Outdoors

Are stinging nettle benefits to be believed? Top chef Jamie Oliver says yes – we investigate

Nutritious, delicious and good for wildlife, stinging nettles deserve a second glance and a place on our plates, and the time to pick them is now say foraging experts

stinging nettle benefits
(Image credit: Future)

Stinging nettle benefits? Yes, this is a thing. So this weekend, put on some thick gloves and prepare yourself to do battle with stinging nettles. No, not weeding, but foraging. Because it turns out that if you handle them right, these painful and invasive plants can actually do more good than harm.

Higher in protein than almost any other leafy green vegetable, tasty, and more nutritious than spinach, kale or asparagus, nettles deserve a place on our plates as well as in our gardens. 

See: Small garden ideas – clever designs for maximizing a compact gardening space

Celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and  Jamie Oliver agree, and all have nettle recipes in their batterie de cuisine

In a video on Jamie Oliver's You Tube channel, the top chef shows how to make a simple nettle ravioli, first foraging the leaves, gloves at the ready. He uses nettles in soups, pasta sauces, risottos, and even sprinkles the braised leaves on quiches and pizzas. 

'These underloved little greens, let's give them some love,' urges Oliver, adding, 'next time you go for a walk, maybe, there's a dish for you.'

Stinging nettle benefits – and how to gather them

Stinging nettle benefits

Photo by Paul Morley on Unsplash

(Image credit: Unsplash/Paul Morley)

Stinging nettles are packed with iron, and vitamins C, A, and B, and have a good calcium and protein content. 

'Nettles offer a good nutritious boost and overall tonic for the body,' as forager Rachel Lambert puts it, but did you know they also play a vital role in our gardens and in the countryside too? 

Nettles, as Alysia Vasey from Yorkshire Foragers explains, 'are one of few plants that actually give back to the soil more than they take, enriching it by transferring a supply of nitrates. They are also the absolute favorite of every butterfly and moth.' 

Dried or boiled leaves can be used enrich feed for laying hens, while fresh leaves and stalks can be added to compost heaps to speed the composting process, or left in a bucket of water to decompose into nitrogen-rich liquid plant food.

Food for the soil, food for wildlife, food for healthy bodies. Nettles: the ultimate superfood. 

See: Eco-friendly garden ideas – expert tips on creating an eco-friendly backyard

How to pick stinging nettles

stinging nettle benefits

(Image credit: Future)

To pick nettles, wear gloves and mind your legs and ankles. Choose a site away from roads and dog walking routes and of course wash your foraged bounty thoroughly.

Foraging expert, author and guide Rachel Lambert has the following advice: 'Just pick the top four to six leaves which will stimulate the plant to create a second growth (picking is good for plants) and at the first sign of the catkin-like flowers, stop picking them.' 

Expert forager Alysia Vasey from Yorkshire Foragers supplies foraged fare to top chefs and restaurants. She has the following warning about nettles: 'They have glass like spikes and each spike carries venom. If you do happen to sting yourself try not to touch it as you risk pushing the glass like spike further into your skin releasing more venom.' 

And nature's antidote? 'Look for dock leaves and scrunch in your hand to bruise them. They release a natural anti histamine and will help the sting.'

Stinging nettle recipe tricks

Never eat raw nettles. They must always be cooked or blanched. Cooking nettles removes the sting completely.  

Alysia Vasey adds: 'The secret to a great nettle recipe is to remove the stalks, we do this for chefs and spend a great deal of time cutting the leaf from the stem with scissors and sometimes two pairs of gloves! Nettles have incredibly tough stems that traditionally were used for rope making, so use the nettle leaf only.'

See: Outdoor kitchen ideas – create a food prep station in your backyard

'The trick is to blanche them, not obliterate them so that they retain the flavor, the vitamins but not the sting.' 

Vasey then blitzes the blanched leaves and uses them to make gnocchi, pesto and soup. 'It really is a matter of replacing your favorite green leaf veg with nettle. And it's free,' she adds.  

Karen Darlow
Karen Darlow

I'm the homes editor of Period Living magazine and an experienced writer on interiors and gardens. I've also moved house quite a few times – totting up 10 homes in 12 years during a particularly nomadic time in my life. I like to think that makes me quite the homes expert, or at least very experienced and with a clear idea of what I like and don't like in a home. 

I love visiting and writing about old houses for Homes & Gardens' sister magazine Period Living and working with photographers to capture all kinds of historic properties. It's inspiring to talk to people about their traditional homes and to hear the stories behind their furnishing and decorating choices. And by the time I've finished an interview with a homeowner I've always got a handful of new ideas to try in my own house, as well as plenty of good stories for the magazine. It's the perfect work-life balance.