Grasping the Nettle

Nettle Picking

‘Neantóg a dhóigh mé agus cupóg a leigheas mé’

I’m an asthmatic. I’ve had a runny nose most of the time for most of my life. I was given a natural remedy book by a good friend in college and discovered the benefits of Urtica dioica, more commonly known as nettles, in there. The plant, which was the bane of my young life running around the fields of Connemara, could, according to this new book, be the cure for my ever running nose. In particular in the spring time when I was most affected.

Stinging nettles love Ireland’s moist fertile soil and so grow all over the place. They should be picked in spring when they are young and tender. Trial and error has taught most of us that hand protection is required when picking them, but if you do get stung dock leaves shouldn’t be too far away to rub onto the affected area hence the old saying stated above. The alkaline secretions of the dock neutralises the acidic sting of the nettle.

Nettles are used as remedies due to their high iron and vitamin C content, not to mention histamine which is what helped to curb my rhinitis during the spring months. My grandmother used to say that nettles when taken in a tea in the month of May would purify the blood for the year. She wasn’t too far out because the minerals (formic acid, iron, potassium etc.) in nettles have been proven to reduce blood pressure, lower blood sugar and improve circulation thus purifying the system. And they are at their youngest and most tender in the month of May. Clever people our ancestors.

Before consuming nettles regularly, make sure to firstly check with your doctor if you are on medication, as nettles can interfere with certain pharmaceuticals. Also, make sure to always pick your nettles, or any wild plant for that matter, from an area that is not near any area that has been or potentially could have been treated with any sort of chemical. There is little point in the health benefits if you’re also consuming a nice dose of herbicide!

Nettles can be consumed in many recipes but I’ve only used them regularly in three. The first being the simplest: tea. Brew a bunch of tender stinging nettle tips in almost boiling water and drink daily (for the month of May, if following my grandmother’s tip!) Another recipe I sneak them into is champ. I simmer a bunch of chopped nettle leaves in milk for about 10 minutes before adding them to the mashed potato. Our favourite spring recipe for nettles though is nettle soup. I basically substitute nettles for leeks in a traditional leek and potato soup recipe.

Note: When picked, nettles should be used as soon as possible as they wilt quickly.

Serves 6 starter or 4 hearty supper portions

  • A knob of butter
  • 100g chopped onions
  • 160g peeled and chopped potatoes
  • 1 litre of chicken stock
  • 160g washed and chopped young nettles
  • 150ml whole milk
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Gently melt a knob of butter and a little oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a low heat. When melted, add the chopped onions and potatoes. Cover and sweat very gently over a low heat for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are softening but not browned. Add the chicken stock and boil until the vegetables are cooked. Add the nettle leaves and simmer for a few minutes. Add the milk and liquidise. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

 

Published in The Western People 08th June 2015

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