The thought of eating nettles might alarm you, as this plant is especially painful with even the slightest brush up against it.
But drying or cooking takes all the fight out of it and what is left is quite an amazing super food. It is one of the first greens to emerge in the spring. It is a common garden 'weed' that grows throughout most of North America and in most places it is coming out right now (March/April)
There are two main ways to eat nettles; fresh and dried. While it is young, try eating it cooked fresh with garlic and butter (the basic recipe for making anything taste good!). Yes, cooking does take all of the 'sting' out. Nettles to be dried are also best picked when young. Drying enough to fill two half gallon mason jars is a good amount to keep on hand. Add it to soups and stews throughout the year for a nutritional boost.
According to the USDA one cup of fresh cooked nettles has 555% of the RDI for vitamin K, 36% vitamin A, 43% calcium, 35% manganese, 13% magnesium, plus a smattering of other nutrients.
The plant is best harvested when it is less than knee high and the main stalk is still tender. Oh yes, wear thick gloves - but you knew that already.Don't take it all and you can come back and get a second cutting. Of course, if you are taking from a wild stand, be mindful minimize your impact so the stand will be there for future years.
The Latin name Urtica dioica sounds much nicer than 'stinging nettles'. There aren't many plants that look like nettles, and the sting is a sure fire way to know you've got the correct species. While most plants that hurt, puncture, or pierce usually grow in harsh conditions (supporting the theory they are there to protect the land), nettles are an exception to that rule. Nettles are happiest on rich moist soil.
If you are into primitive skills, nettles stems have a lot of fiber and make fine cordage. Harvest these in September or October while the plant stems are old and tough, but not dried or withered. If you haven't ever made cordage from plants it is a skill that is pretty simple to learn - it will make you appreciate rope and para-cord so much more.
Give nettles a try - they really are a 'super weed'.