Using nettles in the kitchen

Posted: Friday 21 November 2014
by Kate Bradbury

I’m not a fan of autumn so signs of spring are very welcome, and a hearty nettle soup is just the tonic for winter blues.

It has been so mild lately that nettles have started to resprout in the large patches growing in and around the marshes near my home. As piles of autumn leaves mount up and those on trees cling on until the next heavy burst of wind, the nettles are coming into fresh, leafy growth. I’m not a fan of autumn so signs of spring are very welcome, and a hearty nettle soup is just the tonic for winter blues.

I doubt the plants will grow much taller before the first frosts stop them in their tracks, but there’s no harm in harvesting the new leaves now – there will be plenty more in spring. I took a couple of bags’ worth earlier in the week, and plan to harvest more at the weekend.

Nettles have a wonderfully rich, earthy flavour, perfect for cold autumnal evenings. They are a rich source of iron and vitamins A, C, D and K, and are said to help with joint pain and kidney function. I’m convinced a big portion of fresh leaves will cure all my autumnal ailments.

There’s no secret to harvesting and eating nettles – I just abide by four rules: use only fresh, new leaves, avoid harvesting leaves harbouring eggs and/or caterpillars (not applicable in autumn), wash them thoroughly and treat them like spinach.

I love nettle soup but this week I made a raw nettle pesto using a recipe I found online. I used cashew nuts instead of pine nut and mixed this with pasta, roasted butternut squash and borlotti beans. It was delicious – much heavier than basil pesto but wonderfully rich, and it was nice to eat the nettles raw rather than cooked (the blitzing process destroys the stinging hairs so you don’t get stung in the mouth).

I also hung some leaves up to dry to make tea (you can make tea using fresh nettle leaves but I prefer the taste of dried leaves). And my weekend haul will be used to make nettle saag paneer – the epitome of hearty nettle suppers. I can almost feel the vitamins and iron coursing through my veins.

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happymarion 23/11/2014 at 09:30

I too am a nettle lover, Kate. Nettle tea is delicious. You can buy the dried variety if you do not have your own source.

Dovefromabove 23/11/2014 at 10:02

I love steaming young nettles and mixing them with mashed potatoes to make champ - delicious and full of iron and vitamins.