As I think, we can all testify, nettles grow all over the UK. They prefer damp soil but will take up residence anywhere and they have a particularly nasty sting, especially at this time of year when the sap is rising.
But they do have their uses:
During the First World War, nettle fibres were used to make the uniforms of the German army when cotton was scarce.
The nettle’s sting is completely removed by cooking but please wear a thick pair of gloves when harvesting. Go for the young tender leaves and treat them like spinach – chopped into an omelette, in a soup or in filo pastry with feta cheese. Don’t be afraid! Nettles are rich in protein and vitamin C and they also help to increase our red blood cell count, thereby improving circulation.
If none of this appeals, why not make a simple nettle tea? Steep the nettles in boiling water, strain and drink. There is evidence that this helps allergy sufferers and is also good for treating urinary tract infections.
Please do make this as it is delicious, particularly when combined with a wedge of lemon or lime and sparkling water, as a refreshing summer drink.
Makes approx. 2 litres
1 kg young nettle tops
2 litres water
80g white granulated sugar for every 100 ml of strained liquid
Put the nettle tops and water in a large pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1 hour and then strain the liquid into a measuring jug, removing the nettles. Return to the pan and add the sugar (for quantity see above). Simmer for another 30 minutes until the liquid thickens and turns syrupy. Leave to cool and then pour into sterilized bottles.
This has a large amount of sugar in it which gives it a long shelf life but you can also store it in the freezer. If you do freeze, please don’t fill your bottles to the top otherwise the tops will pop off as the liquid freezes and expands and leave you with a nasty mess in your freezer.