9th April 2020

Food / Outdoors / Natasha Lloyd

Forage of the Month: Nettles [Urtica Dioica]

2 4 mins 1

AApril is the month for nettles. Our resident forager and Medical Herbalist, Natasha Lloyd, explains how to harvest the stinging plant and their astonishing amount of health benefits. Natasha includes a nettle soup recipe for you to enjoy.

Nettles are abundant in our countryside and towns; their great defence mechanism, their stinging hairs, ‘sting’ us and animals, so they don’t get eaten much in the wild and we have learnt to avoid them. The hairs contain histamine which gives the hive and itch, but they also contain serotonin, one of our make-you-happy neurotransmitters. So don’t worry too much if you do get stung. You can of course avoid being stung by wearing gloves.

Nettles are a pioneer species, this means that they grow on newly turned soil, so all those people starting a garden this year should find plenty. Be grateful for that, these are not simply a garden weed!

Nettles contain a lot of minerals and vitamins. I think of them as a plant equivalent to a multi-vitamin pill. They contain vitamins A, B, C, D and K. and significant amounts of iron as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium and zinc. If that wasn’t enough, they also contain up to 42% protein. This depends on where the nettles grow and the composition of the soil. A nettle in newly turned soil usually has a lot of nutrients. If you’re not a gardener, you’ll find patches out in the wild but don’t be greedy and think of others and the environment and take only a third of a patch when you harvest.

When harvesting, only pick the top four to six upper leaves and don’t pick once they have started flowering as the plant then contain microscopic calcium carbonate which can -if you eat a lot of it- damage your urethra and eventually your kidneys. It’s interesting as the seeds are propertied to benefit the kidneys.

Nettles are ‘cut and come again’ which means you can pick the tops and they will grow back into tender leaves again. This can be done for a number of weeks.

Please do not eat anything you cannot fully 110% identify. With the recent upsurge and interest in foraging in the last few years, there has been an increase in hospitalisations. If you are unsure ask an experienced forager for advice.

You can find the recipe for Nettle Soup here.

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Natasha Lloyd is a Medical Herbalist and Forager, based in the heart of Cairngorm National Park in Scotland. Natasha has been teaching foraging and herbalism for over 15 years through guided walks, talks and workshops.

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