The stinging nettle is a cold tolerant herbaceous perennial growing to 1.2m, with coarsely toothed, oval leaves armed with stinging hairs. Tiny green male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, the pendulous branched inflorescences emerging directly from the upper nodes of the square stems. The spreading roots are yellow. The young leaves are rich in minerals, particularly potassium, calcium, silicon and iron, and also contain Vitamin C.
Classified into 5 subspecies, nettle is indigenous to much of the temperate northern hemisphere. As an introduced plant, it is widespread in the temperate southern hemisphere.
Nettle prefers full sun to light shade and thrive in a rich, moist soil that is high in nitrogen. Plant seed in spring or if you are brave, by division of plants in spring.
In addition to spring picking, harvest in midsummer and again in autumn, and always wear gloves to protect your hands. Dig up the roots in autumn and air dry them with the tops out of direct sunlight.
The young leaves were once widely used in the spring diet to revitalize the body after winter. For culinary purposes, use leaf tips from plants less than 10cm high, as these have yet to develop the stinging compounds. Nettle leaves may be cooked as a vegetable, in similar ways to spinach, or added to soups or to vegetable, egg or meat dishes. A tisane can be made from the leaves. Do not eat nettles raw; also note that older leaves are high in calcium oxalate and should not be eaten at all.
information sourced from The Complete Book of Herbs
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