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Nettles from A to Z: 26 things to know

Nettles from A to Z: 26 things to know

Facts and figures about the stinging hairy herbs. Did you know they have excellent nutritional values and they're so popular in many different proverbs?

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Anna Karenina. In Tolstoy’s masterpiece, nettle soup was one of the dishes eaten by Konstantin Lëvin and Stepan Oblonsky.

Bronze Age. A recent archaeological dig has demonstrated that nettles were part of man’s diet as early as the Bronze Age: in fact, a bowl was discovered whose contents, when analysed, turned out to be nettle soup.

Cornish Yarg. A delicious semi-hard cow’s milk cheese typically crafted in the county of Cornwall (England). Before being left to mature, the cheese is wrapped in nettles: its consistency, which is soft and creamy in proximity to the leaves, gradually becomes drier and crumbly towards the centre.

Disney. In Bedknobs and broomsticks (1971), Miss Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) lists the foods she usually eats: one of these is stewed nettles.

Emilia. In Teorema (1968) by Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, Emilia is the servant (interpreted by Laura Betti, Venice festival best actress award winner) who, on returning to her native village, works miracles and eats nothing but… nettles!

Foraging. Nettles must be picked far from built-up areas and busy roads. Since the leaves sting, it is necessary to wear gloves and use scissors to pick and clean them (remember, they must always be cut and never torn). Once cooked, they completely lose their sting. Their rather special and delicate flavour is becoming increasingly popular as an ingredient for fillings, risotto, fritters, sauces, cream of vegetable soups, quiches, fresh pasta and even desserts. Follow our tips and discover how to cook nettles!

Gouda. Nettles feature in many gouda cheese varieties which are not only produced in the Netherlands but also in Great Britain, the United States and Canada.

Hans Christian Andersen. In the fable entitled The Wild Swans, the princess is obliged to wear a jacket of nettles to break the spell cast on her brothers. This leads us to one of the many uses nettles are put to: indeed, for centuries they were adopted in the textile industry for their fibres (clothing, cloth, paper, sacks and ropes).

Isches. In this small French village inhabited by less than 200 people, located in the Vosges area (Lorraine), a cheese with nettles and garlic is produced.

James. In Fifty shades of grey by E. L. James, on page 153, reference is made to a Scandinavian cream of nettle soup with fish bisque (exactly which fish is not specified but it is most likely to be hake or cod). 

Kumaon. In this northern region of India, but also in Nepal, nettles are known as shishnu and are cooked with the typical spices of the Indian subcontinent.

Lyburn Garlic and Nettle. A semi-mature English cow’s milk cheese from Landford (Wiltshire). Soft, velvety and straw yellow in colour, it contains nettles and garlic, along with parsley, paprika, ginger, celery, horseradish and chives.

Mythology. The Danish believe that there are elves buried wherever nettles grow. Legend has it that Milarepa, a Tibetan saint and ascetic with green hair and skin, managed to survive decades of meditation by feeding off nettles alone. In Scandinavian mythology, Thor, the God of Thunder, is often represented by nettles and this is why they are burned in the fireplace during storms. From the same mythology, Loki, the trickster God, wove fishnets from nettles.

Nutritional Facts. Nettles are very low in calories (100 grams of this plant contain no more than 42 calories) but rich in flavonoids and phenolic acids, polysaccharides, tannins, mineral salts (calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium) and vitamins (A, C, D and K). According to herbalists, nettles are even better for you if you consume them in the form of a herbal tea (leaves and dried roots): this remedy is supposed to be anti-inflammatory, digestive, anti-ageing and healing.

Oil. This is mainly extracted from the dried leaves of the plant and its use is strictly medicinal or cosmetic.

Pizza. Chad Robertson from the Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, mentions nettles as an ingredient in his Tartine Bread recipe book (Chronicle Books): he actually suggests using them to prepare a filling for an unusual pizza.

Quiche Lorraine. Many French recipes contemplate the use of nettles. As well as the widely popular soupe d'ortie, an evergreen (!) of home cooking, some even include it in the filling of the famous quiche.

Recipe (England's most ancient). According to some British scholars, the most ancient dish of Her Majesty’s realm would appear to be nettle pudding. This recipe apparently dates back six thousand years and consists in mixing nettles, dandelion and sorrel with barley flour, water and salt.

Solženicyn (Aleksandr Isaevič). "June is when the prisoners eat the most nourishing meals; the vegetables run out and are replaced with grains. The most meagre time is July when nothing but nettles get thrown into the saucepan”. This is a quotation from One day in the life of Ivan Denisovič, which describes the "menu" in Siberian work camps.

Tortelli. In the Italian region of Emilia Romagna, especially in the town of Reggio Emilia, a springtime version of tortelli contemplates the use of nettles rather than chard: most recipe books recommend the use of the small tender leaves at the top of the plant which are picked in springtime before the flowers appear.

Urtica dioica. This is the scientific name for the nettle, in which urtica derives from the Latin verb urere meaning "to burn", indicating the effect of the irritating substances contained in the fine hairs covering the leaves.

Vernacular. In German, the expression sich in die Nesseln setzen (literally "sitting on nettles") means "getting into trouble". In Hungarian, csalánba nem üt un mennykö (which is translated as "lightning never strikes nettles") means that "bad things never happen to bad people". The same idiomatic phrase exists in Serbian - неће гром у коприве. In Dutch, netelige situatie (literally meaning "nettle situation") refers to a difficult situation.

Wild & Vegan. Foraging enthusiasts and vegans will happily agree to this veggie version of Scottish haggis, which combines mashed nettle (boiled, seasoned with oil salt and pepper, before being finely blended) with leek, cabbage, fried dulse seaweed and porridge (cooked flour of oats or, alternatively, barley or even millet). When ready, the resulting mixture is fed into a muslin bag and boiled for about one hour over a gentle heat. An ideal way to serve it is with horseradish or sorrel sauce.

Xtra Hot Macer Floridus. In his De viribus herbarum carmen (probably written between 1070 and 1112 and first printed in 1477) recommended the consumption of nettles as an aphrodisiac. In particular, this plant is supposed to make men more virile.

Yogurt. Nettles pair very well with yogurt. Maria de la Paz, for instance, the eclectic Colombian chef who trained as a pastry chef under Gianfranco Vissani in 2001 and then became Executive Chef of the Grand Hotel Palace of Rome in 2016, has created a dessert with an unusual twist: she has added nettle leaves to this creamy dairy product (along with almonds and honey)!

Zodiac. The Aries zodiac sign is associated with the nettle which, in the language of flowers, stands for cruelty, probably because of its stinging hairy fuzz.


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