spring greens

It seems that spring is here, at last. In the last week the colour palette has shifted to bright green as the wheat and grass grow taller and the oilseed rape leaves form green stripes across the brown field. White blossom is breaking out on the hedges and in the buffer strips around the fields tiny violets and pale yellow primrose flowers compete with the varying green shades of shiny ivy leaves, cleavers, cow parsley plants and many more, including of course stinging nettles.

stinging nettles

Stinging nettles, loved by butterflies but the scourge of the bare legged and bare bottomed (I once bobbed down for an al fresco pee without looking around quite as carefully as I should have done). Brush against a stinging nettle and your skin prickles for ages, yet once they’re cooked the sting disappears.

So, now’s the time to go out collecting stinging nettles, armed with a pair of scissors in one hand and a gardening glove on the other unless you really believe that you won’t get stung if you grasp a stinging nettle firmly enough. You just need the top few leaves, the tender tops, not the coarser base leaves. Later in the year when they start to flower, stinging nettles shouldn’t be eaten as they’re too coarse and fibrous but if they’re cut back you can have another go at the fresh new growth.

At the moment the stinging nettles are only a few inches tall with soft fresh leaves that are ready to pick and cook. Free spring greens and probably the most widely available wild plant to everyone in this country because they grow anywhere and everywhere. First of all, to remind the family that stinging nettles are fine to eat, I made baked nettles and potatoes (from Edible Wild Plants & Herbs by Pamela Michael) using layers of nettle, onion and sliced potatoes, topped with milk and baked in the oven to make a sort of everyday potato dauphinois.

Then a Nettle Soup, to eat with fresh baked sourdough bread using some of our wheat. To make Nettle Soup, snip off the tops of the plants; if the stem is young it can be used with the leaves.

Nettle Soup
I colander full of young stinging nettle leaves
I medium onion finely chopped
I stick celery finely chopped
Knob of butter
400 ml chicken stock
100 ml milk
Nutmeg
Salt & pepper
Chives – small bunch

Wash the nettle leaves well and drain.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pan and add the onion and celery, cooking until soft.
Stir in the nettle leaves, turning them over in the pan until they start to wilt.
Add the stock, season, bring to the boil and leave to simmer for about ten minutes.
Liquidise or whizz in the food processor.
Stir in the milk and finely chopped chives, reheat the soup and add a good grating of nutmeg before serving.

So green it must be good for you!

16 thoughts on “spring greens

  1. Jane @ Shady Baker says:

    Great post Anne! My family and I have just been discussing cooking with stinging nettles…they grow on our property in certain spots when the conditions are right. I have not cooked with them before but I should have been doing it for years. They do sting don’t they, I remember brushing against them as a child. Thanks for the recipe, I will keep it in mind next time I find a patch of nettles.

    Pleased to hear the days are warming up in your part of the world 🙂

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    • Anne @GtSlamseysFarm says:

      I think we all remember childhood nettle stings; we have several nettles in the garden that still catch me unawares. It seems winter has been with us for ages so it’s lovely seeing a bit of sun.

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  2. andreamynard says:

    Great ideas for nettles. I’ve been sending my five year old with gloves to pick them, and making nettle cannelloni – the novelty value seems to be a good way of getting her to eat her greens!

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  3. Jayne says:

    I had no idea these even existed so I looked it up thinking it must not grow in the US, well as Im sure you know it’s everywhere. And I don’t remember getting stung and I was one of those kids who was always in the woods. I’m going to go out and look for this and give this recipe a go. What is a knob of butter?

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    • Anne @GtSlamseysFarm says:

      Lucky you never to get stung by nettles – I seemed to spend an awful lot of my childhood getting stung by them. A knob is well, sort of taking off the corner of the block – just enough to fry something in so probably less with a non stick pan than one that catches.

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  4. Pat Machin says:

    Lovely spring post. It certainly lifts the heart to see the green shoots. We don’t get a lot of nettles around here so I haven’t bothered since I moved up here over 30 years ago. When I lived down your way, I left a patch for the butterflies at the end of the garden and picked the tips in the spring.

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  5. Thomasina Tittlemouse says:

    I love the idea of nettle soup – fabulous green colour, packed with vitamins, the essence of Spring in a bowl, etc – and for years religiously made it every Spring and every year it disappointed me because it was too fibrous and the flavour wasn’t at all good. It got to the point where I wrote at the top of the recipe “You really do not like this” in an effort to overcome my yearly yearning to make the stuff. Perhaps I didn’t stick just to picking the top shoots as you recommend here. Your post is enough to set off my nettle-longing again anyway so here’s hoping my next go might be edible! E x

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