Friday 5 April 2013

What can you do with young nettles?

Despite the bitter cold here, nettles are appearing in sufficient quantities to gather. Everyone has their own favourite recipe for this wonderful plant; I thought I would share a few things I make with them.  

Nettle Tea
Gather two handfuls of fresh nettle tops, (preferably in Spring) and place in teapot or cafatiere. (Wash first if any soil or debris can be seen) Fill the teapot with just boiled water and leave to steep for ten minutes. Strain and drink. Honey can be used to sweeten to taste. 

Nettle Tea (long infusion)
Pick several handfuls of fresh nettle tops or two good handfuls of dried nettle leaves. Place in a Kilner jar or thermos flask and chop into small pieces with a pair of scissors. Cover with up to 2 pints (20 fluid ounces) of just boiled water. Seal the lid of the jar or flask and leave to steep overnight. Strain in the morning and drink during the following day. You may wish to mix the nettles with other mineral rich herbs such as red clover and violet leaves.

Spiced Nettle Latte
To a handful of dried or fresh nettle leaves, add one cinnamon stick, 1 clove and a grated half of a nutmeg in a teapot or cafatiere. Fill with just boiled water and leave to infuse for ten minutes. Heat up milk and whisk to make it frothy. Add equal amounts of strained tea and milk to a mug then sprinkle powdered cinnamon or nutmeg on the top of the drink. Sip while warm.

When I made this drink for a workshop there was a very interesting reaction.  Those people who normally didn’t like milk liked the nettle latte and those who normally didn’t like nettle tea enjoyed the latte. Seems like a popular drink for many people! When I made it at another workshop, some people asked for a milk-free tea and also enjoyed it. This spiced tea is a useful method of delivering a mineral rich drink to those who might not otherwise imbibe e.g. frail elders.

Nettle Maceration.
Pick an amount of young nettles, wash if necessary. Place in bowl and cover with cold water. Leave overnight in cool place. Strain and drink the liquid which is pink. This is best as a cold drink with a delightfully refreshing flavour. A pint of maceration will contain more calcium than a pint of milk.

Nettle Vinegar
Pick an amount of nettle tops, shake off any debris and place in a glass jar. Fill the jar full of plant material, chopping into small pieces with scissors to increase surface area, then cover with cider vinegar. Stir with chopstick to remove air bubbles. Fill the jar up with more cider vinegar so no nettle part is left exposed to the air or it will turn black. Cover with screw top lid and label and date. Place in warm, dark place for three weeks, shaking regularly. Strain and bottle, making sure the bottle top is firmly fixed. Label and date. Good for osteoporosis and general mineral deficiencies. Try a drink made from 2tsp cider vinegar with 2 tsp honey with a mug full of boiling water or add to other herb teas.

Nettle Ticture
Pick an amount of nettle tops, shake off any debris and place in a glass jar. Fill the jar full of plant material, chopping into small pieces with scissors to increase surface area then cover with vodka. Stir with chopstick to remove air bubbles. Fill the jar up with more vodka so no nettle part is left exposed to the air or it will turn black. Cover with screw top lid and label and date. Place in cold, dark position and leave to steep for three weeks, shaking regularly. Strain and bottle, making sure the bottle top is firmly fixed or the alcohol will evaporate. Label and date. Dosage is normally 1tsp, 3 times a day. Good for adrenal support in stress remedies.

Some people see nettle as a “tea herb” and think making a nettle tincture as a waste of money and alcohol. I find it useful when mixing formulae with other tinctures.

Iron Tonic
Soak equal amounts of fresh nettle tops and organic apricots in red wine together with diced orange peel. Soak for two weeks, strain and store in a cool place. Dose 1 or 2 dessertspoons twice daily.

Post-surgery tonic
Soak equal amounts of chopped, young nettle tops and fresh plantain leaves in red wine together with chopped prunes or figs, fresh dandelion leaves or ground milk thistle seeds. Soak for two weeks, strain and store in a cool place. Dose 1 or 2 dessertspoons twice daily.

Drying nettle leaves
Cut the whole nettle stems making sure there are no flowers or seeds forming. Lay the stems flat on newspapers or hang up in bundles. Cover to keep out the light and leave to dry in a warm, airy place for several weeks until the leaves are brittle to the touch. NB dried nettle leaves still sting. If you hang the stems inside a paper bag, write on the bag what it holds. Once the leaves are dry, cut them off the stalks and place in a glass jar. Seal the jar, label and date and store in a cool dark place. Place the jar inside a paper bag if light is a problem. Use for teas, soups or as a vegetable. Dried nettles can also be scrunched/chopped up into fine particles and used as a topping on spaghetti bolognaise or over pizza.

My favourite way of eating nettles is in soup. I particularly enjoy the combination of nettle with sweet potato and cardamom as you will see from the following recipes.

