there's a nature reserve nearby with new growth forest and the ground is covered in them...I'm thinking they could be a good money saving spinach substitute?
I had some at a restaurant and they were really tasty!
One time I was going swimming at a secret watering hole, and on the way down to it nature called. As I was finishing up I fell over, with my swimsuit bottoms down, and fell on top of a stinging nettle plant. Got the stingers all up my leg and bottom. Now I make a point to eat nettle whenever I can... you know, for revenge.
It makes a great spinach substitute. You have to pick it young. It is not good when the plant is older. Another good edible is wild mustard and wild horseradish. Also good is Plantain elongata. I eat all these things often.
You can only consume young stinging nettles without any problems. However, once the plants are mature, the fiber gets too tough and they are difficult to digest.
Stinging nettles have medicinal properties and it is basically like consuming a herb. The plant is not as safe as spinach and has some kind affect on blood etc.
As a spinach sub, I'd maybe stick to gathering dandelion greens instead if you can find them. (Saute with plenty of fat and add a little acid at the end to counteract the pretty extreme bitterness.)
Young nettles are good in pesto and teas, but I wouldn't want to eat mature nettles. I'm guessing they're pretty fibrous.
No. If you're a guy I'd stay away from them. They are traditionally used to help with Male-pattern-baldness by reducing DHT levels. That is not a good thing if you are a male, as DHT is responsible for many of our characteristically masculine features.
I was just talking to someone about nettles last week! You got to harvest them when they are young, the peak of the season is in March, I think. Use gloves to handle them until after they're cooked. Remove the leaves and blanch them (in a pot of boiling water then immerse in ice water) to inactivate the stingers which contain formic acid and histamine. Wring them out and use in your recipe. MDA has one here for pesto.
I use them in all kinds of ways. Yummy! (A web search for nettle recipes will give you lots of ideas.) When we've had enough of fresh nettle, I dehydrate and powder some for use in stews and such in the winter.