Stinging nettle curry, one of the staples of Nepalis | Sunday Observer

Stinging nettle curry, one of the staples of Nepalis

7 August, 2022

As the name suggests, stinging nettle is a plant that causes irritation and a smarting sensation when it gets into contact with human skin. The plant is densely covered with stinging hairs and releases pain-causing toxic chemicals. Due to this nature of the plant, stinging nettle is hardly eaten by animals.

It is a species of nettle which is scientifically known as Urticadoica L. The stinging nettle species found in Sri Lanka is known as Kahambiliya. As per ethnomedical practitioners, stinging nettle has a vast array of health benefits. In Nepali ethnomedicine, stinging nettle is used for making medications for rheumatism, muscular paralysis and muscle pain. Some research indicates that consumption of stinging nettle can reduce the risk of cancers. It is also said to lower the blood sugar level. Hence, food prepared using stinging nettle are recommended for those with diabetes.

Nutritious food

Studies show that stinging nettle is rich in vitamins, fibre, calcium, iron, minerals, and fatty acids. The leaves release a little amount of oil when crushed. As per studies, the leaves contain caffeic acid and flavonoids along with anti-oxidants.

Kahambiliya in Sri Lanka is associated with an unpleasant activity. In the past, village elders and teachers are reported to have punished mischievous children with Kahambiliya as the unceasing feel of itching and smarting is said to be unbearable when brought into contact with the skin. The practice of punishing imps with Kahambiliya can still be found in some remote areas of Sri Lanka.

Although Kahambiliya is associated with punishment and ethnomedicine, the herb is hardly consumed as a food in Sri Lanka. Known as Sisno, stinging nettle is widely eaten in the form of a curry or porridge across Nepal. Sisno is a widely eaten wild plant in Nepal since ancient times. This plant largely assures food security for rural impoverished people. Sisno requires no human intervention in cultivating. They grow on their own and are ubiquitous in this landlocked country. Sisno does not contain traces of toxins or chemicals and are organic.

“Sisno plays a double role as a medicine and a food for Nepalis. When we were small, we were punished with Sisno whenever we committed any mischief at school”, said Thike Shreshta who shared the Sisno curry recipe with me. “Although it gives an unpleasant experience if you touch the plant by mistake, it is one of the most delectable vegetables when cooked,” she said.

Burning sensation

Since the plant stings and causes a burning sensation, it is always advisable not to use bare hands to pluck them. Gloves come in handy when plucking stinging nettle. Some use scissors to cut and then collect them in a bag. Pincers can also be used.

A ladle or a pincer is advisable to be used during the cooking process too. It is only during eating that stinging nettle can be brought into contact with the human skin.

Shreshta said that tender leaves of stinging nettle should be picked for cooking. “Prior to cooking stinging nettle, the leaves should be beaten with a broom (Nepali broom). You can also use a weighty cloth to beat the leaves so that the stinging hairs will be broken,” she said.

Once the leaves are beaten, they are washed with cold water. (Some add corn flour to stinging nettle leaves) Here too, a pincer, fork, or a stick can be used for turning the leaves. The stinging nature of the leaves can be mitigated by pouring boiling water onto the stinging nettle leaves. Then the water turns into brown.

The leaves are now ready to be cooked.

Ingredients required for stinging nettle curry

Stinging nettle - 250g
Split black lentils - 100g
Ground nut oil - 3 tablespoons
Cuming seeds - 1 teaspoon
Garlic - 6 large cloves
Spring onions - 5
Green chilli - 2
Dried red chilli - 2
Chilli powder - 2 teaspoons
Turmeric powder - a quarter of a teaspoon
Masala powder - 2 teaspoons
Gundruk (fermented leafy green) a handful
Ground corn - 3 tablespoons

Method of preparation

Soak split black lentils for a half an hour. In a pressure cooker, add soaked black lentils, stinging nettle leaves, turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon of chilli powder, one teaspoon of Masala powder, half the amount of crushed garlic, and salt. Then, add a sufficient amount of water. Cook for 3-4 whistles, and remove the cooker from the heat. Let the pressure cooker get completely cooled before opening the lid.

Heat a pan. Add ground nut oil. When the oil is heated, add cumin seeds. When they are blackened, add dried red chilli. Then add the remaining garlic paste, green chilli and chopped spring onions. Suaté for a couple of minutes.

Then add the remaining chilli powder, Masala powder and ground corn and mix well. Try to break the ground corn lumps with the ladle. Then add cooked black lentils and stinging nettle curry into the oil. If the corn powder lumps are still remaining, try dissolving them. Powdered corn helps thicken the curry. Then add Gundruk and cook for another five minutes.

Remove from heat and serve hot.

Mostly Sisno curry is served with Dhindo (Kurakkan Thalapa/ Thalapa made of ground corn)

Honey-lemon stinging nettle tea


Stinging nettle - a few leaves
Honey - 2 teaspoons
Lemon - a half


Wash stinging nettle leaves using a pincer. Put them in a steel cup and pour boiling water. Close and leave for 3-4 minutes.

Remove the leaves. The water would turn into golden brown. Then add honey. Squeeze lemon. Mix well and serve warm.