Eating nettles is not as daft as it sounds. Besides the soup which is gaining in popularity, a famous Irish dish called ‘Brotchan Neanntog’ contains nettles, along with a broth of water, nettles, salt, milk and oatmeal. It lost popularity to the cabbage but the recipe was in still in use in poorer areas of Ireland 100 years ago.
Samuel Pepys reports enjoying nettle porridge on February 25 th, 1661 although no details of the recipe are given in his diary.
Scott, the author of ‘Rob Roy’, has the gardener in this book raising nettles under glass as ‘early spring kail’. Another interesting Scottish recipe I found in ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey is for Nettle Haggis: “…nettle puree is mixed with leeks and cabbage, freshly fried bacon and partially cooked oatmeal (or rice or barley), and the whole boiled for an hour or so in a muslin bag, and served with gravy”.
As a straight vegetable, prepare the nettle leaves as for soup, and boil them in a very small amount of water or stock, in a closed saucepan for about 4 minutes. Again make sure that only young leaves are used as the older they become the harder it is to break down the silica that makes up the stinging parts of the leaf. Strain off the water, even pressing slightly through a sieve, then serve with a knob of butter and a generous twist of black pepper if that is to your taste. Real country spinach !
Nettles were once cultivated in Scandinavia and they were grown under glass in Scotland as ‘early kale’. They are very easy to cultivate and can be transplanted just by digging up some wild root and bringing it into the garden. Alternatively nettles can be cultivated from seed planted in spring in a loamy and moist soil in sun or light shade.