Wild Food

Cooking with Nettles

In the past nettles (Urtica dioica) were not only collected in the wild for food, but grown in vegetable gardens and even in cold frames to get young leaves as early as possible. 19th-century gardening manuals recommend growing nettles as an excellent spinach-like vegetable. Nettle’s extremely varied vitamin and mineral content, as well as an unusually high protein content (up to 25% of its dry weight), entirely justify its reputation as superfood. Nettle has been traditionally used as an effective treatment for anemia (powdered dry leaves were mixed with honey and a teaspoon of mixture taken several times a day). Though nettles are undoubtedly at their best in early spring, they are available through much of the year. Since the nettle is hardy and easily survives light frost, it is possible to find young plants growing even in late November.

Frost-covered nettle in late November

There are very many traditional and new recipes involving nettle, since it is a part of many national cuisines. Tops of young plants (before flowering), always cooked, can be used in most dishes as an alternative to spinach. Here are some simple and interesting recipes to try.

Nettles with Walnut Sauce

Ingredients: 200g young nettle shoots, 30g spring onions, 20g parsley, 25g walnuts, 1tsp vinegar.

Put nettle shoots in boiling water and boil for 3min. Drain, reserving 1/4 glass of nettle stock. Cool and chop. To make a dressing: grind walnuts (or crush in a mortar); mix nettle stock, vinegar, and ground walnuts. Combine the dressing with nettles. Serve sprinkled with finely chopped parsley and spring onions.

Nettle Salad

Ingredients: 200g young nettle shoots, 100g spring onions, 2 eggs, 4 radishes, 5-6 olives, 50ml olive oil, 1tbs lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Put nettles in boiling water and cook for 3min, drain, cool and chop. Hard boil and chop eggs, chop onions, slice radishes into circles, cut olives in halves. To make a dressing: mix olive oil and lemon juice. Combine all ingredients and add the dressing.

Nettle Pesto

Ingredients: 200g young nettle shoots, 50g pine nuts or walnuts, 25-50ml olive oil, 50g Parmesan cheese, 1 cloves garlic, salt to taste.

Put nettle shoots in boiling water, cook for 3min, drain, cool and chop. Grate Parmesan cheese and chop garlic. Blend all ingredients in a blender.

Nettle Soup

Ingredients: 250g young nettle shoots, 4tbs wheat flour, 75g butter, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Put nettle shoots in boiling water and cook for 1min. Drain, reserving some nettle stock. Cool and puree in a blender. Rub together flour and butter, and add nettle stock to bring to the consistency of thick cream. Add pureed nettles, bring to boil and cook for 5min. Serve with croutons (optional).

Nettle Spaghetti

400 spaghetti, 300g young nettle shoots, 3 cloves garlic, 3 shallots, 300ml double cream, 30g butter, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, 4 fresh organic egg yolks to serve.

Put nettle shoots in boiling water for 1min, drain and immediately put in water with ice. Finely chop garlic and shallots. Melt butter in a pan, add garlic and shallots, and cook gently for 10min.

Add nettles to the pan with cooked garlic and shallots, and heat. Add cream, salt and pepper. Puree in a blender.

Cook pasta in salted water according to instructions, drain. Add the sauce and combine with pasta.

Put pasta on heated plates and put a raw egg yolk on top of each portion. Sprinkle egg yolks with salt and serve.

Nettle Omelette

Ingredients: 200g young nettle shoots, 1 medium-size onion, 4 eggs, 1tbs olive oil, 50-70ml milk or cream, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Sour cream to serve.

Put nettles in boiling water and cook for 3min. Drain, cool and chop finely. Chop the onion and cook in olive oil until soft. Add the nettles. Combine eggs, milk, salt and pepper, and whip lightly with a fork. Add the egg mixture to the pan with nettles. Cook until set, but soft.

Put on a serving plate, cut into portions and serve with sour cream in a separate bowl to be added to taste.

Nettle should not be consumed in pregnancy, by people with high blood pressure, those with a tendency to blood clotting, and those with conditions causing abnormal uterine bleeding. Raw nettle can upset kidneys. Nettle temporarily increases sensitivity to sun, so in the summer a sunscreen should be worn.

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