Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettles grow in great profusion throughout the countryside in temperate regions all round the world, particularly on nitrate-rich soil.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Parts to Use: leaves
When to Pick: spring
Stinging nettles grow in great profusion throughout the countryside in temperate regions all round the world, particularly on nitrate-rich soil. Gather them in spring when they are young and tender and not too strongly flavoured.
You’ll need gloves to protect your hands. If you do get stung, rub with a dock leaf to relieve the pain – happily, they usually grow side by side. With their high iron and vitamin C content, nettles were prominent in folk medicine and, like many other wild foods, they helped in some small measure to alleviate hunger during the Irish famine. Among the older generation, the tradition of eating nettles four times during the month of May to clear the blood still persists. In fact, herbalists confirm that nettles contain iron, formic acid, histamine, ammonia, silica acid and potassium. These minerals are known to help rheumatism, sciatica and other pains. They lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels to increase the haemoglobin in the blood, improve circulation and purify the system, so our ancestors weren’t far wrong.
In more recent times, nettles have become a much sought-after ingredient for trendy chefs. We have been delighted by the demand for organic nettles at our stall at the farmers’ market in nearby Midleton. They wilt quickly, so use them fast.
Julia’s Melted Nettles with Pomegranate Syrup
A ‘cocooned’ friend in the UK told me about this delicious flavour combination.
225g (8oz) young Spring nettles
25g (1oz) butter or 2 - 3 tablespoons (2 1/2 - 4 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1-2 tablespoons (1 1/4 - 2 1/2 American tablespoons) pomegranate molasses
Using gloves, remove the leaves from the stalks. Wash the nettles well under cold water. Plunge into boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Drain well. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much moisture as possible.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of butter or extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add the blanched nettles, season well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses, taste and correct seasoning. Add a little more molasses if necessary. It’s difficult to say how much because different brands vary in intensity.
Note: Young nettles are mild, delicious and super nutritious, I like to blanch a few batches and then freeze for another time – loaded with iron and a brilliant blood cleanser.