Part to Use: leaves. When to Pick: spring. Stinging nettles grow in great profusion throughout the countryside in temperature 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. Local herbalist Kelli O’Halloran told me that in parts of County Cork, 30th April was once known as Michaelmas night, when young lads would parade through the streets carrying large bunches of nettles with which to sting their playmates and the occasional innocent bystander. The girls would join in, of course, to sting the boys they fancied and apparently everyone enjoyed themselves! 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.Sometimes we make nettle tea in exactly the same way as comfrey tea (see recipe) – the garden loves it!