It’s a fresh winter morning and I am sitting watching the sky lighten and the day begin. I am just sitting, doing nothing, while the day is offering nothing less than a performance. Blue sky starts to peek through, charcoal grey clouds move slowly in […]
Tag: Urtica dioica
I’m writing this blog in summer – not a time to eat stinging nettles (urtica dioica), despite the Dorset Nettle Eating Competition held every July (read the important information on When Not to Eat Nettles to find out why not). However, nettles have many other virtues beyond […]
You may know, that I rate Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) highly. I believe they are one of our most nutritious greens in the UK alongside the goosefoot family which includes Fat Hen (Chenopodium album), Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) and Oraches (Atriplex patula and Atriplex prostrata).
Stinging Nettles are common and easy to identify, so what’s not to like?!
I have other blogs that include recipes using nettles, and further nettle recipes in my wild food foraging book so here I wanted to focus on something different – when not to pick and eat them. They are not like shell-fish (only eat when there’s an ‘r’ in the month), though there are some general guidelines that will help you pick and eat the best, edible nettles.
Here’s just 4 times it is good not to pick nettles for food.
1. Don’t pick Stinging Nettles when in Flower
The flowers on Stinging Nettles are like catkins; little tendrils of flowers dropping down from the stems, they tend to be green or yellowy-green in colour, so not always obvious to spot. This signifies a change in this nutritious plant, a change that is of benefit to butterflies and moths, though not to humans. At this stage it is best to quote John Wright (from his Hedgerow book) as he says it so well and thoroughly;
‘At the first sign of flowers you must stop picking. The plant will now start producing cystoliths – microscopic rods of calium carbonate – which can be absorbed by the body where they will mechanically interfere with kidney function.’
Well said John. So we’ ve been told.
2. Avoid polluted sites
This should be common sense. Nettle have long roots to draw up nutriton and normally thrive in healthy and nitrogen rich soil, though do a little research and be sure you’re picking from areas as free from pollutants as possible. Of course pollutatants can also be air-borne, so picking away from busy roadsides is recommended too.
3. Avoid when leave are tinged with purple
Sometimes the leaves of stinging nettles are tinged purple. This need not be a problem, nor a reason to avoid that particular patch, though it tends to signify that the plant is tired or stressed in some way, which can make the leaves a little bitter. Something to consider.
4. When you don’t have gloves or have lots of exposed skin
We’ve all done it, or know someone who’s been badly stung by nettles. Many of us are also tempted to pick delicious looking nettle leaves, even though our gloves are miles away in a forgotten cupboard. Thick sleeves can be used as a substitute for gloves (wearing over your hands), though know that nettles also have a habit of finding bare skin and innocently brushing themselves against you. A nettle sting doesn’t have to be problem; the sting brings blood to the skin’s surface, thus stimulating blood flow. Though too many stings are sometimes too much to bare. Consider waiting; the nettles continue strong, and return every year.
I’d love to show and teach you more about Stinging Nettles, including recipe ideas, find out more on my Wild Food Foraging Courses.
Nettles are amazing – nutritious, versatile and abundant. Never under-estimate the humble stinging nettle (urtica dioica) it’s one of the best wild greens we have (nettles contain iron, vitamin c, protein and so, so much more). Really we should and could be celebrating, and using […]
Sea Spinach soup is a simple, delicious soup which celebrates this wonderful wild green. Creamy, filling and even dairy-free, perfect for a fresh, early spring al fresco lunch, or an autumnal or winter trip out along the coast, with a flask of tasty hot soup.
Spring is here and it is undeniably the time for greens*; the green leaves and shoots of wild edibles start to edge higher towards the light and their taste begins to improve. I love seeing plants growing in the wild – green is gentle medicine for my eyes – and that’s why I like to pick only the plants that are growing abundantly – leaving a lot behind in nature.
*If you’re reading this in autumn or winter, the leaves of Sea Spinach , are also good to pick through autumn and winter too.
