My love affair with Stinging Nettles is a relatively recent occurrence. When I was growing up, in England, it seemed they were everywhere, including at the bottom of our garden. It was definite ‘no-go’ zone, a land of lost tennis balls, rusty cans and who knew what else?
At junior school, the shooting range (air rifles only) was in a wood, well protected by nettles. The big kids took great delight in threatening to throw the small kids in amongst them. And sometimes did. I was very small in those days. And quickly learned the soothing power of dock leaves. But I digress.
Let’s just say that for most of my life, until recently, I’ve had little use for nettles. However, as my interest in wild foraging has grown (thanks to evangelists like Langdon Cook, I’ve come to not only appreciate them but actually love and respect them.
1. Stinging Nettles are the harbingers of Spring. They’re among the first greenery to reappear in our woods and open spaces. They kindle an instance sense of renewal and optimism at winter’s end. They also command immense respect when being harvested!
2. Nettles are a vital part of the ecosystem, a favourite place for butterflies such as the Red Admiral to lay their eggs. They possess their own, unique, natural defense against grazing animals, which makes them an ideal habitat for insects. Read more about why they love nettles in the UK (including all about Be Nice to Nettles Week).
3. Nettles are immensely beneficial, packed with anti-oxidants, help circulation, revitalise kidney function and a whole lot more.
4. Nettles are incredibly tasty, either on their own, in a risotto, as tea made from dried leaves or a plethora of other ways.
Stinging nettles are also increasingly hard to find, as our urban areas expand. If you are lucky enough to find and harvest them, please exercise restraint: be selective; and leave enough for the bees and the butterflies, as well as for other (hopefully) responsible foragers.
A nettle wine?
I love them chopped up in a creamy nettle and mushroom risotto. (Yes, you do need a little cholesterol to balance out all that goodness.)
As a for wine match? You want something white, not too heavy and preferably unoaked. Riesling is a slam dunk, especially if it has a streak of mineral. My current crush is Joie Farm Noble Blend 2013 (Okanagan Valley).
It’s a deliciously balanced, fruity, complex marriage of Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Auxerrois and Schönberger, with just the right weight and mouthfeel to play off the cream. There’s a hint of spice and mineral that marries with the nettle, some citrus, and decent acidity to cut through the fat of the dish. In short, it’s a delicious pairing.
Read more about nettles here.