JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Friday, May 18, 2007

Nettle tea and other stories

Believe it or not, it's Be Nice to Nettles Week this week ... which means not pulling them up whenever you see them. They're a good habitat for butterflies - peacocks, small tortoiseshells and red admirals all lay their eggs in nettles (also cabbage whites, which I'm less keen on). It's a good trade-off for all the nettle patches in our garden, because my heart always lifts when I see a butterfly - and, over the past few years, we've seen fewer and fewer here.

A couple of months ago, I posted a recipe for nettle soup, and there's been a lot of interest in it. It's delicious, a little like spinach or watercress soup, and I should think that you could substitute nettles in any favourite recipe you have for spinach or watercress soup. Nutmeg is a good addition to all three of these soups.

I was just going to make a cup of nettle tea, but I got side-tracked while looking up how to do this (dur ... you just get some leaves, put them in a pot, and pour on boiling water!). So now, I'm going to be very nice to nettles and tell you what I've discovered:

* they make a good spray for blackfly and other aphids (I've lost count of the number of veg gardeners I've heard this spring talking about the blackfly on their broad beans). Soak a bucketful of nettles in water for a week. Strain and spray.

* they make your hair shiny and soft, and maybe even get rid of dandruff. This time, you pick a big bunch of nettles, wash them, put them in a big saucepan with a pint of water and boil them for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid into a bottle, and keep it in the fridge.

* pick young leaves, because if you pick old leaves you have to cook them hard or risk kidney damage.

* one of my books says - and they don't seem to be joking - that stinging nettles rarely suffer from pests or diseases, and that they are easy to propagate by dividing established roots in the spring.

* and, for the feint-hearted, I would like to emphasise that they DO NOT STING ONCE THEY ARE COOKED - but you do need to wear a pair of gloves while picking them.

* Clarissa Dickson Wright (one of the Two Fat Ladies) says that her old gardener used to cure his rheumatism with nettle beer. I'll happily supply anyone with the recipe if they want it, but I'm not going to make it this year, because pretty soon I'm going to make elderflower champagne, which will take up all my energy for that sort of thing, not to mention all my spare bottles. I think the nettle beer is only very slightly alcoholic, just like the elderflower champagne.

* in the winter nettle beer is a good source of minerals (and in the summer, they're a good source of Vitamin C).

How to make nettle tea: fill the pot full of young nettle leaves. Pour on boiling water. Leave for five minutes.

I did all that, and it tastes like essence of green, as if it's doing you good - more good than spinach. Eat your heart out Popeye. I managed a couple of tepid mouthfuls, but I'm giving the rest to the broad beans. Or perhaps I'll rinse my hair in it, we're going out tonight, and I'd like to at least aim at the soft and shiny haired look!

And if that's not enough nettle information for you, here's the link to Be Nice to Nettles Week


Anonymous said...

Hi Joanna, I read this article with great interest and it reminded me that my nephew was stung by nettles yesterday! My husband and I have been contemplating making nettle soup for a while now but we are unsure which types of nettles to use. I have just written a quick post about my experiences with nettles and linked to your nettle soup recipe. I hope this is ok. Your writing is very inspiring.
Sara from farmingfriends

Culinary Cowgirl said...

And here I've spent the majority of my time in England cursing nettle! Perhaps I should give it a second chance :)

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Love the tea pot!
About four years ago we planted some fennel. It was soon covered with caterpillars which I carefully pick off an pitched over the fence. Then one day I was looking at a book and saw that caterpillar grew into the anise swallow tail butterfly. Now we look for them to appear, they eat the plant down almost to the ground and then their gone. The plant recovers and the butterflies appear. And the cycle repeat!

Joanna said...

Fine, Sara (and thanks for the kind words) ... I think any young nettle shoots would do, just pinch them out, like picking mint

I curse the nettles, too ... yesterday I got stung through my (admittedly thin) gloves, while picking shoots for that tea.

My sister-in-law Clare gave me that pretty little teapot, it's from Brixton Pottery, round the corner from her house

I'm very envious of the swallowtails - I've only ever seen them in France (when I was 10), and in Sri Lanka (when I was ... well, a couple of years ago!). Perhaps I'll plant some fennel. I think it is so interesting how very many plants recover, and often improve, if you could them down ..

Anonymous said...

Interesting to have your recipe for nettle tea, though you are not too encouraging!

I have just been reading about nettles on
Great minds think alike!

Unknown said...

is it possible to have that nettle beer recipe Joanna?

Joan said...

I would love to have the recipe for nettle beer.

Unknown said...

Hi Joanna, interesting article, i tried the nettle tea today and it tastes good. I have an outbreak of chillblains for the first time in my life and as stinging nettle seems to help cure chillblains i tried to search how to apply it. Can you kindly send me the recipie for nettle beer and the elderberry champagne, they sound interesting to try.