Making stinging nettle crisps is an activity that never fails to please both adults and children alike. It’s quick and easy to do, and the results are deliciously crunchy and moreish.
What’s more, you don’t need to limit your foraging to nettles, as there are plenty of other plants whose leaves you can use as well.
Not got much time or just want the bullet points on how to make these? Click here for the Quick Read Recipe.
Nettles, despite their sting, are a bit of a wonder-plant. Not only are they great for pollinators and soil health alike, they also have any number of uses for us humans.
They are a superfood that can be cooked and eaten just like spinach, or brewed into tea. They can be used to make cordage, fabric and dye, attract beneficial insects like ladybirds to our gardens, and work as accelerators in our compost heaps.
Foraging for Stinging Nettles (Urtica Dioica)
The stinging part of the plant are hollow hairs which cover the stem and leaves. Cooking or crushing the plant gets rid of them, and so this should always be done before eating (for pretty obvious reasons!).
You’ll need to wear thick gloves when harvesting the nettles. I know some people are able to pick them by grasping them firmly and avoiding a sting that way. However as the plants grow very close together, you are just as likely to be stung by the leaves next to the ones you are picking, so I always opt for gloves.
Pick the top four or five leaves for your crisps, as the larger, older, leaves won’t be as tasty.
This works as a general rule for any wild foraging you might do – young and fresh leaves always taste better.
As I live (and forage!) in the UK, the plants I talk about in this article are all common native British or European wildflowers. When foraging in other places, please be sure to check with local guides and experts on whether similar looking plants are actually the same or can be used the same way.
Nettles and the other wildflowers in this article are a good starting place for foraging, as they are really common and hard to mistake for other plants (other than ones which are also edible).
But you should never eat a plant if you are not completely sure of its identity.
When foraging for edibles, also use common sense and avoid harvesting from areas where plants may be contaminated by things like pesticides and traffic fumes.
Never take more than you leave, and try not to disturb the roots of the plant or take parts you don’t need.
Instructions for making stinging nettle crisps
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: Seconds!
Stinging Nettle Crisps Ingredients
- Freshly harvested stinging nettle leaves, washed.
- Oil (suitable for high-heat frying, such as rapeseed oil)
- Salt and/or other seasonings
1. Before you do anything else, wash your finds! this will get rid of any bugs (unless you like the crunch of a bit of extra protein…) and any other nasties that might be on the leaves. I add a little salt to cold water to do this.
2. Heat some oil in a pan until it is very hot. You can test this by adding a drop of water or a trial leaf. The oil should start sizzling loudly and bubbling around the leaf straight away.
If the oil isn’t hot enough, the leaves will not go crisp. Instead, they will be soggy and might go slightly brown or yellow as they cook. Which is definitely not what you want!
3. Once your oil is a good temperature, drop in your leaves. We were using tongs to remove them from the pan, so left the leaves on the stem to make taking them out easier. If you have a sieve or spatula to take out the leaves, then you can add them in already separated from the stalk.
Either way, make sure you use gloves when handling them as they will sting until they are cooked.
4. You should see the stinging nettles turn a lighter and more vibrant green as they cook. Remove them from the pan before they start to brown, which means cooking them for only a few seconds (ten at most).
5. Drain your stinging nettle crisps on some kitchen towel, and add any seasoning you like. We’re fond of a bit of salt, black pepper, and chilli powder, but you can try anything you like.
Foraging for Dead Nettles
When you are out looking for nettles, you may come across a plant which looks very similar, but doesn’t sting. These are likely to be Dead Nettles.
There are two types common in the UK; White Dead Nettles and Red Dead Nettles (the flowers and top leaves of which are actually more purple than red). Both types of Dead Nettle are edible, and full of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
While it’s a member of the mint family, it’s leaves don’t taste minty at all. Young leaves are almost sweet, and slightly peppery.
Just like the Stinging Nettle, Dead Nettle leaves work really well for making leaf crisps, but don’t overlook the flowers.
If you pluck off an individual flower, you can suck the end and (if the bees haven’t beaten you to it) get a burst of sugary sweetness from the nectar inside.
Other wild leaf crisps to forage for…
Stinging Nettles and Dead Nettles aren’t the only common wild plant you can use to make leaf crisps from. There are lots of edible wild leaves around, such as Lime, Wild Garlic, Fat Hen and even Brambles.
To make leaf crisps, go for plants with larger leaves, as smaller ones are too fiddly and often burn up as soon as you try to cook them.
My absolute favourite plant for making wild leaf crisps is the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). The bigger, older leaves can be quite bitter, but the smaller, younger leaves have an almost sweet taste, and puff up with air bubbles a bit like a poppadom as they cook.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata – not to be confused with Wild Garlic, which also works well) is another of our favourites for making leaf crisps. Garlic mustard is a member of the mustard family, and is very easy to identify once it starts to flower.
The leaves do have a distinct taste, more mustard than garlic to me (especially when compared to Wild Garlic), and they are just as good raw as cooked.
Looking for more delicious campfire recipes? Try these!
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Stinging Nettle Crisps Quick Read Instructions
For when you just want to get right to the point…
Freshly harvested stinging nettle leaves, washed.
Oil (suitable for high-heat frying, such as rapeseed oil)
Salt and/or other seasonings
1. Harvest fresh nettles (top 4 or 5 leaves only)
2. Wash well in cold, salted water
3. Heat the oil in a pan. around a centimetre/third of an inch is fine
4. Once the oil is hot enough to bubble and sizzle loudly when a leaf is added, you can start cooking.
5. Add the stinging nettles to the pan a few at a time. It should only take a few seconds for them to cook. They will turn a slightly more vibrant green, and go crisp and brittle.
6. Remove before they start to go brown. Put on a rack or kitchen paper to drain and cool.
7. The stinging nettle crisps are now ready to eat.
Hints and Tips:
Wear thick gloves to harvest and cook the nettles, to avoid being stung.
Forage away from areas which may be polluted by pesticides or traffic fumes.
Be 100% of the identity of any plant before you eat it.