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Give nettles a second chance

All Areas > Food & Drink > Wild Food Foraging

Author: Steven Hawley, Posted: Tuesday, 24th March 2015, 08:00

They make phobics cringe, children cry, adults swear and unobservant canines whimper. They also make for quite a refreshing cup of tea! Stinging nettles need no real introduction. Everything you think you need to know about nettles is often learned quickly as a child and, as a result, the connection from throbbing red hand to mouthful of yum is rarely made. But put those adolescent hard feelings to one side for a moment and give this infamous plant a second chance.

Some brave evangelists will encourage you to harvest it by simply ‘grasping the nettle firmly’ to avoid being stung. I tried that once and found the advice to be agonisingly flawed. So, I advise thick gardening gloves and a sharp pair of scissors. One tip I think worthy of mentioning, however, is to try and avoid picking nettles from popular dog walking spots for – what I hope to be – obvious reasons.

Stinging nettles already have something of a cult following and many recipes can be found online. Young leaves are usually best, as older ones tend to be a little overpowering in taste when used in cooking. But when dried and used for tea, older leaves are fine.

To make a year’s supply of nettle tea pick a couple of bunches of the whole plant. Rinse in cold water and hang them upside down to dry on a washing line during a sunny day, or on a really low heat in your oven if you’re beset by stereotypical English weather. When dry, the leaves should easily crumble between thumb and forefinger and are much safer to handle at this stage – but this forager uses gloves whenever they require direct handling.

Firmly grasp the root end and position over a large bowl and run your hand down the plant to dislodge the leaves from the stem. Now, get some pay back for your childhood mishaps and bravely break those dried leaves into loose tea sized pieces with heavily armoured hands.

Store in an air tight glass container – old coffee jars work well – and use as you would any loose-leaf tea. Stored in a cool dry place – it can last you through the winter until you’re able to replenish your stocks the following year. It’s similar in taste to a strong green tea and packs just as much goodness.

If you’re not 100% sure that the plant you’re picking is safe for human consumption, don’t pick it. If you’re prone to food allergies, or pregnant, always seek medical advice before consuming anything foraged in the wild.

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