I have just returned from a trip along my favourite nettle haunt with two bulging bagfuls of nettle tops – one for Mum and one for me. Sweet Cicely Way, as I have nicknamed the fragrant path on cemetery hill, is one of the few local nature spots allowed to flourish with minimal human interference, and the perfect site for foraging wild herbs.
I’ve been a fan of the weed since my student days in Oxford, when I discovered nettle tea. Since then I have expanded into making my own nettle tea, nettle leaf salad and raw nettle soup.
In a nutshell, nettles are tasty (similar to spinach), highly nutritious, medicinal, widely available and free. I believe they are one of the most underrated and least understood plants in Britain. Nettle (latin: Urtica dioica) could be called a superfood, except that this label generally applies to exotic, expensive products – rather than a common weed.
Our medieval ancestors used nettles extensively as a food and in health remedies. The Anglo-Saxons drank nettle beer for rheumatism, while nettle soup and porridge were eaten as spring tonics. The old knowledge is being revived today and more people are seeking out nettles for their high vitamin C content, powerful blood purifying, anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory properties.
No matter how healthy we are, because our environment is so toxic, our bodies need all the help they can get to keep flushing chemicals out. Nettles are nature’s perfect remedy for this.
I know first hand just how reviving a cup of nettle tea can be, from the old days when I drank it to beat a hang over. Drinking one cup of nettle tea a day has been shown to remove eczema. The iron in nettles is easily digested and assimilated and studies have shown that regular consumption (minimum 30 days recommended) can treat many common ailments including: allergies, hay fever, asthma, anaemia, high or low blood pressure, gout, stomach acid, kidney stones and diarrhoea.
I have created a way of using the leaves from nettle tops in a tasty soup that leaves me feeling energised and refreshed. Keeping the leaves, onion and herbs in their raw state – rather than heating them up – retains their enzymes, and keeps more of their goodness and flavour intact. Here’s my recipe to try for yourself:
Raw Nettle Soup
Uses all raw ingredients except for the potatoes and veg stock.
1 red onion (finely chopped)
2 – 3 medium sized potatoes
2 cloves garlic (to taste)
Colander full of washed nettle leaves
1 litre vegetable stock
Sprigs of fresh mint (or other herb of choice), a couple of bay leaves, grated nutmeg
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Wearing rubber gloves, wash and drain the nettles. Remove the young leaves from the stalks, discarding any dead or discoloured ones.
Chop up the potatoes into small cubes and bring a large pan of vegetable stock to the boil.
Add the potatoes and bay leaves and allow to simmer.
When the potatoes are cooked through, remove from the heat and add the nettle leaves, garlic and herbs.
Add more water if necessary to create desired consistency.
Remove the bay leaves.
Leave for 5 – 10 minutes to cool and pour into a blender.
Blend for 10 – 20 seconds and pour out a quarter of the quantity back into the pan.
Blend the rest until smooth and pour back into the pan.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Eat warm or chilled according to taste.
Tips on harvesting nettles
Wear rubber gloves and use scissors.
Avoid collecting nettles in very public areas along footpaths where dogs may wee on them.
Young nettles can be frozen for year round use.
If you have a garden you can repeatedly cut back the nettles so that they grow new shoots that can be harvested right through the year.