Grab those garden gloves — it’s time for a new feature on crunchybits! Welcome to our first Weed of the Week — Nettles!
We’ve already talked about the health benefits of nettle infusions. This humble herb helps with respiratory troubles, allergic reactions, arthritis, skin problems, kidney stones and bladder infections. but the uses of nettles don’t stop there. You can steep nettle stalks in a bucket of water for a few weeks until fermentation stops (once there are no more bubbles when you stir) and use a dilution of this pungent “tea” as a foliar feed or soil fertilizer for your plants.
In addition to the feeding and healing people and their vegetable patches, nettles have been used for more than 2000 years to make things like rope, paper or cloth. And they can dye the fabric too! The leaves will give a green color, while the roots boiled with salt or alum yield a lovely yellow.
Nettles attract a number of butterflies, who lay their eggs on the plant so their caterpillars have a tasty, nutritious start on life. Once the plants go to seed, the birds will visit your patch to dine. So it has a place in your wildlife garden too!
Here in CT, nettles been out for a few months, and the patches we’ve expanded in the garden are producing nicely. Although today Dante asked me not to do that again because getting around the garden in shorts and with bare feet isn’t as pleasant as before where the nettles were primarily outside the fence and just inside at one corner.
We’ve been using them primarily in our smoothies, but last week I found a nettle soup recipe in a library cookbook Love Soup by Anna Thomas. I adapted it a bit, and am posting the resulting recipe below. It was delicious, and Dante and Luke ate a couple of bowls. Lucia didn’t care for it, but said she will try it again next time.Something about it reminds me of homemade chicken and rice soup from my childhood.
- 2 large onions, diced
- 4 cloves garlic
- 4 carrots, diced
- 4 stalks celery, diced
- 4 yukon gold potatoes, diced
- 1 cup lentils
- 1 cup millet
- 6-8 leaves kale, chopped
- 4 cups chopped nettles
- water or broth
- salt to taste
- Saute onions on medium low heat until they start to brown.
- Meanwhile chop and measure out everything but the greens.
- Once the onions turn translucent, add the carrots, celery and potato and stir occasionally for about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and stir, cooking for one minute.
- Add water and/or broth to cover and bring to a boil.
- Add lentils and millet, stir and reduce to a simmer.
- After about 20 minutes, add chopped greens and remove from heat.
I didn’t want to add any spices so I could taste the subtle flavor of the nettles, but I think next time round I would add some fresh herbs. And possibly more nettles.
Happy harvesting — don’t forget to wear thick gloves or proceed with caution!