Nettles are an incredibly useful food source, especially at this time of year in Scotland when they are popping up everywhere. It is best to eat the young plants that appear in the Spring, as the more mature leaves can cause digestive upsets.
It’s pretty easy to recognise them of course (and if you miss them, they’ll let you know they’re there, believe me). They grow all over the place in woodland areas, and your garden, if you let them! I gave up one of my raised beds to nettles – I figure, they’re more nutritious than a lot of other foods I grow, and they look after themselves, so why not? They’re the ultimate crop for a lazy gardener (that’s me).
It’s so convenient to have them right there whenever I need them, and they provide a welcome safe haven for many wee beasties that are beneficial for your garden (including my favourite – lovely ladybirds). Their stinging leaves cause grazing animals to leave a wide berth, which means that important pollinators like butterflies can lay their eggs there in safety. Bless them!
Once I’ve picked my nettles (I just take the top few leaves off) I give them a good wash, then dry them in the dehydrator overnight.
When they are completely dry I crunch them up into small pieces by rolling them with a big wooden rolling pin. Then I store them in airtight jars, packing them tight to keep for a year-round nutritious addition to smoothies and teas.
Tip: save the water you have washed your nettles with to give to your plants – that way you won’t waste any valuable nutrients that may have leached into the water.
You might think that nettles would be difficult to eat raw, but actually they are fine. You can pop them into smoothies, juice them, or ferment them (I’m planning on making a lovely non-alcoholic water kefir nettle beer with my next batch).
Just be sure to wear a thick pair of marigolds while handling them or they may take their revenge 😉
Nettles add a lovely mild flavour to any dish. Don’t worry, they won’t sting your mouth – they lose all their punch once they’ve been blended or juiced. Even just leaving them out for a day or two means they lose their sting.
So why are nettles so great for you?
Nettles are highly nutritious and are particularly rich in vitamin A, iron, calcium and protein – in fact they must be the cheapest superfood around!
Their rich silica and sulphur content make them excellent for your hair and skin. I love to use nettle tea in my hair washing routine. I wet my hair with plain water, then use a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (diluted in water) to get rid of any grease or grime, rinse that off, then give a good soak with nettle tea. After that I rinse with a teaspoon of kombucha diluted in water, then a final rinse with plain water. It leaves my hair feeling so good – and it’s way less expensive than regular shampoo and conditioner.
When picking nettles I make sure I wear some strong rubber gloves to avoid getting stung. Although I was reliably informed by one of the lovely followers of my Facebook page that the sting is actually a medicine which is good for arthritis and gout (I still play it safe and wear the gloves though – I’m not that brave!).
It’s also important to make sure the area you’re foraging in has not been treated with pesticides etc. And please forage responsibly – remember to leave plenty of nettles for the wildlife.