Friday, 11 March 2016

Stinging Nettles are a very useful edible plant

The Stinging Nettle (a poem rescued from the defunct Bubblews)

Stinging Nettles (Photo: Public Domain)

Most people think that nettles are just nasty weeds,
But actually they are the plants that a butterfly caterpillar needs,
For the larvae of the red admiral and the small tortoiseshell too,
They eat the leaves of this plant; it is what they must do.
The peacock butterfly is another that depends upon this weed,
It is what its little ones have to have to feed.
And people can eat stinging nettles too cooked in water in a pan,
They lose all their stinging power, so you can enjoy them, yes, you can.
Or nettles can be employed to make a herbal tea,
Full of minerals and vitamins and good for you and me!

Steve Andrews

Nettles as a food source

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) lose their sting when cooked and are a good example of nutritious "spring greens" that can be easily foraged for. The young shoots and leaves can be cooked like spinach. The nettles should be picked between February and `June and gloves and scissors can be used to help you not get stung. After washing the nettles can be cooked and mashed into a puree, and chopped onion and slat and pepper can be added for extra flavour. Nettles can be used to make nettle soup. Nettles can also be dried and used to make a herbal tea and nettle teabags are on sale at health stores and from online suppliers of herbal supplements.  Nettle beer is another possibility.

Nettles contain vitamin C,  vitamin A and are a good source of iron, as well as being surprisingly high in protein. This means that eating nettles can help stop anaemia developing, because the condition is due to iron deficiency.

Stinging nettles are also widely used in herbalism because the plant has diuretic properties, as well as being a treatment for allergies, prostate disease, arthritis, asthma and many other conditions.

The stinging nettle comes very highly recommended by experts on edible plants, and is included in Richard Mabey's classic book Food For Free which is one of the best books out there when it comes to foraging.

Stinging nettles are very easy to find because they commonly grow on waste ground, on hedge-banks, along rivers and on the edges of fields and the margins of woods. 

Nettles for the Butterflies

Small tortoiseshell caterpillars

Many species of butterfly and moth caterpillar feed on the leaves of the stinging nettle. The red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), the small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) and the peacock (A. io) are three well-known British butterflies that use the plant as a food source for their larvae. The painted lady (V. cardui) and the comma (Polygonia c-album) are two other butterfly species with caterpillars that will eat nettles.

 Peacock Butterfly (Photo: Public Domain)

The garden tiger moth (Arctia caja) is a large and colourful moth with caterpillars known as woolly bears that will eat nettles, as well as many other food-plants.  This once common moth is sadly declining in numbers throughout the UK. 

Garden Tiger moths

So not destroying nettles is a conservation measure that helps many butterflies and moths to survive.  Growing a nettle patch in your back garden is a great way to attract butterflies and to aid them by supplying a plant they need. All good wildlife gardens should have a patch of nettles. The stinging nettle is a valuable plant that has been thought of a a useless weed but it actually has many uses as you can see.

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