Nettles grow up to 5 feet tall and have opposing green leaves, which are coarsely toothed, oval, pointed on the ends, and can be several inches long. The leaves are covered in fine hairs that break easily on contact, releasing formic acid which irritates our skin.
Nettle seeds grow in tiny geometric clusters on thin threads along the stem, after the plant has flowered. Check out our Instagram Reel which may help identify them! When Nettles go to flower, all the energy and goodness goes into producing the flower and seeds, and the leaves go all tough and stringy, you’ll notice they don’t look quite so vibrant! At this point, we stop picking the leaves, and turn our attentions towards foraging for nettle seeds.
As the plant is dioecious, only half the plants will carry the seeds (the female). The male plants produce pollen to fertilise the female, which in turn produces the seeds. The female plants are distinguished by their slightly frosty appearance and droopiness of the flowers. Both plants are edible, but when it comes to harvesting the seeds, make sure you pick from female plants as their seeds are full of nutritional goodness.
You know the seeds are ready to pick when the long seed bundles droop towards the stem. We would generally recommend picking from the top ⅓ of the plant, where the seeds and nutrients are most abundant, also leaving plenty of opportunity for for regrowth and the plant’s survival.
The seeds are not stingy, but the rest of the plant is, so we recommend donning a pair of gloves when picking and processing nettle seeds. As always, when foraging for nettles seeds be sure to forage responsibly and sustainably. Respect the environment and only take what you need, leaving enough for the plants and wildlife to thrive. Happy foraging!
Nettles grow abundantly throughout the UK, and are easily recognisable. They thrive in areas with a good amount of rainfall and in moist soil, commonly found in the countryside, on the edges of woodlands, verges and at the bottom of the garden! We’re pretty confident most of us wouldn’t need to walk more than 5 minutes from our front doors to find nettles!
While nettle leaves are best to forage in early spring, nettle seeds will be ready to harvest from mid-Summer to mid-Autumn. They are best picked when they’re plump, green and looking healthy – brown clusters of seeds are not to be picked.
How to harvest nettle seeds to dry:
Nettle seeds are pretty tasty and have a great earthy, nutty flavour. We foraged for nettle seeds and harvest an abundance throughout late Summer/Autumn and use them throughout the seasons ahead. The seeds can be consumed fresh or dried, although once dried the seeds will not be as much of a stimulant but still great for the body.
Essentially, you can use them in any recipe where you’d use seeds, with a few ideas to get you started below:
You’ll find a few extra ideas in our Instagram Reel too!
Nettle seeds are considered to be a natural source of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. They are often used to support overall vitality, promote healthy hair and nails, and enhance energy levels.
Nettle seeds are great as a tonic, as the seeds contain serotonin – a teaspoon every morning is great for a pick-me-up!
Nettle seeds helps to support the adrenal glands (the glands above the kidneys which produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure and your response to stress) and endocrine system (the system of glands in the body that releases hormones into the bloodstream so they can travel to tissue and organs throughout the body.
Nettle seeds are considered a wild adaptogenic herb. An adaptogenic herb is any herb that helps our body to respond to stress, anxiety, fatigue and overall well being. In its most basic form helping the body to recalibrate itself back to its normal function – so a real powerhouse of a wild plant!
Did you know horse salesmen used to feed nettle seeds to horses for a few weeks prior to a big sale, as it would not only give them a glossy mane, but also a youthful, energetic character!
At the first sign of nettles flowering and going to seed, you should stop picking the leaves – the plant starts to produce microscopic rods of calcium carbonate, which when absorbed into the body can interfere with our kidney function. Older leaves will also be more bitter and less palatable due to being a little tough/stringy. You can find out more about foraging for nettle leaves in our Foraging Guide here.
Nettle seeds are not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women as they can act as a diuretic.
Lookalikes include dead nettles and yellow archangels, but both are edible. Dead nettles don’t sting, and are actually part of a different plant family – mint.
Many of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.
Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.
If in doubt, leave it out.
Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.
One step at a time.
No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow.
Enjoy the process.
Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet.
With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?
The 10% rule.
Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it.
Leave room for regrowth.
Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.
Wash before consumption.
Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.