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, 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.
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
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!