While stinging nettles are a delicious green, they're famously difficult to deal with. They're called that for a reason. Stinging nettles don't just scratch, they genuinely sting. Some people have more of a reaction than others, but they'll leave a rash on pretty much any human skin they touch. Luckily, they are easy to tame with a quick dip in boiling water, also known as blanching. Blanching nettles makes them easier to handle and much easier to store.
- Bring a large pot filled with about 2 quarts of water to a boil and add at least 1 tablespoon of salt. The water should taste as salty as the sea—it'll impart flavor and help the nettles retain their deep green color.
- While the water comes to a boil, prepare a large bowl of ice water.
- If you brought them home in a bag, dump them directly from the bag into the water to avoid having to don gloves. Stir them down into the boiling water.
- Use a slotted spoon or tongs to lift the nettles out of the water as soon as they wilt, about 30 seconds or so, or drain them directly into a colander. Dunk the nettles into the ice water and swish them around until they're fully cooled off. Cooling them wholly and immediately will help them stay green instead of turning gray. Drain them again.
- Use your hands to squeeze as much remaining liquid from the nettles as you can. (Getting up the nerve to grab that first handful can be difficult—you may find yourself wondering if the blanching can work so quickly? Yes, it can!) Work with one handful at a time and repeat with the remaining nettles, as needed. If you want a more intense drain, lay the nettles on several layers of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, and roll them up to squeeze out any remaining water.
Cleaning Your Nettles
There's no reason to try and clean the nettles before blanching them. Blanching, especially when you lift them out of the pot instead of dumping them into a colander, cleans grit and dirt out of nettles as part of the process. For particularly gritty nettles, continue rinsing and draining until the water runs clear.
Storage and Recipe Ideas
Once blanched, stinging nettles can be stored in an airtight container and kept in the fridge for up to 3 days. Or, store them in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag and freeze them for up to 6 months.
Of course, you can also cook them right away. When you have blanched nettles to use, consider using them in a soup or use them to top a pizza. A great way to use them is to make nettle pesto: use nettles in place of the basil in your favorite pesto recipe and toss with hot pasta or spread on sandwiches.