Nettles = Fine Fettle
If you go down to the woods today…you’ll be lucky if you find any bloody Wild Garlic, but nettles (Urtica dioica) will be abundant. Instagram is dripping with Wild Garlic shots at the moment – every scroll reminds me of what I can’t find! Living in Cornwall I had it on my doorstep, and even in the centre of Oxford there was a magic spot in a churchyard that provided (the ‘bonemeal’ fertiliser must have helped…). But so far in Suffolk it’s alluding me. If you’re like me and it’s giving you the slip, set your sights on nettles. You won’t have to look far.
As children we are taught to avoid nettles for fear of being stung. It is only in adult life I have come to appreciate just how wonderful these plants are. Delicious, nutritional powerhouses with medicinal value, supportive of over 40 species of insect and providers of a nitrogen rich liquid feed for other plants. They should be revered as one of our great British native plants.
Our own native ‘superfood’ - they are plentiful and free. Just avoid picking from polluted roadsides or field margins that may be sprayed. Right now the shoots are vibrant and new, but you’ll find new shoots in the summer too. Take the top of the nettle – 2 to 3 sets of leaves for real freshness, before flowering occurs. If you have a patch in your garden you can cut them right down after spring, to encourage new growth.
Nettles mine their leaves down deep for minerals and contain many vitamins including Vit C and A. Used in herbal medicine as an all round tonic, keeping the body vital; seeds, roots and leaves can be used for varying purposes.
The fine hairs on nettles contain formic acid and histamine that irritate the skin, but after living in California where the hideous blisters from Poison Ivy and Poison Oak were a daily threat, nettles seem a mild comparison. All the same, gloves are needed when harvesting and prepping. I’ve seen foragers grasp the nettle swiftly and claim they don’t need gloves, but I can live without trying this. Nettles need to be cooked to take away the sting, so beware if you harvest some to dry – they can still get you later!
2 large handfuls of nettle tops (first 2-3 sets of leaves) picked off stem and washed
3-4 medium potatoes
2 cloves garlic
50g butter (can leave out if vegan)
2 tbsp rape seed oil
1 x packet Borough Broth Chicken Stock (324g) or use 350 - 500ml of stock of choice (vegetable works well too)
Optional - Spring edible flowers to decorate e.g. primrose, daisy, violet.
Soften onion and garlic in pan with oil. Peel and chop potatoes and add to pan with chicken stock. Cook until potatoes are soft. Add more water if consistency too thick. Add in butter. Add nettles and and cook for 1 further minute. Season. Whizz with hand held blender or in mixer. Ladle in bowls and dress with flowers.
Recipe is on my insta stories in recipe section. Look out for an upcoming post on how to make a Nettle and Rosemary hair rinse.