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March 14, 2012

The person responsible for the misconception that stinging nettle was brought into this country by the Romans lies at the feet of a man called Camden who in the 16th Century produced a book on the history of England called Britannia. In which he says… ‘ The Romans brought seeds to the nettles to which they sting themselves to keep themselves warm.’

That seems to have translated over the years into all nettles seem to have been brought by the Romans into this country. It is not true because deposits of stinging nettle have been found in archaelogical contexts going back thousands of years.

We have nothing written or handed down to us that goes beyond the Anglo Saxon period. About 1100 AD there is the first insight into the written material about stinging nettle being used as food.

At 1150 Hildegard Von Bingen writes about nettles being excellent food for humans. They continue being used right up to the 1700’s where there are references to gruel to which nettles are added and actually being quite well known as food.

In the 1870’s in Lancashire there were nettles sold in markets for use in making beer and for making nettle porridge. In Northern Italy nettles are sold in markets for human consumption and some cultures use nettles on a regular basis like spinach.

Until the start of the 20th Century nettles were valuable food in institutions. In two work house manuals, one from 1911 and the other from 1913, both mention nettles as a food source for the work house inmates. Arguably this is where the nettle stigma orginates. If work house inmates were eating nettles at the beginning of the 20th Century then they were considered poor man’s food.

In Hans Andersons fairy-tale of the Princess and the Eleven Swans, the coats she wove for them were made of nettles. Indeed nettle fibres, like hemp and flax have been used for textiles. A quaint old superstition exited that a fever could be dispelled by plucking a Nettle up by its roots, reciting thereby the names of the sick man and also the names of his family. Called “wergulu” in old Wessex in the tenth century, nettle was one of the nine sacred herbs, along with mugwort, plantain, watercress, chamomile, crab apple, chervil, and fennel.



  • Flies dislike nettles and a bunch of them hung by the door will keep them out.
  • Nettles are high in Boron. The Rheumatoid Disease Foundation recommends getting 3 milligrams of Boron per day.
  • Replace coffee, tea and sodas with nourishing herbal teas, especially stinging nettle, oat straw and comfrey.
  • Leftover nettle tea also makes nutritious houseplant water and leaves or dregs can be sprinkled on potted plant soil to boost mineral content.
  • Finely crushed dried nettles can be used in place of dried parsley for adding enlivening colour to soups, stews or any dish calling for a sprinkle of greenery.
  • Strongly brewed nettle tea and powered plant are noted for having power to stop haemorraging, internal bleeding and excessive flow from wounds and cuts.



Alternative to Spinach

Gather a  big colander of nettle tops. Sweat with a little butter, pepper and nutmeg. Or cook with garlic, leeks, butter and cream. Simple, and just as good as spinach.

Nettle Omelette

Blanch and roughly chop up the nettle tops. Finely chop some wild garlic leaves if you have some. Grate a small amount of parmesan cheese. Briefly whip some free-range eggs, make an omelette in the usual way. Then while the omelette’s centre is still cooking away, fold in the nettles, garlic leaves and cheese.


Nettle Soup

Roughly chop two onions, fry them gently in olive oil in a large saucepan. Add a clove of crushed garlic, a couple of spuds (diced) and a litre of water. You could use a veg or chicken stock for extra richness, but plain water will do.

Boil slowly until the potatoes are soft, add a generous bowl of nettle leaves, boil for another 10 minutes.

Add a glug of cream or milk, then blitz in a liquidiser to the smoothness you prefer – perhaps with a bit of raw parsley to give a vivid green colour. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

You could also try adding some blanched and chopped nettles towards the end of a stew or fish chowder.

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