Nettle and Potato Soup
Gather a basketful of fresh young nettle tops
1 lb potatoes,
1 onion,
1oz butter,
water, salt, pepper, a few sprigs of parsley and thyme.
Wash nettles under the tap to remove any insects, cobwebs, dust or other debris and shake to remove excess moisture. Peel and chop the onion and sauté in butter or oil in a hot saucepan for five minutes until soft. Peel and quarter the potatoes and add to the pan. Cover with water and add nettles, herbs and seasoning. Cook for about 20 minutes until potatoes are soft. Liquidise. Serve with bread and butter.

Nettle and Sweet Potato Soup
A colander full of washed nettle tops or several handfuls of dried nettle leaves,
2 large sweet potatoes,
1 onion,
2 leeks,
8 cardomon seeds,
6 carrots (scraped),
4 garlic cloves
Peel and chop garlic cloves and onion. Wash and slice leeks. Saute these in hot butter for 5 minutes until soft. Add peeled and chopped sweet potatoes, carrots, nettles, cardamom pods to saucepan and season to taste. Cover with boiling water and cook until everything is soft. (about 20minutes) Liquidise.

Nettle and carrot soup 
1 onion (peeled, diced and sweated in a tablespoon of vegetable oil)
8 carrots (scraped and chopped)
3 parsnips (peeled and chopped)
1 colander full of young nettle tops (washed)
zest and juice of 1 orange
Cover all the ingredients with water and simmer for about 20 minutes after bringing to the boil. Liquidise and season to taste. Serve hot with wholemeal or granary bread. 

Root and nettle soup 
1 dozen tiny beetroot peeled
Beetroot tops
½ celeriac root, peeled and chopped
1 basket full of young nettle tops (washed)
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 dried chilli (chopped and seeds removed)
2 large carrots peeled and chopped
10 green cardamom pods
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tblsps crème fraiche (optional)
Sweat the onions in a mixture of olive oil and butter together with the spices for 5 minutes covered until soft. Add chopped vegetables and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes. Add nettles and seasoning and simmer for a further ten minutes until everything is soft. Remove the cardamom seeds from the top of the soup. Liquidise then pass through a sieve to remove any nettle fibres. Add crème fraiche to give a richer soup if desired. Serve with fresh, homemade bread. 

Nettle, beetroot leaf and sweet potato soup 
½ colander full of fresh nettle tops
Leaves from 4 beetroot
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 carrots, scraped and sliced
10 cardamom seeds
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves peeled, sliced and left to rest for 15 minutes
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash and shred beetroot leaves, wash nettles. Fry onion and garlic in olive oil, add cardamom seeds, add all other ingredients and cover with cold water. Add salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then simmer until everything is soft. Remove cardamom seeds. Liquidise then strain to remove stalks from nettles. Return to pan and serve with freshly made granary bread and butter. Serves 6. 

Spiced Tomato and Nettle Soup 
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
3 lbs of fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 carrot, scraped and sliced
4 sticks of celery, washed and sliced
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and diced
2 large handfuls of dried nettle leaves or one basketful of fresh nettle leaves removed from their stalks
1/2oz butter plus 1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp sugar
Bouquet garni of herbs – thyme, winter savory, basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the butter and olive oil together, then sweat the onion and chilli until soft. Add the vegetables, herbs, sugar, salt and freshly ground pepper and cover with water or stock. Bring to the boil, simmering for forty minutes. Add nettles and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Liquidise. Sieve to remove skins, seeds etc. Reheat and serve with fresh bread.

This is a very tasty and nutritious soup with real heat which doesn’t impede the flavour. 

Nettle and sorrel soup 
4/5 pints rich chicken stock made by boiling a chicken carcass for 4 hours with 2 tablespoons winter savory vinegar, 2 dried bay leaves, 5 peppercorns, a sliced onion and 3 sticks sliced celery. When using stock, discard herbs and chicken bones but retain vegetables for the soup.
½ basket of nettle leaves removed from their stalks
2 large handfuls of fresh sorrel
2 peeled and sliced carrots and potatoes.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Add fresh ingredients to the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are just soft. Blend, check seasoning and serve with fresh bread topped with pesto! 

Nettle and Tuna Pasta 
This is a quick and easy recipe for one person and can be easily expanded to feed a family.
285g tin of tuna in brine,
fresh basil,
2 handfuls of dried nettles,
2 tomatoes,
1 onion,
cooking oil or butter,
3oz of pasta.
(You can add any other vegetables e.g. one sweet potato, small tin of sweetcorn depending on how hungry you are.)
Peel and chop onion finely and sautee in hot butter or sunflower/vegetable/olive oil in a saucepan until soft. Drain tuna. Wash and slice tomatoes. Add both to onion and cook gently. Add dried nettles and fresh basil. Cover and simmer until pasta is ready. Check regularly and add extra liquid if necessary. Cook pasta in separate saucepan in boiling salted water for 15 minutes. (If you are cooking other vegetables these can be cooked with the pasta.) Drain pasta and serve with tuna/nettle sauce.

