Nettle is the first wild food of the year, and the sight of its young jagged leaves in early April, is a welcome sign that the Wheel of the Year has turned and Spring is truly here.
Nettle is a wild plant that I treat with enormous respect and admiration, although it was not always so. My first gardening job involved clearing a large patch of waste ground and in those days I was very hench: no gardening gloves for me, as I liked to feel the earth underneath my fingernails. I pulled up nettles bare handed, safe in the knowledge that if you grasp the stalk firmly you don’t get stung. Later that night I was woken from a deep sleep by hundreds of little throbbing stings in my hands, extraordinarily painful. From that time, I have always worn gardening gloves.
There are some very good reasons not to pull nettles out. Here are six of them:
- You can make nettle tea with them.
- You can make nettle soup with them.
- I am told on the best authority that you can use the young leaves to make Spanakopita.
- You can make a wonderful plant feed with them and will never need to buy Tomorite again.
- Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies lay their eggs on them, and the caterpillars feed on the leaves.
- You can crop them several times in the year, so instead of regarding them as a perennial pest, see them as a renewable resource.
TO MAKE NETTLE TEA
The desire to drink nettle tea tends to come on in the evening. It is pale green and strangely addictive.
You will need
- Marigold rubber gloves or similar, to protect your hands
- A large plastic bag, or trug, to collect the nettles
- A large jar with a well fitting lid*, or a tea caddy.
- A small teapot
Find a secluded nettle patch – it should be away from a road, and away from any suggestion of herbicide. Pick your nettles carefully: you only want the the very young leaves at the tip of the stalk. You need lots of nettles, so fill your bag.
To wash or not to wash? I don’t: the leaves are going to be steeped in boiling water, which should kill off any germs; and besides, wet leaves tend to rot.
To dry the nettles, spread them out in a warm, airy place. I lay them out on newspaper in my spare bedroom. Turn them carefully every few days so that they dry out. After about a week they will be dry, papery and you should be able to crumble them between your fingers.
Your container is important. It should be large enough, with a well fitting lid, clean and completely dry. Transfer the dried nettles into the container, and label including the date.
To make the tea, you will need a small teapot.
Add 1 – 2 heaped teaspoons to the pot, and fill up with boiling water. Let it steep for about 5 minutes.
Then savour and enjoy. It will do you the Power of Good.