nettle tops in basket with dandelions
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Do you have a favourite weed? If I was forced to pick one, I think I would have to choose nettles.

My garden is full of nettles, and probably unlike most people, instead of trying to eliminate them, I actually encourage them. In fact I have come up with a strimming regime that ensures I have fresh nettle tops to pick right through the growing season, from early spring until late autumn.

As well as using them for tea and in many delicious recipes that I have concocted, I am regularly stung by them. Mostly accidentally, but sometimes intentionally.

Read on if you want to know why!

NETTLES Urtica dioica

Common stinging nettles, or Urtica dioica are found in almost all temperate regions worldwide. They have been used for centuries by many cultures as an important source of both food and medicine.

We all know that green leafy vegetables are good for us, but when it comes to ‘eating our greens’, one of the most nutritious of them all grows right under our feet.

Nettles are rich in iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Per 100g, they contain more calcium than milk. They are also an antioxidant, a source of protein, and are rich in vitamins A, C and K, and many of the B vitamins.

They have been traditionally used to treat arthritis and they are widely considered to be a natural antihistamine. I personally credit them with curing my severe hay fever, due to the fact that I am regularly stung by them.

You can use nettles to make a health enhancing tea, add them to soups and stocks, and use them as a spinach substitute to create numerous delicious and nutritious dishes.


Nettle tops

Nettles are traditionally used as a spring tonic, and it is often considered unsafe to eat them at other times of the year. Strictly speaking, if left to their own devices, that would be the case. However, with correct management it is possible to harvest nettles throughout the growing season.

When harvesting nettles, the first thing to remember is to make sure to wear rubber gloves to avoid getting stung. You need to cut only the nettle tops, i.e. the growing tip and four to six of the leaves surrounding the tip, as in the photo above. The stems are very fibrous, so you need to avoid them if you are harvesting the nettles for consumption.

When the nettles start to flower, as in the photo above, the chemical composition of the leaves change and they develop cystolith crystals that could be harmful to the kidneys. However, if you strim a nettle patch at this stage, they will throw up fresh new leaf growth that is safe to harvest before the flowering process begins again.

Likewise, if you allow the flowers to bloom and the seeds to develop, you can then cut the stems back to ground level and they will produce new leaves again. With careful management, by strimming different nettle patches at intervals during the growing season, I usually manage to have leaves that are perfect for harvesting from March right through to October.


Nettle tops in basket

Once nettles are cooked, the sting disappears and they are safe to eat. Start by washing your nettle tops well. You may like to check the undersides of the leaves, as nettles are a host plant to some species of native butterflies, so you may not care for the added protein that their caterpillars may provide!

There are two main ways to cook your nettle tops. You can blanch them in a large pot of boiling water for three or four minutes, and then remove them with a slotted spoon and refresh them in cold water. Alternatively, you can place them in a wide based saucepan, just with the water that clings to them after washing, and wilt them down, in the same way as you might cook spinach.

Whichever method you use, the next step is to strain them thoroughly by pressing down the leaves in a sieve or colander to remove all liquid. This liquid is full of nutrients, so keep it to add to stocks or soups. Then chop the nettles and they are ready to either use straight away, or to freeze for future use.


One of the simplest ways of including nettles in your diet is to add them to soup. I like to use a basic potato and leek soup recipe, or a simple chicken or vegetable soup recipe as a base. When your base soup is at the stage where it is ready to blend, add the washed nettle tops and bring the soup back to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer it for three or four minutes to cook the nettles and remove the sting. Blend and drizzle with some herb oil, pesto, cream or crème fraîche. Garnish with chopped herbs or edible flowers to serve. Wild garlic flowers are particularly good when they are in season.

When nettles are prepared and cooked by either of the methods that I described above, you can include them in any dish where spinach is traditionally used. I especially like to add them to egg based dishes such as quiches or frittatas, and to potato based dishes such as champ or colcannon. They are also good added to dahls, curries, risottos, pasta, and legume and grain dishes.


If you would like to learn more about how to safely identify wild herbs and use them to enhance your health, by making tasty drinks, wild food dishes and simple herbal remedies, click on the links below to check out my in person and online foraging workshops.

Introduction to Foraging Workshop

Foraging Walk and Wild Food Lunch

Wild Herb Foraging Online Workshop


This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified nutritionist or health practitioner.
Never use any wild plant if you are pregnant, have a serious illness or medical condition or are on any medication, without first consulting your medical team.
It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure that any wild plants are 100% correctly identified. If in doubt never use any wild plant for food or medicine.

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