Mar 102011

by Debra Baida

Changing the way we look at the world sometimes quite literally means to touch things we’ve deemed untouchable. In this delightful photo essay, Debra Baida shows how a dreaded weed unveils its magic, beauty and flavor if approached from a different angle.

a bag of nettles

My literal first hand experience with nettles provided one of the most uncomfortable, if not incredibly painful, kitchen memories on record and an important lesson: never plunge your hand into a bag of unfamiliar greens.

How was I to imagine that anything that arrived in the absolutely luscious and magical biweekly veggie box from the nice people of Mariquita Farm could ever cause twenty minutes of misery one day and a declaration of having a new favorite food the next?

As an unofficial member of the recently and aptly named “Danger Nettle Club,” I do hereby wish to share the magic and beauty of an unexpected culinary joy.

If you look closely at the detail below, you can see the source of my one-time angst: little stinging hairs on the stems and leaves.


By it’s very nature then, you could say that this is one of the most inhospitable plants to attempt to eat. It really makes me wonder about the first people who were bold enough to try them.

My first (and to this day favorite) foray into the nettle is a most delicious, refreshing, and supremely tasty drink: nettle tisane, or herb tea. While rubber gloves are great when pulling nettle leaves from stems for cooking a nettle intensive dish, tisane requires a device as simple as a pair of tongs. I use them to grab a bunch of nettles from the bag, rinse under cool water, and then stuff into a teapot. That’s right, leaves, stems and all!

using to handle fresh nettles

When steeped for just a little while, the tea is a clear light yellow. How to describe the aroma? Clean green, light spinach-like. I know, that sounds weird for a beverage, but trust me!

steeping nettle tisane, or herb tea

And when the nettles sit immersed in water for a few hours, the tea takes a drastic turn in terms of color. The tea tastes the same with, perhaps, a touch more of deliciousness.

overhead view of nettle tisane, or herb tea

These two cups of tea were poured from the same pot, just hours apart. As one who likes to drink the tea left in the pot all day, I have to say, I was shocked the first time I poured green-blue water into my mug. The mere intensity and depth of this infusion continues to amaze me.

nettle tisane

I’ve taken to bottling the long-standing steeped tea and putting it in the refrigerator. It’s a gently refreshing beverage that adds a touch of color to a lunch or a dinner gathering, and it’s fun to serve alongside a bottle of tap water.

a bottle of chilled nettle tisane and a bottle of water side by side

And better yet, it pairs nicely with a plate of fresh nettle risotto!

nettle risotto

After all these years, I still remember gripping my right wrist in angst as my fingers and palm burned and tingled. When the pain subsided, I sent an email to farmer Andy and his wife Julia suggesting that future bags of nettles have a warning label affixed to them. No labels, but no matter. I learned another lesson: no pain, no gain. I could have done without the pain, but who knew it would turn into a love affair with something I always thought was a pesky weed.

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Debra Baida is a professional organizer, photographer, sustainable food advocate, and avid cook who considers time in the kitchen a form of meditation. Her foray into the nettle world was originally posted on her Liberated Spaces blog.