Stinging nettles are a plant with tiny hairs on the leaf that release a stinging acid when they come into contact with the skin, often causing a painful or itchy rash. However, nettle leaves are rich in vitamin C, iron, and calcium and the leaves can be prepared in soups or pies, much as spinach is used. Dried nettles also make a nutritious feed for livestock. Before eating nettles, you should take care to remove the sting from the leaves.
Don protective clothing and gloves when harvesting nettles. The leaves and stems of the nettle plant can sting you. Cover all exposed skin, including your face if the plants are very tall. Since nettles' sting comes from hairs on the leaves, you don't have to worry about any stinging material remaining in your clothing like you do with poison oak or poison ivy oils.
Clip the leaves with clippers and put them into a strong bag. If you plan to dry nettles, cut long stalks with stems and leaves. Lay them on the ground to collect when you are finished.
Prepare stinging nettles for drying by putting 3 or 4 stalks in a bunch and tying them with a rubber band. Be sure to wear gloves while you are doing this.
Choose a cool, dark place and run a clothesline or string between two walls to hang the bunches of nettles. Hang the bunches by wrapping the rubber band around the clothesline and back around the nettle stems. If you're hanging the nettles above your head, take care not to let the leaves touch your face. When the leaves are dry and crispy, they will not sting anymore.
Use stinging nettles raw in a salad by first soaking the leaves in a bowl of water with 2 tsp. of vinegar. Leave the nettles in the vinegar solution for at least 30 minutes to remove the stinging hairs. Chop the leaves or serve them whole.
Cook the nettles in a pot of boiling water for at least 20 minutes to prepare them for hot dishes. Cooking the leaves and stalks also removes the stinging hairs.