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How to Pick and Eat Nettles

Many thanks to super-forager Christopher Robbins for his advice on nettles. If you want to learn more about wild plants, check out our upcoming foraging courses.

As we move into spring, nettles are starting to appear. Sure they may sting, but they're also hugely versatile. And right now they're at their seasonal best: young, tender and ripe for picking. Nettles have a long history of numerous uses, and it's no wonder why. They are an excellent blood purifier, a mild laxative and extremely high in vitamin C. They're also delicious to eat and make a healthy relaxing herb tea.

Nettles ( Urtica dioica) are traditionally eaten in early spring as they are one of the first edible green shoots to appear, known as a “pot-herb”. In Scotland, Nettle Kail was a traditional Shrove Tuesday soup to welcome in the spring. Nettles were considered to be a tonic, useful for cleansing the body at the beginning of the new growing period. In addition to nettle soup you'll also find old recipes for nettle beer and nettle tea.

Nettle-Picking Tips

  • Nettles are best when very tender, so pick in the spring when the nettles are just coming up or later in the season. Pick the young leaves from the tips.
  • Use rubber gloves or pinch the leaves hard, so you don’t get stung. Once picked, lay the nettles out on a tray to wilt. Once wilted they can no longer sting you. The sting relies on erect hairs to penetrate the skin and inject the stinging formic acid. When wilted strip the leaves off the stems.
  • Like spinach, when cooked, nettles reduce to 1/4 the amount, so a supermarket bag full will be about 500g.
  • Always cook nettles, which destroys the stinging formic acid. Nettles are not suitable for salads!

Favourite Nettle Recipes

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