I don’t always plan my foraging, actually, I rarely do, instead, it becomes a spontaneous response to my surroundings. This was one such morning; I’d arranged to meet a friend at 8am so we could enjoy a morning walk – the weather was expected to be good and we both wanted to start our day outside, in sunny nature.
It was crisp and sunny, and wrapped up in big coats we walked through a small woodland, birds singing, light streaming through and nature felt alive. We felt alive – fresh to the day and with nothing much to say.
We reached the coast, and Sea Spinach (Beta vulgaris), also known as Sea Beet, was almost glistening in the light. Ooh, those shiney leaves looked good enough to eat! We ambled along the coast and pick a few leaves here and there, looking for the best one, the shiniest ones, the healthiest, freshest ones, the further we walked, the more patches of leaves we found. Taking just what we needed, we continued on our sun-rich morning walk.
My mind wandered to cooking…
Hours later I was back in my kitchen, flicking through Darina Allen‘s book, looking for an inspiring spring greens recipe, and found a wonderful and traditional Sea Spinach soup; utilising this tasty wild in a full-fat, creamy base. Yum! I love Darina’s writing and her traditional, fool-hardy recipes, I used her Irish Beef Stew recipe in my first book with wild, Black Mustard mash.
Though as much as I love, and trust her recipes, sometimes I want a break from milk and cream. This was one such day, so I set about adapting her recipe to use coconut milk instead. I love tweaking recipes.
The result was delicious; I enjoyed it on the beach with a group of foragers (we all had seconds), then supped the hot left-overs as a starter with friends that evening. A beautiful, fresh green colour and perfect if you are waiting for the stinging nettles to arrive, though you are a little too early.
Sea Spinach and Coconut Soup (my version)
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 medium onion
- 150g pots, diced (scrubbed, though not peeled)
- 200g creamed coconut
- 1300ml boiling water
- 2 tsp powdered vegetable stock
- salt and pepper
- 300g sea spinach (stalks removed)
- handful of three-cornered leek (optional)
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat, chop the onion and add to the sizzling oil, stir and cook until translucent. Lower the heat, add the potatoes, and sweat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, roughly chop the cream coconut and place in a large, heat-proof bowl, pour the boiling water over the coconut, and stir until dissolved. Strain and add the liquid to the potatoes and onion. Season with stock and salt and pepper. Chop the sea spinach and three-cornered leek and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the spinach is cooked. Blend and serve, or pour into a hot flask and take to the beach for a hearty lunch.
It’s deep December and I’m standing outside. Actually, there’s 8 of us standing outside and waiting for the one that’s gone astray. Once we’re all congregated, we begin. There’s something innately quiet about walking in Winter, as if all around us is sleeping, and in […]
Having watched spring slowly arrive over winter, in the last few weeks it has speeded up & fully arrived in all its glory. I love spring, perhaps because it’s the season I was born, or maybe because of those lovely bouncy baby lambs in the fields… Then there’s the increase of day light & all the spring foraging to enjoy too. An abundance of smells, tastes, textures & goodness – all oozing with vitamins & minerals. Basically a multitude of reasons to have a spring in my step & that madness of energy that’s associated with this time of year.
Teaching foraging is largely seasonal, mainly because people want to forage to certain times of year, rather than there being a lack of plants during the winter months. As my season starts of kick off, my days feel fuller – bookings, organising & planning. At the end of the day there’s nothing fresher for me than to take a walk, get away from the computer & amble along, lazily picking as I go. It’s relaxing, valuable time-out, all with a flavour of spring madness of the plants I have to choose from as I walk.
Ooooh, what catches my eye today? So much to choose from. Today I chose just a few spring greens for supper – nettles, cleavers, & tri-cornered leek for soup. Chickweed & yarrow for frittata. I could go on about the bounty to enjoy, though really I just want to sit & eat, then do it all again tomorrow! Wishing you wonderful spring foraging – this really is the time to go mad out there & forage to your hearts content.
Shopping down the supermarket aisle? Not for me, in spring all my greens come from the hedgerow.