(adapted from Eat Your Weeds!The Forager's Cookbook, p178)

In 1652 Nicholas Culpeper wrote some words that still make good sense 370 years later: Nettles are so well known, that they need no description; they may be found by feeling, in the darkest night.

Nettles (Urtica dioica) are one of our ‘desert island plants’, offering a pharmacopoeia of herbal medicines, excellent compost, linen or cordage, dyes, hair rinse and shampoo and, increasingly, our food.

When picking for the pot, two leaves and a bud (the same mantra as in tea-picking) makes good sense. Spring nettles are more tender than those gathered later, with the bonus that a few weeks on you will have a fresh harvest of new, succulent leaves. If you use scissors to cut the top leaves, you can easily lift them into your basket without risk of stinging.

Gather more leaves than you need for immediate use, and blanch them in boiling water for two minutes, drain and cool, then store in freezer bags. Or, go a stage further by blending your cooled nettle tops, with added water, and freeze this nettle purée in an ice cube tray.

The purée can be a basis for nettle cake, soup, smoothies, porridge, homemade nettle tagliatelle (recipe in Eat your Weeds!The Forager's Cookbook, p188) and nettle banana bread (p193).

We have another recipe idea to share with you here: nettle crisps.

… many may agree that it would be better to return from a trip to the country with a bag of nettles than with bunches of wild flowers.
– Audrey Wynne Hatfield, How to Enjoy your Weeds (1969)

Nettle crisps

These crisps have a crunchy, satisfying texture and are a quick way to make a wholesome and moreish snack.

Gather medium-sized nettle leaves and check the undersides for aphids and butterfly eggs (nettle is a food plant for many types of insect). Be aware of the sting, which will disappear in the cooking, but you may be caught out when gathering.

Wash the leaves and now make your cold dipping sauce. Blend toasted sesame oil, some flakes of nutritional yeast, pepper and salt; we added sumac for additional flavour.

The oil and yeast flakes are at the heart of the taste. Make your sauce into a paste-like consistency, then dip the nettle leaves in it, making sure both sides are coated. Put them on a baking tray, and bake in a medium oven for a few minutes until they are crisp.

Keep an eye out on the progress of the crisping as it can quickly go too far and you end with a burnt offering.