and Campbell, J. Nettle sting for chronic knee pain: a randomised controlled pilot study. Complement Ther.Med. 2008;16(2):66-72

[15] Oliver, F., et al. “Contact urticaria due to the common stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)—histological, ultrastructural and pharmacological studies.” Clinical and experimental dermatology 16.1 (1991): 1-7.

[16] Collier, H. O. J., and G. B. Chesher. “IDENTIFICATION OF 5‐HYDROXYTRYPTAMINE IN THE STING OF THE NETTLE (URTICA DIOICA).”British journal of pharmacology and chemotherapy 11.2 (1956): 186-189.

About Stephanie Vuolo

Stephanie VuoloStephanie Vuolo is a Certified Nutritional Therapist, an American College of Sports Medicine Personal Trainer, and a Certified CrossFit Level 1 Coach. She has a B.A. in Communications from Villanova University. She is a former contributor to Discovery Communications/TLC Blog, Parentables.

Stephanie lives in Seattle, WA, where she is a passionate and enthusiastic advocate for how diet and lifestyle can contribute to overall wellness and longevity. She has been raising her young daughter on the Paleo Diet since birth. You can visit her website at www.primarilypaleo.com.

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