Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a perennial herb known as common nettle, stinging nettle, nettle worth, big string nettle and devil's leaf. In Ireland, we find it just about everywhere growing on waste ground, in hedgerows, along roadsides, field edges and grassy places. They're easily identifiable by their green, heart-shaped leaves covered with tiny stiff hairs that come with the bastard of a sting.
Despite the plant's best attempts to be left alone, all parts can be used as herbal remedies - leaves, flowers, stems, roots and seeds. Unfortunately seen these days as a weed to be eradicated, older and wiser folk take a different view and many would be aware of the netttle's historical importance as a source of food, fiber and medical preparations.
Stinging nettle has a long medicinal history. First records of its use go back to the first century AD when it was used to treat colds and malaise. Since then it has been employed as a blood purifier, a potent diuretic and laxative, a means of healing swellings, aiding irregular menstrual periods, easing pneumonia, asthma, spleen-related diseases, gangrenous wounds, kidney or bladder stones or gravel, skin infections, joint aches, gout and sciatica and many other ailments.
Wild Irish Foragers and Preservers do a particularly nice Spring Nettle Syrup- it can be taken neat off a spoon or added as a topping to breakfast porridge, natural yogurt or granola, or drizzle a teaspoon over a fruit salad. It can also be taken in warm water or added to a black or green tea to make a warming tea. It's also excellent mixed with still or sparkling water (dilute to taste) or as a mixer with white wine or spirits.
Nettles are very nutritious, boasting high levels of Vitamins A and C, iron, and protein. Spring is the best time to harvest nettles, before they begin to flower in June. Although most often associated with soup, they can be used in much the same way as spinach.
To pick and prepare:
Pick when young (carefully, using gloves!), strip the leaves off the stems and wash well before use, especially if picked near roads. Or select your leaves, snipping off with a scissors. Allow to soak- soaking in water and/or cooking will inactivate the hairy stings.
A Recipe for Nettle Soup
- Heat the butter, add the chopped leek and the nettle tops and cook until they look glossy. Stir in the potatoes.
- Add the chicken stock.
- Simmer gently for 30–35 minutes.
- Sieve or liquidise the soup, return to the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add the cream.
- Garnish with toasted almond and serve hot.