Nettles

Nettles, although generally viewed as a “weeds”, are actually a very valuable part of the vegetable garden.

  • They are great for the compost.
  • You can make a great garden tonic or “compost tea” with them.
  • They can be dried, juiced or frozen for use in the kitchen and they are very tasty.

That’s right, you can eat stinging nettles. Europeans have used nettles for culinary purposes at least since Roman times but could certainly go back as far as the Bronze Age or beyond when the plant was commonly used for its fiber.

Generally, when people think about nettles and their edibility, their minds wind back to a time when they have been “stung”. And yes they actually do sting you. They have tiny needle like hairs called trichomes on the underside of the leaves and on the stems, which penetrate the skin and inject a chemical cocktail of neurotransmitters, histamines and formic acid designed to protect the plants from being eaten. If we cook nettles, the heat causes those hairs to break down rendering them harmless. I think nettles add a slight sharpness, or a slightly piquant flavour to dishes. It really gives a dish that zing-a-zing! I think it’s the chlorophyll that gives it that edge but not being a chef or a chemist I couldn’t be sure. All I know is this: when I add it to soups like minestrone it completely changes the flavour profile.

Two quick notes:

  1. Only use fresh young leaves as the older ones, where plants have already flowered or gone to seed, may contain traces of calcium carbonate, which could cause urinary-tract problems.
  2. When you are harvesting and washing or preparing nettles, make sure you wear gloves =)

Garden Tonic – BEWARE, this part stinks!

Find yourself a bucket that has a lid on top. Fill your bucket with as many nettles as you have on hand – the nettles may be fresh, flowering or gone to seed it doesn’t matter, just don’t fill it to the brim if you do have heaps. Cover your nettles with non-chlorinated water and leave for about 2-3 weeks, checking it from time to time to see if it has started to ferment. When you see bubbles on the surface give it a stir and replace the lid and check again in a few days. Once the bubbles have subsided the fermentation process has finished and tonic is read to apply. Simply strain the liquid into another bucket or container and use diluted as directed below. You can store the tonic in plastic containers or on glass bottles. My personal preference is old plastic milk or vinegar bottles. They are large and easy to pour. And I use a lot of them!

This garden tonic is rich in nitrogen, potassium and magnesium. You’re plants will love it!

Just a couple of tips:

  • Don’t leave it in the sun because you may kill off some of the bacteria needed during the fermentation process.
  • If you want to keep your patch of nettles, just cut the plants down by half and use the tips.
  • If you want to be specific about the recipe use the following ratio: 4 lt water – 500g fresh nettles or 50-60g of dried nettles.

Dilute the tonic in the following ratios:

As a folia spray: 400ml tonic to 8lt water

As a soil drench: 800ml tonic to 8lt water

or as a herbicide: use it undiluted.

-The average bucket or watering can is 9lt-

Enjoy!

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