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The Humble Nettle: How to grow, pick & use

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

The allotment is still fast asleep so try to put off using those new garden shears Santa brought you for Christmas and have a look at what IS plentiful...outside growing in the hedge rows.

Foraging is my new favorite past time and today nettles are the choice of leaf perfect for our plates!

Yes I'm talking about the humble stinging nettles - also know as a general weed (that I'm forever pulling up!), devil’s claw, devil’s plaything, nettle, burn nettle, burn hazel and burn weed.

Foraging for nettles is more worthwhile than you may have thought, well, that is if you’re not snowed in!

The first shoots of young nettles early in the year are the very best to eat and are a great spinach substitute in curries, pasta sauces and as a vegetable side dish.

Where it all began...

Nettles have been used for thousands of years from food, to healing & even woven into fabric. It was eaten by people of many countries and some even knew it as ‘poor man’s spinach’.

They are seen as edible, even tasty, when cooked (once the stingers have been dealt with that was).

Folk lore worldwide attributes the powers of protection and fertility to this incredible plant. Wisdom handed down from ancient times includes advice on using nettles to protect one’s self from lightning, to enhance fertility particularly in men, to reduce the swelling of arthritic joints, to heal the sick and bestow courage on those who carry it as well as how to avoid being stung by nettles but is there any truth to this?

The power of nettle

Stinging nettle’s leaves and root provide a wide variety of nutrients, including: Vitamins, Minerals, Fats and Amino acids

It is said it could help with:

  • Reducing Inflammation

  • Helping to Treat Hay Fever

  • Lower Blood Pressure

  • Aid Blood Sugar Control

  • Reduced bleeding - Medicines containing stinging nettle extract.

  • Promote Liver health

  • Natural diuretic

  • Wound and burn healing

How & when to pick

This one is a no-brainer for anyone who has ever touched a stinging nettle, as their name is well suited, wear thick gloves otherwise you could have a nasty sting.

Nettles are best when very tender, so pick in the spring when the nettles are just coming up

Pick the young leaves from the tips, the first 2-3 will be the best. 

How to use them

Nettles need to be dried or cooked to stop their sting.

To cook simply dowse them in boiling water. When wilted strip the leaves off the stems. Like spinach, when cooked, nettles reduce to 1/4 the amount. Obviously nettles are not suitable for salads!

If you are drying them, they can be dried in a dehydrator or slowly at room temperature. As soon as they are dried, pop them in a blender & blitz... this is perfect for nettle tea!

Which parts are edible?

I’ve only ever used the leaves and stems of nettle plants although the roots and seeds can also be used and many people pick them for medicinal uses.

How should I eat them?

Here's a tasty selection of nettle recipes I personally like to use,

check out this amazing nettle soup or why

Or why not check out these Cheddar muffins, we simply change the spinach in them to nettles!

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