Nettles_cooking collage

Getting brave

Nettles can be a “problem” on allotments and in gardens so many people deal with them by spraying weedkiller.  But, they can be picked as a crop and enjoyed in a variety of ways.  If you look after young children you may have seen the Peter Rabbit episode where Squirrel Nutkin eats a thistle and rolls around complaining of stomach ache – I was a little wary I could end up doing such a thing but I didn’t, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy the nettles were to prepare when I got brave and tried them.

I have had peppermint & nettle tea many times, but that was prepared by a well-respected business and picking my own to eat seemed to require a very different mindset.  However, last week I saw a video by a famous chef using stinging nettles in ravioli and I decided I was going to be brave and give them a go.  I didn’t go for ravioli but instead added them to my homemade bean & mushroom sausages – I found that I could have added more.  The steamed the leftover leaves to eat as a vegetable the next night.  I had seen ideas only where the nettles are used like spinach, and they do work well as a swap.

Nutrition facts

Given stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are considered a garden weed and hurt if you touch them, why would I or anybody else want to eat them?  Well, foraging such foods used to be essential for our food supplies, but as food got more convenient the art of foraging and our understanding of the variety of foods available waned.

Nettles, like other leafy plants contain protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are beneficial to our health.  Nettles have been used in traditional medicines throughout history.  They contain antioxidants and are thought to help reduce inflammation (including inflammation linked to hay fever), support the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce hypertension and help manage blood sugar levels (check for interactions with any medications before using stinging nettles – see below).

In terms of the gut, stinging nettles may help to protect the liver as a result of the antioxidants.  Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory properties may help support digestion while reducing constipation and stomach upsets.  It may also help to support your microbiome!  Unfortunately, there have been few scientific studies to support these health beliefs meaning that the evidence is mainly anecdotal.


Now, there are safety considerations.  If you pick them I would make sure you know for sure that they have not been treated with weedkillers etc.  To pick the young leaves, I wore my gardening gloves and used my kitchen tongs, putting the leaves straight into a container with a lid to carry them home in.  I then rinsed them and blanched the nettles for 4 minutes in boiling water to remove the sting.  I was nervous to touch them afterwards (yes, I’m a bit of a wimp), but the blanching had worked and they were fine to handle.  I then added them into the recipe before blending the normal ingredients together.

Nettles should not be eaten without the stings being removed by blanching and cooking.  This BBC Countryfile website page about nettles explains more about the environmental benefits of this ‘weed’, as well as details about the many uses and recipes:

In the garden

Regarding nettles and wild plants on allotment sites, the National Allotment Society actually encourage maintaining small amounts of wild plants to support nature:  Likewise The RHS recognise the benefits of nettles, but provide advice about managing the plant where required:

Dandelions are another garden “problem” too – did you know that these are also edible?  Personally, I found the leaves too bitter for my taste but if you have time to prepare the roots, leaves and petals there are many different recipes available for them online and in dedicated books.

References/Further Reading