Posted by: sweetpea | May 21, 2008

Nettles are fantastic……

……..so long as you don’t happen to sting yourself that is, then they are a pain, but easily remedied by squeezing dock leaf juice on the affected area.

Stinging nettle

So why are Nettles fantastic…well I can give you 3 good reasons (you can find more info on Nettles at the ‘Be Nice to Nettles’  website) :

They’re great for wildlife

 Nettles can be found prettty much everywhere, from abandoned ground in inner cities, right through the suburbs and into the countryside.  You might think that because they sting they wouldn’t be much good for wildlife, but in fact it is that tendency that makes them home to a great variety of insects.  The sting of nettles means that not many large herbivores will eat them, so any insects living on them are pretty safe as they themselves are too small to trigger the sting.

So what might you find living on and around nettles?  

Nettles support up to 40 different species of insects, ranging from aphids up to some of our colourful butterflies. The Nettle weevil for instance is to be found only on nettles.  The larvae of Peacock, Comma, Red Admiral and Small Tortishell Butterflies all feed on nettles, as do those of some of our moths e.g. The Spectacle, Beautiful Golden Y, Burnished Brass.

Aphids overwintering on nettles provide an early meal for ladybirds, and also help feed blue tits and other small woodland birds.  Later on in the year the seeds also provide food for many seed eating birds.

They make really tasty soup

There are numerous recipes out there for nettle soup, one of which I blogged about here.  Recently I tried yet another recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall which included smoked fish, and as usual it was very tasty, so I shall share the recipe with you below:

Nettle Soup with Smoked Fish (taken from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Fish Book)

  • Half a carrier bag full of nettles – tops or young leaves only
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, finely sliced
  • 1 small head of celeriac, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 litre fish stock
  • 300g smoked pollack or haddock fillet
  • 3 tablespoons cooked rice, or 3 rice cakes
  • 2 tablespoons thick cream or creme fraiche, plus extra to serve
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Wash the nettles thoroughly, removing any unwanted extras and any tough stalks
  2. Melt the butter in a large pan over a low heat.  Add the onion, celeriac and garlic, cover the pan and sweat gently, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until softened but not brown.
  3. Meanwhile, pour the stock into a seperate pan ans bring it to a simmer.  Add the smoked fish and poach gently until cooked – no longer than 5 minutes, just until the flesh flakes easily.  Scoop out the fish with a slotted spoon and keep warm.  Pour the hot stock over the softened vegetables in the pan and simmer for 5 minutes or so, until the celeriac is almost tender.  Pile in the nettles.  Return to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the nettles are wilted and tender.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Puree the soup immediately to keep the colour.  Tip it into a blender, add the rice or rice cakes and whiz to a puree.  Pour into a clean pan, stir in the cream and reheat but do not let it boil.  Check the seasoning.
  5. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls.  Flake the fish flesh from the skin, discarding any pin bones.  Heap some flakes of hot smoked fish in the middle of each bowlful and finish with a swirl of cream.

 Next time I make this I think I’ll probably blend the fish in with the soup…I know that will spoil the texture effect, but I wasn’t that keen on having the big bits of fish, although my partner really liked the effect so it’s a personal choice.

They make a fantastic fertilizer for your garden

 Nettles are not only good food for wildlife and us humans, they are also good for our plants, making a very nutritious fertilizer which many an allotmenter swears by.  To make your nettle fertiliser you will need: (The recipe below is taken from the ‘Be Nice to Nettles’  website)

Nettle fertilizer

  • Nettles
  • A watertight container
  • Water
  • Something to weigh the nettles down with (optional)

 

First take your nettles. These are best as young stems but can be taken at any time. Quicker results are obtained if the nettle stems and leaves are bruised.

Then crush them. This can be done by scrunching the stems in gloved hands or by placing the stems on a freshly mown lawn and using your mower to chop and collect the nettles at the same time. The addition of a few grass clippings that results from using this method does not affect the quality of the finished product.

Immerse in water Stuff the crushed stems into your container. Place your weight on top of the stems.  Fill the container with water sufficient to cover the nettles and…

Leave to brew.  You may also consider placing the container away from the areas in the garden that you use most as the soup tends to get rather smelly.

Dilute to taste. After around three or four weeks the liquid should be ready for use. The mixture should be diluted until it is tea coloured – usually around 1 part liquid to 10 parts water. Water liberally around or on the plants and see the benefits.

Repeat until winter. Continue to top up your container with more leaves and water through the year. As autumn sets in put the remainder of the feed and the sludge in your compost heap. Give your container a rinse and store for next year!

 I haven’t yet tried making the nettle fertilizer, but will be doing so in the next week, it will be interesting to see what the results will be.

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