Although nettles are often regarded as an annoyance and something to root out in your garden, they have multiple benefits both for you and for the environment.
Nettles are a magnet for wildlife, and according to the RSPB, attract 40 kinds of insects. Certain moths and butterflies such as Peacock, Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Comma and Painted Lady lay their eggs under the stinging leaves – a natural protection from grazing animals. Aphids and other small insects which swarm around the nettles are eaten by blue tits and other woodland birds and the seeds which appear in late summer supply food for house sparrows, chaffinches, and bullfinches. Insect-eaters like hedgehogs, shrews, frogs and toads will be supported by an abundance of nettles.
Cultivate a small patch of nettles in a sunny corner of your garden, direct sun will encourage egg laying and more insects. Manage the fast growing plants with trimming and mowing and encourage a late boost of leaves by cutting them back in summer.
The UK nettle, Urtica dioica, is a nutrient rich super food with an arsenal of health and medicinal benefits. It has more iron than spinach, is full of anti-oxidants, calcium, magnesium and nitrogen and the young leaves are packed with protein and excellent in soups and stews. The seeds are used by herbalists for a nutritious energy-boosting tonic for people with burn-out or fatigue. Homeopaths use Urtica as a brilliant cure for rashes, allergies and to calm angry skin. We use it in our Bite and Sting First Aid Kit to great effect.
Nettle is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. As a diuretic it is helps to cleanse the system and contains natural anti-histamines so it offers effective relief from the symptoms of hay fever or Seasonal Rhinitis. It has also been known to lower blood pressure and improve kidney function.
How to use
Be sure to wear gloves that cover hands and wrists and gather nettle leaves for eating or tea in Spring when they are still fresh, green and tasty, and before they have flowered. If you cut them back mid season, you'll be rewarded with a flush of tasty new growth in the Autumn.
Choose larger plants and pick the top leaves, leaving the lower ones on the stem. The roots, also useful medicinally need to be harvested in the Autumn, when they have had all year to grow plump and become strong and full of botanical potency.
River Cottage Nettle Soup Recipe
Wearing rubber gloves, sort through the nettles, discarding anything you don't like the look of and any thick stalks. Wash the nettles and drain in a colander, you will need a carrier bagful of stinging nettle tops, or fresh-looking larger leaves
Melt 50g of butter in a large saucepan, add a large chopped onion and cook gently for 5-7 minutes until softened.
Add 1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock, nettles, I large potato, peeled and cubed and 1 large chopped carrot. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the potato is soft, about 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Using an electric hand-held stick blender, purée the soup and then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle into warmed bowls and float a teaspoonful of creme fraiche on top. As this melts, swirl in a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil and Tabasco.
The flavour of nettle tea is distinctive, giving you a palate full of foliage taste, and verdant green freshness. It is a tea reputed to help combat several ailments, including eczema, asthma, hay fever and muscle aches. Just steep a few fresh tips in boiling water and simmer for about ten or fifteen minutes, removing from the hob when the water goes slightly green, add honey or maple syrup to sweeten.
If you’d like to know more about nettles, identification, harvest and benefits, this blog is a mine of information