Delicious, nutritious and what better satisfaction than eating your weeds?
Nettles are free, grow by themselves and are said to be more nutritious than spinach (especially the seeds – see below). You can use nettles in any recipe that uses cooked spinach (but do not try to eat nettles raw!) Nettle texture is rougher than spinach which can be slimey. If your family is cautious, start with mixing nettles in with more familiar veg like spinach, onions, leeks etc (you don’t have to tell them nettles are in there too).
The basic guidelines that need to be followed when foraging are: only pick what you are 100% sure is edible, don’t trample plants and don’t pick close to roads or paths (where plants might be contaminated by pollution, crop spray or dog wee).
My technique for picking nettles is either with a pair of scissors or by putting your hand inside a plastic bag and pinching the stalk with your fingers. You only want the top two pairs of leaves (the rest are usually too tough). The rest of the leaves and stalks are good food for your garden. Put them in your compost or in a bucket of water (with comfrey leaves too if possible) to make a liquid fertiliser.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a great Spinach & Potato Soup recipe.
I’ve made a Thai version of the soup by adding curry powder, coconut milk and rhubarb (instead of lime) and served with toasted slices of Naan bread.
The most nutritious part of the plant are the seeds which can be harvested from mid August. The first trick is to distinguish between the male and female plants as only the female plants create the tiny seeds inside each little pod.
The female plants have thicker, heavier, more dropping clusters of pods whereas the males have thinner more horizontal ones.
There is a lot of information online about how to harvest and use them eg at forager.co.uk
It is worth making nettle beer. And if like me, you forget to bottle the beer and it goes flat then you end up with a rather tasty nettle liqueur instead…
Steam a selection of greens and nettles (include garlic and onion if you like). Blend with cream cheese and seasoning. Add a pinch of citric acid crystals (used for making elderflower cordial) if it needs some tang.
Nettle Bird’s Nest Recipe
Heat oil in a pan. Saute nettles, other greens if you like, and finely chopped onion until golden and greens wilted.
Crack an egg on top and sprinkle with grated cheese.
Put a lid on the frying pan and turn down heat. Wait for egg to cook and cheese to melt then serve on top of a slice of toast.
Nettle fertiliser for the garden
Nettles are also very nutritious for growing plants and can be used on their own or combined with comfrey to make a liquid fertiliser. See here for how to make this plant food that will particulalry benefit leafy vegetables.