Ah, the humble stinging nettle – or Urtica Dioica to give it its scientific name – it has long had a place in culture and herbal medicine, first being mentioned by Aesop in his Fables for Children in around 560 BC. While native to Europe, it is found across the world and is often seen as a weed.
Yet, while nettle may seem like a fairly ordinary plant, it has some rather extraordinary properties.
Nettle’s Nutritional Benefits
Nettle contains a significant concentration of biologically active compounds, particularly carotenoids and polyphenols, that are good for you and your body (1). Nettle is known to lower blood pressure (2) and blood sugar levels (3), reduce the effects of skin photoaging (4), help in fighting the symptoms of hay fever (5), have anti-bacterial properties (6) and boost your immune system (7).
It is also particularly nutrient-rich, containing a similar level of Omega-3 as spinach, comparable levels of essential amino acids as chicken, 100% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Vitamin A, up to 50% RDA of Calcium, 20% RDA of Fibre and up to 12% RDA of Iron (8).
Once prepared or cooked, nettle is in many ways more nutritious than Brussel sprouts and spinach!
But won’t they sting me?
Of course, most nettles found in the UK are stinging nettles, so if you are gathering your own, make sure to wear thick gloves. Soaking the nettles in water for a few days, drying or cooking them will, however, remove their stinging properties and render them harmless.
What do they taste like? Can I eat them?
Once cooked or dried, nettles taste like a mix between spinach and cucumber. Just like spinach, nettle can make a fabulous addition to many dishes, adding extra flavour and a dash of colour.
Nettles are used in lots of traditional recipes, as part of the dough filling for Albanian börek pastry, for example, and even in beer (although this would significantly reduce the nutritional value of the nettle).
Bringing This New Superfood Into Your Diet
1. Preparing Wild Nettles
If you have gathered your own nettles, you will need to prepare them first to remove the sting. The easiest way is to drop them into a pot of boiling salted water for five minutes or so. To retain the bright green colour, plunge your boiled nettles into a bowl of ice water before draining. For dried nettles, wash them and hang them up to dry thoroughly for a few days or use a dehydrator if you have one.
Once prepared, nettles can be safely frozen, allowing you to prepare them in bulk and use them in a variety of dishes.
Pro tip: If you are using dried nettle, simply steep in water to rehydrate before adding to your recipe. You can then enjoy some nettle tea while you make your nutritious nettle food and drink.
2. Eat Nettle Soup
Nettle soup is a delicious traditional recipe enjoyed across the world. It is also easy to tweak the recipe to suit your taste.
Start by frying some onions and garlic in some coconut (or other) oil. Once softened, add your prepared nettles (coarsely chopped), carrots and either potato or rice, along with some vegetable stock. Simmer until the potatoes or rice is cooked and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, try adding a dollop of soya yoghurt, a drizzle of olive oil, or a splash of lemon juice.
3. Drink a Nettle Infusion
Dried nettles can be easily made into tea. Simply chop your nettles fairly finely, add boiling water, leave for five minutes and strain. Unfortunately, nettle tea on its own isn’t particularly tasty, despite the health benefits.
Instead, try a ready-prepared infusion like Emunity ─ a new soft drink harnessing the healing and immunity-boosting effects of nettle in a ready to drink 250ml slimline can.
Emunity’s nettle drinks are mixed with Austrian spring water and garden botanicals to make two great flavours: Wild Strawberry; and Gooseberry.
The Emunity Wild Strawberry contains nettle, wild strawberry, meadowsweet, chamomile and cucumber. Emunity Gooseberry contains nettle, gooseberry, dandelion, rosemary and thyme.
Emunity also has added inulin, which occurs naturally in many plants, to act as a natural probiotic to nourish gut bacteria that aid colon cells in the digestive process.
4. Mix Nettle Pesto
Pesto is delicious spread on some warm focaccia or stirred into pasta. You could even use it to add flavour to a risotto or pizza.
While pesto is traditionally made with basil leaves, these can be easily substituted with your prepared nettles. Simply roast some pine nuts or walnuts (or any other nut or seed of your choice), remove from the heat and blend with your nettles, some grated Parmigiano Reggiano (or vegetarian equivalent), a few garlic cloves, a pinch of sea salt and as much olive oil as required to reach your desired consistency.
5. Blend a Tropical Nettle Smoothie
For a wonderfully green yet delicious tropical smoothie, blend together a handful of your prepared (and hydrated) nettles, banana, cucumber, coconut milk, avocado and pineapple. A perfect vegan-friendly, nutrient-rich drink for a hot summer’s day.
6. Bake a Traditional Nettle Spanakopita
Spanakopita is a traditional Greek pastry. While it is typically made with spinach, you can easily switch it out for your prepared nettles for a wonderful health kick.
Start by chopping your prepared nettle. If you have dried your nettles, you will need to steep in warm water to rehydrate. Then, fry some spring onions in coconut (or other) oil before adding your chopped nettles.
After a few minutes, remove the mixture from the heat and stir in crumbled feta, parmesan, egg, parsley and nutmeg. Layer 10-12 sheets of filo pastry across an oiled pan, brushing each sheet with a layer of melted butter. Then add your filling and top with a few more sheets of buttered filo to form a pie before brushing the top with a final coat of butter.
You can substitute vegan butter, vegan feta and parmesan, and replace the egg with mashed silken tofu to create a 100% plant-based, healthy meal.
Score the top of your pastry but make sure not to break through to the filling. Then, bake at 190°C for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.
The possibilities for bringing nettle into your diet are almost endless. Anywhere a recipe calls for cooked spinach, you can easily substitute nettle, and with delicious drinks like Emunity containing nettle now on the market, it is possible to get a healthy dose of this wonderful superfood on a daily basis.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roy Lamb is one of the two co-founders of UK-based Nasslor Health-drinks Ltd., makers of Emunity. Emunity is the first detox health drink to harness the healing and immunity-boosting benefits of Nettle and make it available in a ready-to-drink can. Emunity’s founders are two UK pharmacists with a passion for helping people stay healthy. Taking an old family recipe they have blended nettles with English Garden Herbs to create a great tasting, refreshing drink loaded with immune-boosting health benefits. It is 100% natural, with no artificial ingredients and only 53 calories per can.
Website and shop: https://emunity.co.uk
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