If there’s only one foraged food that you add to your dinner table next year, make it the stinging nettle.

Nettles are incredibly good for our health. They contain more iron than other leaves such as spinach and kale. They contain more protein than many other green vegetables. They’re rich in vitamins A and C and they help to increase our red blood cell count.

Nettles were sold as a vegetable in 18th-century markets in the UK and they continue to be sold in the markets of Dalmatia, in Southern Croatia. They are considered to be valuable wild vegetables by many and we can get them for free, growing abundantly in both rural and urban areas. It’s thought that their presence indicates a former human or animal settlement and you usually find them taking over abandoned spaces. For convenience, you could even set up a nettle bed at home (in a container to avoid them spreading). When harvesting what you need from the plant, you won’t be destroying your source; you’ll in fact be encouraging new growth to form.

Nettles are very easy to prepare and eat; don’t be put off by the nasty sting. Use gloves when picking and then remove the sting by either drying out or boiling the leaves. The leaves can be used in the same ways you’d use spinach, added to cakes, or enjoyed as a tea. In Cornwall the leaves are used to wrap up a cheese called Yarg. There are, in fact, countless ways to consume the nettle plant. A simple starting point would be to puree the leaves for spreading on toast (maybe add an egg on top), or to fry them for crisps. There is a World Nettle Eating Competition in Dorset where participants are given 30 minutes to eat as many raw leaves as they can. So it is possible to eat the leaves uncooked, but not pleasurable!

It’s best to pick the tips of nettles as that’s where you’ll find the most tender leaves. The better time to harvest the plant is during the spring months. This is also the time when, traditionally, nettles were served as a spring tonic for a health boost after the sparse winter months, and to prepare for the year ahead. Once the plants go to seed, the leaves can sometimes irritate the urinary tract. At this point, you could stick to eating the seeds of the female plants, which can be sprinkled on anything.

For further information on making use of nettles and any other foraged plants, there are some excellent professional foragers operating in Monmouthshire. Chloé Newcomb Hodgetts of Gourmet Gatherings and Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods offer a whole host of full day and half day courses and events.

*Disclaimer* This article has been written by Mud and Thunder for general information only. Always consult your GP if you’re in any way concerned about your health.