Nettle pesto with almonds 
1 large garlic mustard plant (about 2 large handful of leaves, discard the thickest stems)
2 large handfuls of nettle tops (use gloves)
2oz almond pieces (I didn’t have any pine nuts)
4oz grated parmesan
4 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
Blanch the nettles and garlic mustard leaves in boiling water then strain into a colander and run cold water over it. Place the blanched nettles and garlic mustard in a liquidiser with the grated parmesan and sliced almonds. Add enough olive oil to enable the liquidiser to work. When everything is a paste, drizzle in the rest of the olive oil and spoon into clean glass jars and store in the fridge.

Nettle and garlic mustard pesto 
4oz pine nuts
4 oz grated parmesan cheese
2 crushed garlic cloves
Leaves and flowers from six garlic mustard plants
Enough nettle leaves to fill a 1 pint saucepan
8 fl oz extra virgin olive oil.
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Blanch nettles and garlic mustard leaves for one minute in boiling water. Drain. Transfer leaves, pine nuts, cheese and garlic cloves to liquidiser and keep adding olive oil until the mixture blends easily. The original recipe calls for about 4 oz of olive oil, but my leaves were in such a compact block, I had to use loads of oil. This made 2 jars of pesto and tastes really good.

Loba’s nettle yoghurt dip 
2 handfuls of nettle tops
2 heaped tblsps natural yoghurt
1 tblsp chopped chives
6 sprigs applemint
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cook the nettle tops until soft. Strain. Add yoghurt and liquidise/blend. Chop up chives with a pair of scissors and mint in a coffee grinder. Mix everything together and use as a dipping sauce for bread, vegetables etc. It has a wonderfully fresh flavour and is very moreish!

Nettle Syrup
This is my version of an old Northumberland recipe from Farmhouse Fare, country recipes collected by The Farmers Weekly (Countrywise Books 1935)

‘Gather the tops of young nettles, wash well. To every 1lb nettles add 1pt of cold water until all juice is extracted, then strain. To this liquid add ¾ lb white sugar and petals of seven red roses. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Strain free of petals and boil until syrup thickens, when it will be a rich red colour. Pour into clean, dry, warmed jars and seal very securely. To make a good drink, put a teaspoonful into a milk beaker and dissolve it in a tablespoonful of boiling water. When cold, fill up with milk. This is an excellent cure for sore throats and is also a splendid pick me up.’

If you are using fresh nettles and roses together, you will need to prepare in May by cutting back an identified nettle patch to produce fresh growth in June/July when your red or pink deeply scented roses start to bloom.

Gather a large amount of fresh nettle tops and wash well. Either place in a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for twenty minutes then turn the heat off and leave overnight or place the nettles in a bowl, cover with cold water and leave overnight in a cool place. The next morning, strain the nettles and add the petals of seven red roses to the liquid in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Strain and measure the volume of remaining liquid. For each pint of liquid add 1lb of sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon, bring back to the boil and simmer until the syrup is reduced to the desired consistency. Pour into heated, sterilised bottles. Seal, label and date. Store in a cool place. Keep refrigerated once opened. Use to make a milkshake with cold milk.

Nettle cough syrup
2 parts fresh or dried nettles
2 parts fresh or dried marshmallow leaves
I part fresh or dried evening primrose flowers
4 fresh red roses or 1 large handful of dried rose petals
Cover everything with around 3 pints of cold water in a bowl. Leave to macerate overnight. The next morning, pour all the contents of the bowl into a saucepan. Bring to a simmer for twenty minutes then strain.  Wash out the saucepan then replace the liquid and slowly evaporate on a low heat to until it measures two pints.  Add 2lbs of sugar  or honey and bring it slowly up to the boil, stirring continuously until the sugar has been absorbed. Pour the syrup into sterilised bottles, and leave to cool. Label and date. Store in a cool place. Keep refrigerated once opened.


Catofstripes said...

What a marvellous selection of recipes, thank you.

Rita M said...

That's a wonderful selection Sarah, thanks for sharing :)

Anni said...

Fabulous collection of recipes, thank you so, so much! I've been wanting to discover the benefits (and virtues) of nettles for a while now. Maybe this will kickstart it. :)

Anonymous said...

OMG, that iron tonic sounds incredible. Is that really the apricot one in the picture or is that something else?

Sarah Head said...

Sandra, yes it really is the apricot/nettle tonic in the picture. It was made several years ago and the first time I'd tried Chris Hedley's recipe.

Polished Pisces said...

Do you knwo what the perportions of dried herb would be for the nettle syrup? I dont have access to fresh at the moment but it sounds incredible!

Sarah Head said...

Hi Polished Pisces, do you mean the nettle and rose syrup? If so, I'd try 4oz dried nettle to 1oz of dried rose petals and 2oz dried nettle to 1/2oz of dried rose petal. You'd have to experiment and see which proportions gave you the best taste for you.

Anonymous said...


I have heard that nettles are good to make into a tea during pregnancy. However, when I went to buy some today they only had netter root, not the leaves. Can these also be used when pregnant?

Many thanks!

Sarah Head said...

Nettle roots do have nutritional value but are normally used for prostate problems for men. Where abouts are you in the world? If you're in the UK, young nettles can be gathered now as they are starting to appear. Otherwise, find yourself a good mail order firm which will ship nettle leaf to you.