Gardeners regard nettles as a nuisance. But they are the most valuable and useful plant in the garden, if not the world! The Romans introduced the stinging nettle, or Urtica Dioica, to England (along with snails, chestnuts, apples, pears, peas, carrots, cats, advertising, and gay marriages!) They used to beat themselves with a bunch of them to help their blood circulation and to keep them warm.
Nettles are said to be good for arthritis. I had a sprained wrist that just wouldn’t get better. So I whacked it several times a day with a sprig of nettles. And guess what? In a few days it was completely healed and it’s never come back.
You can make cloth with nettles, both for weaving and as a dye. During World War 1 there was a shortage of cloth in Germany, and German uniforms contained 85% nettle fibre. And during World War ll, the British Government arranged the collection of 100 tons of nettles to be made into green dye for camouflage purposes.
Nettle comes from the Dutch word Netel, which means needle. And Urtica is from the Latin Uro, which means burn. Dioica means two houses because the male and female flowers grow on two different plants.
It’s very important to have nettles growing in the garden. Many types of insect and butterfly rely on them, and small animals shelter under them. Ladybirds hatch on nettles, then they feed on aphids, which protects other plants. Birds, especially tits, eat the aphids, and in late Summer/early Autumn they feast on the nettle seeds.
Nettles make great compost. When they rot, they supply nitrogen, magnesium, iron, sulphur and minerals to the soil. The roots spread quickly though, so you may prefer to grow some nettles in a pot, or reserve a wildlife area in a corner somewhere.
If you’ve never eaten nettles, you really should try them. They’re full of vitamin C, protein, iron, and much more. Cook the leaves, and use as a vegetable instead of spinach. If you don’t tell anyone at the table, they won’t know! Nettle soup is delicious. You can find recipes online, or substitute nettle leaves in a spinach/cabbage soup recipe. Add whatever you fancy; potatoes, onions of course, carrots and herbs. Serve rustic style, nice and chunky, or blitz until smooth, add some cream or fromage frais, and serve with fresh bread.
You can make a nettle pie, Greek style with filo pastry, nettle pasta, nettle pizza, nettle omelette, nettle pudding, (A Medieval recipe) and much more. For nettle bread, add finely-chopped nettle leaves to the dough mixture.
I’ve cooked and frozen a batch of nettles in small bags, ready for nettle and lentil curry, and nettle risotto.
We also eat them with a roast dinner as a green vegetable. And they taste just like cooked spinach.
Add a chopped small onion, cream and a dash of nutmeg for Creamed Spinach.
This was popular in World War ll.
Place a layer of stale breadcrumbs in a dish. Add cooked, strained nettle leaves, and a chopped, sautéed onion. Then add any leftover meat, chopped, or cooked beans or lentils. Cover with stock, or the boiled nettle water. You can cover with bacon slices if you like. Bake for about half an hour.
Nettle beer and nettle wine are delicious. There are plenty of recipes available online.
Pour boiling water over about six freshly-picked, washed leaves in a mug. Steep for about five minutes, then scoop out the leaves and sweeten if desired.
Honey is a good sweetener.
It’s been claimed for centuries that nettles that nettles can cure, or help to ease, practically any ailment.
Nettles contain vitamins C, A, B1, B2, E and K, plus aluminium, bromide, cobalt, copper, fluorine, manganese, nickel, silicon, zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium and sulphur.
They also have anti-viral and antihistamine properties, expectorant and soothing qualities.
I’m not saying that they can cure anything, but they’re a natural treatment for arthritis, rheumatism, lumbago, bronchitis, hay fever, asthma, shingles, colds, flu, anaemia, sciatica, sore throats, ulcers and gum disease, blood pressure, piles, diarrhoea, and even cuts and wounds.
Apparently nettles can even help you to diet! Just eat young nettles and drink nettle tea for a few days. It won’t do you any harm, and you’ll get plenty of vitamins and minerals.
Whether they really are capable of healing practically everything or not, at least they’re a natural remedy, and it’s known that they contain loads of healthy ingredients. They’ve been a vital addition to the larder and medicine herb garden in many different countries for centuries. And of course, they’re free! But do wash them well, especially if you pick them near a road, or where people walk their dogs. And don’t forget to take some gloves and scissors, and a bag with you when you go to collect them!