I recently went out for a meal at a restaurant and they had wild nettle cordial on the drinks menu. Ooh, as a forager with a soft spot for 'sweet' I just had to try it. I must say, I was disappointed. I even asked for an extra dash of cordial so I could taste it better, though even then, all I could taste was sweet.
Perhaps because I'm used to making my own, non-commercial wild nettle cordial - fresh and homemade always tastes superior, I feel. Personally, if I make something from wild ingredients I want to benefit from a mixture of the nutrients, the flavour and the whole experience of picking to creating with it.
I find nettles rewarding to cook with because they are in such abundance and their flavour is pleasant though not overly strong. My wild nettle syrup is dark green, it is nettley (not a real word, though you get the idea) and good for you. Here (video above) I'm about to dilute it as a refreshing prelude to a nettle based lunch of nettle soup and nettle pakoras.
Oh, I do like the common stinging nettle - it is the perfect spring wild food! Here I tell you a little about why I love nettles in a short video, and here I expand on some of the reasons nettles are worth falling in love with.
Back to the recipe.
Rich Nettle Syrup
Dark and rich, I’ve watched nettle syrup disappear surprisingly quickly as a diluted drink at events. This version includes fennel, which lifts the syrup out of the darkness a little and is delicious in Nettle Baklava or Sweet and Nutty Nettle Energy Balls (more on those another time). Nettles also goes well with lemon or root ginger (simmer the ginger with the nettles, or add the lemon at the end of cooking).
Makes approx. 750 ml
- 800 ml water
- 3 tbsp fennel seeds, freshly ground or crushed (optional).
- 200 g nettle tops
- 800 g soft brown or demerara sugar
- 1–2 tbsp lemon juice (if not using immediately)
Put the water, fennel seeds and nettle tops in a medium saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 40 minutes. Take off the heat and strain through a fine sieve or muslin cloth, using a wooden spoon to help squeeze all the liquid out.
Measure the liquid, and for every millilitre add one gram of sugar (e.g. 500g of sugar for 500ml of liquid). Place the nettle liquid and sugar back in the saucepan, bring almost to the boil (the liquid should be steaming), reduce the heat and leave on the heat for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Do not allow it to boil. If using the syrup immediately, siphon off the amount you need. For the rest, add one tablespoon of lemon juice for every 200 ml of liquid, allow to cool and store in sterilised bottles.