A tasty way to celebrate nettles

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The stinging nettle is one of the most important native plants for both rural and urban wildlife in the UK, supporting many species of insect including some of our most colourful butterflies. I often find myself with the conflict of wanting to redesign a garden overgrown with nettles and knowing I run the risk of destroying a beneficial habitat. A good old fashioned compromise is often reached by creating an area of wildlife garden where we leave some nettles and add further native plants beneficial to local fauna. Nettles
I thought I would celebrate ‘Be Nice to Nettles’ week this year (starts May 16) by sharing my favourite recipe for nettle soup – easy to make, highly nutritious and a wonderful way to celebrate this undervalued plant. The only tricky part is collecting the nettle tops – long sleeves and gloves are recommended! We harvest the nettles on woodland walks in various parts of Hertfordshire. For best results only harvest from young plants and take the tips and couple of leaves below the tips.

You will need:

300g fresh nettle tops
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium potato (peeled and thinly sliced)
Freshly grated nutmeg
200ml light chicken (or vegetable stock)
Sea salt and black pepper
40g mascarpone, 100g fresh soft goat’s cheese, 1 tbsp chopped chives (optional!)
A table spoon (or two) of double cream (Crème fraiche or plain yogurt also works and gives a lighter finish).

What to do:

Pick over the nettle tops and discard any bruised leaves or tough stalks. Wash the nettles well in 2 changes of cold water. Shake off the excess water.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the potato for about 5 minutes (until soft but not brown). Add the nettles and stir over the heat.

Add the stock + 800ml litre of water plus seasoning and a little grated nutmeg (optional). Bring to the boil, stirring. Partly cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times.

For special occasions, I add goat’s cheese quenelles – beat the goat’s cheese and mascarpone together and fold in the chives. Set aside.

Ladle the soup into a blender or food processor (I use a stick blender) and whiz until smooth. Pass through a sieve back into the pan, rubbing with the back of a ladle.

Stir in the cream and slowly bring to the boil, adjust the seasoning and simmer for 1-2 minutes.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Shape the cheese mixture into quenelles and place carefully in the centre of the soup.

Top tips:

Harvest only as many nettle tops as you will use and use them as soon as possible – don’t waste them.

It’s ok to harvest a plant if there are 20 others available to maintain the population.

Leave the biggest and best plants behind so they can continue to propagate the healthiest population.

Leave damaged plants or plants with ‘residents’.

Harvest with a clean cut so the plant will continue to thrive.

Never put anything in your mouth unless you are 100% sure it is safe to ingest.

Clients often ask us how to attract more butterflies and other wildlife to their gardens – one simple technique is to create a patch of nettles in a sunny, sheltered location. If you are based in London or the South-East and would like expert advice on your own planting choices, why not contact our Maintenance and Small Works Manager joanna@thegardenco.co.uk or by phone on 01442 832666. For design enquires you can contact James james@thegardenco.co.uk or Alex alex@thegardenco.co.uk
Our website pages http://www.thegardenco.co.uk/garden-maintenance/ and http://www.thegardenco.co.uk/grounds-maintenance/ provide you with examples of planting schemes we have developed in private gardens, schools, public spaces and business parks.
Happy soup-making!

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