If you’ve taken an early look at your spring garden, chances are there are nettles growing, stealing a march on everything else. Nettles are one of the most persistent of the perennial weeds, but rather than getting mad with them, get even, and eat them.
Nettles are one of the great wild foods. They are tasty, nutritious, versatile and plentiful. They do, of course, come with that defence mechanism as anyone who’s had a brush with a nettle knows.
Stinging nettles are packed with a chemical arsenal of acids and neurotransmitters, designed to cause pain and irritation when the micro-needles on its stems inject the toxic cocktail into your skin. Nature can be pretty formidable at taking care of itself. But nothing that a bit of care and a pair of rubber gloves can’t overcome.
Nettles are best picked in spring when the leafs are at their most tender. The ones closest to the tips are the best. Pick your nettles from patches away from busy roads to avoid vehicle residues – and avoid nettles from places where dogs are walked as you may find a flavour addition you weren’t expecting.
Nettles have a flavour similar to spinach, but less iron and more earthy. They can be used just like spinach and with imagination you’ll be surprised just how versatile they can be.
This week’s recipe is a traditional nettle soup, perfect for a starter or a lunch. It’s creamy, warming, and very quick and simple to make.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try nettle soda bread for a perfect accompaniment. Simply add a couple of handfuls of finely chopped wilted nettles to your usual soda bread recipe.
James Waller-Davies shares a traditional country recipe for nettle soup
½ carrier bag nettle leafs
1 medium potato
3 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon caraway seed
Good scrape of nutmeg
1 pint chicken/veg stock
½ pint milk
Finely dice the onion and potato and fry gently in a large pan with the garlic until soft.
Add the well-rinsed nettle leafs and sweat down for a few minutes. Add the caraway seed and nutmeg and cook in for another couple of minutes.
Add the stock and the milk and bring to a gentle simmer, until the potato is quite soft. Transfer to a blender and whizz until smooth.
Season with salt and lots of black pepper.
Serve with a swirl of cream.