Nutritious Nettles

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Nettles (Urtica dioica) or more commonly known as "those annoying weeds that sting the pants off of you" are actually more than just a nuisance. Just a quick blanch in boiling water is all you need to mute the painful sting of the nettle plant and start enjoying all the wonderful qualities. (That and maybe a pair of gardening or rubber gloves.) What you are left with then is a highly nutritious, powerful herb with many, many positive health benefits including being an anti-oxidant, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory. The taste of cooked nettles is nutty and rich, similar to that of kale or cooked spinach. Nettles are easily incorporated into soups, stews, mixed with cheese or nuts and seeds to make wonderfully delicious spreads, stuffed into pastas or prepared into herb pastes to be served with grilled meats (they are especially delicious paired with lamb and a glass of Syrah). 

Nettles, available at most farmers markets or health food stores, are known to build energy, strengthen the adrenals, and restore youthful flexibility to blood vessels. The other highly researched and acclaimed property of nettles are its potent anti-inflammatory action. Nettles contain prostaglandins which specifically support the resistance to inflammation and therefore are beneficial in the treatment of a host of dysfunctions including but not limited to the treatment of; arthritis, autoimmune disorders, allergies, and many digestive tract disorders including symptoms of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Nettles have been shown to have a direct and soothing effect on the body's mucous membranes, making nettles a good option for treating common ailments such as sore throats, frequent nose bleeds, mouth sores, chest congestion and of course digestive disorders. Symptoms of PMS, female hormonal dysfunction, bladder infections, anemia, fatigue and bone growth are all also positively affected by nettles. 

The high concentrations of B vitamins provide support for relaxation and balancing stress chemicals in the body. While high levels of bio-available calcium and magnesium help balance the body and maintain proper pH levels in the blood. Nettles provide healthy fatty acids and a good dose of protein, phosphorous, magnesium, betacarotene, zinc, chromium, manganese, silicon, cholorphyll and iron. Because of the high cholorophyll and iron content, nettles are an EXCELLENT source of energy for people who feel easily fatigued, short of breath and generally weak. 

In addition to using fresh nettle, you can either dry your nettle and use the leaves to prepare a nutritious and healing tea or you can purchase dried nettle tea from almost any health food store (or online). The benefits of nettles also come in the form of an extract and are a quick and easy way to reap the benefits. I personally have recently started using the tincture (or extract) of nettles and have witnessed a serious boost in energy and an overall sense of well being. As with all herbs, consult your physician before using nettles to determine whether there are any potential interactions with current health condition or medications you may be on. 

To help you get started, here is an amazing recipe for a Nettle Pesto! You will be amazed at how delicious this pesto is. You may even want to make a little extra and stash it away in the freezer so that you always have some handy. You can use this recipe as you would any other pesto. Try tossed with some gluten-free (or regular if you like) pasta, as a spread on sandwiches, a saute sauce for chicken or shrimp or as a topping for some grilled lamb. Although pesto is traditionally made with pine nuts, I like to make mine with pistachios. I tend to have some on hand, they are less expensive than pine nuts and they are also much lower in calories and fat than pine nuts (not that pine nots are not good for you, just my choice). So here you go! And remember, if you are handling raw nettles, wear rubber or gardening gloves or else you will get stung. And it will hurt. Bad. If you don't have gloves, use a pair of tongs to get the nettles in your pot of boiling water. As soon as the nettles are exposed to the heat, the formic acid that burns will be disarmed and it becomes completely sting-free and safe to enjoy. 

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NETTLE PISTACHIO PESTO 

1/2 Pound  Fresh Nettles

1/2 Cup Raw Shelled Pistachio Nuts

3 Cloves Raw Garlic

1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese (make it vegan, omit the cheese and add 1-2 T Nutritional Yeast)

1-2 T Fresh Lemon Juice

1/2 teaspoon salt (and fresh cracked black pepper to taste)

How to: Bring a large pot of salter water to boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer and then carefully add your nettles (using gloves or tongs) to the water. Stir the nettles in the salted water for approximately 2-3 minutes. Drain the nettles and press out the excess water. In your food processor, place the remainder of the ingredients except for the cheese and olive oil. Pulse a few times to combine then with the food processor running, add the olive oil in a slow stream and process until a smooth paste is formed. If you are adding the cheese (or nutritional yeast), add that now and adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 1 cup. A little goes a long way so you could very easily use this in different way throughout the week or even just make a 1/2 recipe. Enjoy!!!