When I first made stinging nettle soup I didn’t expect to love the taste as much as I do. As most people I had always seen them as an annoying potentially painful weed. But nettles have a unique sweet earthy taste that is like nothing else. They are also packed full of vitamins, minerals and iron, making them one of nature’s weed superfoods.

I now pick them regularly – you need to wear gloves to pick them and be careful, so it takes a while to get a decent amount. You also need to go further into the woods to get the ones out of the way of the cars and dog walkers. But I believe they’re worth the effort.

Stinging nettles in the woods

How to grow

They grow – everywhere. In fact once you have an established nettle plant it’s harder to get rid of it than to grow it. So be aware if you let them have some space in your garden they will try to take over.

I have allowed plants to grow over one of the vegetable beds in the garden and I take a regular crop, as I love them and won’t mind if they grow over the garden.

How to pick

If you cut it back it will regrow, allowing you to get two harvests from both the spring and autumn season, which is a decent amount of food for something that needs no effort at all to look after.

nettles in the veg bed
nettles in the veg bed

I use bamboo gardening gloves and scissors, and harvest it by cutting the top of the plants with scissors, which is the best part. You can also take leaves lower down, as long as they look fresh and green, but the stem lower down gets fibrous so always cut the leaves and discard the stem.

Most importantly, don’t pick any after they have flowered or seeded as the leaves are horribly bitter from that point onwards.

How to wash

Cut off the tops of the plants and wash them thoroughly in a large bowl of cold water. The easiest way to wash them is hold the stems using tongs (you can also use gloves but I prefer tongs) a few nettles at a time, that way you can swish them around in the water and then into a sieve to drain.

How to cook

Nettles can be eaten in the same way as you would eat spinach, with a small caveat, and that is to make sure you cook it long enough to destroy the stinging hairs. Boiling for a couple of minutes is enough to do this. Then you can saute it in garlic and butter, or put on your pizza – there are any number of ways you can eat it.

Nettle and wild garlic soup

My favourite by far is nettle soup – I created two similar recipes for it here – the spring season nettle and wild garlic soup and the autumn season nettle and sweet chestnut soup.

I made a decent nettle and potato curry which was basically saag aloo but with nettles instead of spinach. I will post the recipe here soon.

nettle and potato curry

I once tried to make nettle crisps which were tasty and very pretty. The main problem I found with doing that is you can’t blanche them first as they will lose their shape, but then if you don’t cook them long enough they can sting your mouth when you eat them. This caused our family to invent a new game called ‘nettle crisp roulette’. But overall probably something you want to avoid! I’ll post the recipe here soon.