Recipe For a Long Life


Urtica dioica Nettle


Italan food and flavours

Urtica dioica Nettle 





Urtica dioica Nettle:  All round good guy…ok apart from if you fall out of a tree and into a patch of them, wearing only pants, like my mum did when she was little. What are we talking about? Obviously nettles. Or are they obvious? Recently two New Zealanders here on a help exchange announced that they’d never heard of them in New Zealand. This seems unimaginable to us English people who will have been stung numerous times in our lifetimes…which is why of course many people are quick to uproot and clear out any patches of nettles that spring up. But wait, the benefits of nettles far outweigh the disadvantages. If you have space near your vegetable patches, especially near the compost heap, nettles will provide you with plenty of iron and mineral rich green leaves that are beneficial to other plants, insects and animals including us humans.

Starting at the bottom of the food chain nettles are a fantastic liquid fertiliser and compost activator as they contain a lot of nitrogen  and are useful in supplying magnesium, sulphur and iron to plants in the garden and on the vegetable patch. To make the liquid fertiliser you simply need to chop up the nettles, put them in a big bucket with a brick on top and add water until they are covered. Leave it for 3 or 4 weeks until they smell utterly revolting and then use a jug to transfer to your sprayer/watering can and water it down 10 parts water to every part of nettle swamp water!

Nettles are essential for more than 40 kinds of insects, either as protection against grazing animals or for overwintering. When these insects swarm around spring nettles they provide early food for ladybirds,  blue tits and other woodland birds that manage to negotiate the stinging stems.

In late summer the huge quantity of seeds produced by nettles are food for many seed-eating birds, such as house sparrows, chaffinches, and bullfinches not forgetting for other insect-eaters like hedgehogs, shrews, frogs and toads, at all times of the year.

The UK’s most colourful and best known butterflies, such as the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock Butterflies are totally reliant on nettles for their larvae to feed on so if the sight of them in the air lightens your heart then help them to survive by leaving those nettles in place.

When cropping them for your own consumption always make sure that they are not near any immediate forms of pollution such as by the sides of busy roads or near contaminated water. If cooking fresh leaves then they really should only be eaten in spring before they flower and become unpalatable. However the summer leaves and flowers can also be dried and used for nettle tea, that well known countryside cure for feeling a bit under the weather. The iron, mineral and tannin rich leaves purify and act as a tonic for the blood. 

As long as they are cooked first, nettle leaves can replace spinach in a multitude of recipes. Here the locals combine them with potato and flour to make nettle gnocchi; with ricotta as a filling for ravioli and sometimes mixed into the pasta dough itself for deep green tagliatelle..delicious and aesthetically pleasing all at the same time. In the spring they contain up to 25% protein per dry weight which is more than a lot of other green leafy vegetables. That combined with their vitamin C content and mineral content it may be time to start looking at nettles as an essential in the garden and not that nuisance that you thought they were. Now, lets hear three cheers for the little devils…