Valerie O’Connor serves up some delicious nettle soup to give a bit of positive PR to a much maligned plant.

The sting is in the Tale Nettles, tis the season. 

These tall perennial weeds will soon be everywhere, interestingly indicating that soil is good and full of nitrogen and also a great place to grow potatoes.

Nettles are a common and wild growing herb, we all know them from having fallen into them as children and having a mild rash for a short time. 

Nettles are confusing creatures, a paradox of the plant world.

What they present in their appearance, a heart-shaped, dark green leaf on tall stalks covered in tiny, glassy shard-like stingers, does not really reflect their bountiful health benefits.

They have been used forever as a thinner for blood, a soother for skin rashes (the juice of nettles even soothes a nettle sting) and as a vegetable so rich in iron that it kicks kale in its hipster face.

Nettles are fed to cows to help bring in their milk and can do the same for nursing mothers.

As tea, nettles ease water retention and blood pressure. 

Simply snip the tops off some young nettles and place them in a mug, pour over some hot water and leave a few minutes before drinking.

It’s said that if you have a feed of nettles two times in the year it will give your blood a much needed boost, and this is the time of year to do it.

Nettles should be eaten ideally in April or May as, after that the iron content is off the charts. 

As a vegetable, nettles are a free and delicious food, tender and young at this time of year, and they have many culinary and garden uses. 

From pesto to soup, risotto to pasta, they can be used in many ways and are also delicious just stir-fried with some garlic and olive oil.

It takes just two minutes to get the sting out of a nettle in boiling water. 

Strong and sturdy types will just roll them up in ball and chew them, not me though but I have grabbed them with confidence and not been stung.

Gather your nettle away from a busy road, ideally in an area not sprayed with chemicals and snip off only the top six inches or so as further down the stem they will be quite tough and fibrous.

Use thick gardeners gloves, domestic rubber gloves are no use, and gather the nettles in a bowl or heavy duty bag. 

You can freeze nettles immediately for later use or blanch them by boiling them for two minutes in water and then using them in cooking. 

Nettles can be dried by hanging them in a paper bag in an airing cupboard but be careful as they still can sting you like this. 

A nettle sting is not big deal though and some people even get stung on purpose as it causes a rush of blood to the sting and can help with rheumatic pains.

This recipe here from my book Val’s Kitchen is an easy and delicious way to use nettles and to get people in the family to eat them without them knowing.

NETTLE SOUP

Ingredients

250g/10oz freshly picked nettles, washed

and big stems cut off

1 onion chopped

1oz butter

2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced

1. 5 litres stock, chicken or vegetable

Nutmeg

Sea salt and black pepper

Method

1. In a heavy bottomed, large pot melt the butter and cook the onion with the potato slowly for about 10 minutes

2. Add in the nettles and give them a good stir to wilt, pour on the stock

3. Bring everything to a bubble and turn down the heat and allow to cook for 15 minutes, give it a blitz in the blender or with a stick blender

4. Season to taste and add a little grated nutmeg

5. Serve the soup, decorated with a few fresh wild garlic flowers which are out at the same time.

NETTLE PESTO

Reach peak hipster by making nettle pesto and mixing it through some spaghetti. 

Add a little cooking water to the pasta for a nice glossy sauce that will stick to your pasta.

100g/3.5oz prepared nettles (cooked

and chopped)

1 clove garlic

1 tsp salt

50g/2oz pinenuts or Brazil nuts (hold back

a few for decoration)

100ml/3.5floz olive or Irish rapeseed oil

50g/2oz grated Parmesan /hard cheese

salt & freshly-ground black pepper

Method

1. Wash the nettles and pop them into a pot of boiling water for 3-5 minutes to cook, by now the sting is gone so you can use your bare hands. 

Rinse them in a colander and squeeze out as much excess water as you can, then chop them finely.

2. In a food processor or with a mortar and pestle crush the garlic clove with a little salt, add the pinenuts, crush gently; stir in olive oil and nettles, add cheese and stir well, maybe add a little salt and black pepper.


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