If you’ve ever brushed past a bush and a bit of bare skin has made contact with the leaves, you will know the agony of a nettle sting and will probably envisage much the same on your tongue when you think about eating them. But fear not, a bit of heat removes the sting, leaving you with something resembling and tasting like spinach and packed full of nutrients.
Nettles are high in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, B Vitamins and full of minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. They are also help to support the liver and help the body’s natural detoxification systems (e.g. your liver). And they are also a good source of plant-based protein.
In spring nettles are in abundance you can spot them just about anywhere, in your local parks, back gardens and they are free! If you’re not so keen on the idea of foraging them, you can buy them from specialist veg suppliers, like Chegworth Valley. But to forage them all you need is a couple of carrier bags, scissors and some rubber gloves (for handling) and long sleeves wouldn’t go amiss too. Pick higher up on the plant and avoid picking from areas with lots of car traffic. The smaller leaves are softer and less woody, so are better suited if you’re eating the whole leaf.
So if you’ve seen a patch and want some inspiration for how to get cooking, here are 5 ways to cook with nettles.
Nettle tea has a lovely earthy flavour great on its own or that can be perked up with a few spices or lemon zest. Simply add a big handful of washed leaves to your tea pot along with some whole spices (think cinnamon sticks, cardamom or cloves) or big strips of lemon zest for a comforting, anti-inflammatory tea, which is widely used for treating aches, pains and even allergies.
You can replace the greens in your pesto with nettles. First blanche the nettles in boiling water, chop and blend with any seed or nut combination, some fresh herbs, olive oil and a bit of parmesan if you wish, taste and season with salt & pepper. Add this to roasted veg, dollop into pasta or mix through some hummus!
Make a hearty, yet gently detoxifying and delicious soup by starting with a base of onion, celery, carrots and leeks and cooking until the veg softens. Feel free to add in some woody herbs like bay and thyme. Add veg stock and simmer for a few minutes before adding shredded nettle leaves. Let these bubble away for about 5 minutes until the leaves are nice and soft. You can serve as a chunky stew or blend for a smoother consistency and amazing colour (remember to take out any woody herb stems before blending). Taste and season with salt & pepper and a squeeze of lemon for a flavour lift and to support iron absorption.
These work great as a garnish or just for nibbling on their own. Wash and pat the leaves dry (you may want to do this wearing gloves). Rub the individual leaves with olive oil and place on a line baking tray, spaced apart and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt, we prefer ours with a but of smoked salt. Roast in a hot oven (180C) for 10-15 minutes, flipping midway until the leaves are crisp.
Add a few shredded handfuls of the leaves along with some chopped, soft herbs into your farinata batter (made from chickpea flour). Make this as thick or a thin as you like depending on whether you want more of a flatbread or frittata vibe. Serve as alongside antipasti or bowl of soup.