Embracing the sting of nettles at the farmers market

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Chef Brandon Kida picks out stinging nettles from Flora Bella Farm.

Chefs and farmers are talking up stinging nettles at the Santa Monica farmers market this week. Stinging nettles thrive in damp areas. Bunches of the prickly green will also be sprouting up from sidewalk cracks in Los Angeles in the coming month.

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Nettles have tiny sharp hairs that easily break and release acid that can irritate your skin

You may think the nettle, with its heart-shaped leaves, is an unassuming weed that can be easily pulled up by hand. But if you’ve never felt the plant’s sharp sting, beware. Nettles have tiny sharp hairs that easily break and release acid that can irritate the skin of hungry foragers and herbivores alike.

Take it from Brandon Kida, the exec chef at Hinoki & The Bird. He got his first taste of stinging nettles as a kid after being smacked by a stalk of them at summer camp. Still the stinging nettles made a lasting impression: they are now one of his favorite ingredients to cook with.

To separate the leaves from the stems, Kida wears thick rubber gloves before blanching the leaves to remove the acids that cause the sting. He plans to serve stinging nettles in kimchi and in a purée this week at the restaurant with cold buckwheat soba noodles. Since the leaves taste a bit like baby spinach, they also go well with cheese on pizza or pasta.

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Farmer Dawn Birch has used nettles to help ease her arthritic pain for years.

At Flora Bella Farm, Dawn Birch doesn’t bother with gloves. She says stinging nettles have helped ease the pain of her arthritis for years. A few smacks of a stalk across her knuckles stimulates a rush of blood that makes her joints less stiff, “like turning on a faucet full blast to unclog a drain.” Birch also drinks stinging nettles in tea to help clear up her skin. You can pick some up from the farm stand at the Santa Monica farmers market through the end of summer.

We think we’ll stick with the gloves when we try stinging nettles in Kida’s recipe below.

Cold soba noodles, Nettle kimchee, nettle puree
Cold soba noodles, nettle kimchi & purée. (Photo courtesy of Hinoki & the Bird)