Stinging Nettles

nettles8.JPGI've heard so many people speak positively of stinging nettles as a food, but for some reason that I cannot properly explain, I remained very wary of the idea - imagining they'd be very nasty and just waving away all the positive reports as wishful thinking or something.

But eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to give them a try.

nettles1.JPG

Surely no introduction is needed for this plant - everyone who has been outdoors must at some time have accidentally brushed against them, then recoiled in pain.

Here they are - Stinging Nettles - Urtica dioica.

nettles2.JPGI picked about a colander full of tops and leaves. They did need a good wash, as there were lots of little insects crawling on them.

nettles3.JPGI decided to make nettle and potato soup - I chopped and fried a small onion - just until the pieces began to brown at the edges.

nettles4.JPGThen I added the nettles, a few peeled and diced potatoes and a pint of good chicken stock.

nettles5.JPGAfter about 20 minutes of simmering, the potatoes were cooked and the nettles were too.

I took the pan off the heat and processed the soup with a handheld blender - this could also be done in a blender/liquidiser or food processor - but carefully, as hot liquids can be tricky to blend.

nettles7.JPGThe soup was seasoned with a little pepper, salt and nutmeg, then served with toast.

The Final Verdict

Really very good indeed - nettles have what I would describe as an 'expensive vegetable flavour' - which although unique, is comparable to asparagus or artichokes - rich, nutty and satisfying. There's also a spicy note in there - something a bit like ginger, although it's subtle.

This is one wild food I will certainly be revisiting in future. Why did I wait this long?

Tip: Picking Fresh Nettles From Mid-Summer Onwards

nettles8.JPGToward the middle of summer, stinging nettles start to get tough and full of seeds, becoming less palatable.

Fortunately, this plant's reputation as a persistent weed comes to the rescue here - as long as the conditions are suitable for growth, a patch of mature nettles cut down to the ground will produce a fresh crop of tender green shoots within a week or so - so the picking season can be extended almost all summer.

The Gloves. Never Attempt Anything Without The Gloves

I foolishly imagined I could get away with 'grasping the nettle firmly' - and it's true that if you grab a nettle stem or leaf quickly and firmly, you are less likely to get stung than if you just brush against them gently - hover, it's almost impossible to go and pick a bunch of nettle tops without brushing against at least a few.

As a result, various parts of my hands are still tingling and prickling as I type this

But never mind - it was worth it - as it turned out, all those people who recommended nettles as a food, were right. Why that should be surprising I don't know. Anyway, nettles are a first class wild food.

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