I love nettles. They really are one of mother nature's most incredible superfoods. The leaves are chock full of every trace vitamin and mineral your body could need. 100g of blanched nettle leaves provide (among other things!) 48% of your RDA of calcium, 40% for Vitamin A, 28% of dietary fibre and 39% of your manganese requirements. Herbally speaking, nettle leaves contain histamine that, when ingested, get your body to produce anti-histamines. Why buy piriteze and the like during pollen season when you could just teach your body to make its own? They're also great for your kidneys, help to clear up dandruff, nourish your body and do tons more besides! I've written about uses for nettles before on my foraging blog ( see Nettle Dolmeh and Nettle Gnocchi - please excuse the lack of pictures as we've moved hosting services and haven't had time to manually re-upload all the pictures from the blog!), and this spring I even made some Nettle Leaf & Sherbet Lemon Whoopie Pies which I sold on my stall at Kirkstall Deli Market.
But we're not talking about nettle leaves today, we're talking about nettle seeds! If you want to read more about the leaves, Lucinda Warner has an excellent article on her blog. Nettle seeds have many of the same properties as nettle leaves with a lot more besides. They are a rich source of α- linolenic acid (a valuable omega-3 acid ), and are an adaptogen, helping to bring balance to our bodies. Henriette Kress has written a short article on nettle seeds on her blog, as has Kiva Rose here.
I'd like to tell you about my personal experiences of using nettle seeds. I find it incredibly stimulating when fresh. When I used to have an allotment, I would pick the fresh seeds and add them to my smoothies while on site to help me power through all that weeding. I would use about 2 pinches of the seeds at a time and that was enough to keep me going through hours of digging. When it's nettle seed season, I always spend ages talking about the myriad benefits of it on my foraging courses and encourage people to try some. At least one person I've given it to has found it a bit too stimulating and felt like she was having heart palpitations. That is why nettle seeds are recommended for use from dry. Once dried, they are much gentler on the body and work to support the adrenals and rehabilitate your body after burnout. When we're constantly stressed for so long, our body is constantly producing adrenaline and it reaches a point where it no longer knows how to produce the right amount for the circumstances at hand. Is a sock left on the floor a good reason to go all Hulk on someone? Probably not! But have we done it before? Oooh yeah. When you reach that point where every little thing is like the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, that's when you need nettle seeds. They do need to be combined with a lifestyle change too so you will need to figure out what's making you so stressed out and try and deal with it somehow, but nettle seeds will give your body the support it needs to help you through that process. The easiest way to take them is to simply take anywhere from a pinch to a tablespoon (do start with the pinch first as a tablespoon can have some people bouncing off the walls!) and chew it or sprinkle the seeds on your porridge, in your smoothies, granola, whatever you like really! The next way to do it (which is actually my favourite) is to make something called an electuary. Basically, grind the seeds down in a spice mill until they become a powder (this also helps us to absorb more of the nutrition from the seeds) and add enough runny honey to make a paste which you can then have about 1tsp full a day to keep your body in tip top shape. You can also make a tincture with them. I haven't done this myself but Kiva Rose says "Tincture ‘em. Works very well as a kidney trophorestorative this way and moderately well as an adaptogen. You miss out on the extra mineral goodies though. Dosage starts at 2 drops and usually goes up to about a dropperful depending on the person and what exactly is going on in the body."
So now that you've decided to go out and forage nettle seeds...how do you know which ones to pick? If you have a look at the picture below, there are 3 little bunches of nettle seeds. The ones on the very bottom are actually still just flowers. Keep walking. The ones in the middle? They're nearly there but not quite ripe yet. The ones on the top? Those are just perfect! Big, fat, green and juicy. They were hanging in pendulous clumps from the central stem of the nettles. Now to pick!
Before you can eat them, you have to pick and process them. I've done every method you can think of under the sun:
- I have picked the whole plants, hung them up to dry at home in bunches, stripped off the bunches of seeds and passed them through a sieve (I ended up with seeds all over the floor and my yield was seriously impacted)
- I have picked the whole plant, brought it home, stripped the bunches of seeds off, layed them on trays to dry then rubbed them through a sieve. This worked really well but took FOREVER to do. So much so, that it took me another 4 years to summon up the energy to harvest seeds again.
- My new method which I will outline below. Suffice it to say I will never harvest nettle seeds any other way again!
I went out without any marigolds so I used a thick plastic bag as a glove and just ran my hand up the nettle plant, stripping off everything that was attached to it, leaves and all. To make things as easy as possible for you, I filmed a short video of me harvesting the seeds so you can see what I mean.
Once you've got your seeds and brought them home, what next? This is the tedious bit. You need to don your marigolds again and pick out all the leaves. This sounds like it should take forever but actually, the time passes surprisingly quickly. I could pretend I engaged in mindful meditation while I sorted but really, I was watching"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" on Netflix. Don't judge me! The giant pile in the crate below took me about 40 minutes to process. To put it into perspective, that crate is about 60cm x 40cm by 10cm deep. It was a LOT of seeds picked in the time it took a 2 year old to finish off 2 chocolate coated rice cakes and a carton of almond milk and demand to be let out from her pram. It was heavy enough that when I took said baby out of the pram, the weight of the bag hanging on the handlebars caused it to fall over backwards.
Once I had picked all of the leaves out, I ended up with an 8L bowl full of seeds on stalks.
Once I had stripped them all off, I spread them out onto four cardboard crates that previously held tomatoes that I got from my greengrocer. They stack very well on top of each other and I use them to dry herbs in my airlock (a.k.a the porch). A conservatory would work equally well! Once they were completely dry, I found my coarse sieve, a glass jug, and got started with the processing. I sincerely apologise for the quality of the photo. The light in my kitchen was appalling when I was doing the processing and I only had the hour in which I knew the toddler would be down for her nap to process all the seeds! You want to use a coarse sieve because a fine one won't let the seeds through. Please wear gloves when doing this! The first time I rubbed nettle seeds through a sieve, I didn't wear gloves. My fingertips turned black and I had incredibly painful throbbing pins and needles for 3 days and then tingling in my fingertips that persisted for two weeks.
Keep going until all you have left is a pile of grey green strands and a huge bowl full of nettle seeds. You can then turn them into an electuary as I described above, or you can make my delicious oatcakes and the recipe for that is below.
Gluten Free Nettle Seed Oatcakes
I absolutely love these oatcakes and was given the recipe by the soon-to-be-mother-in-law of one of my cousins when we went to visit. They were so delicious not only did my mum and I polish off most of what she'd made, we even begged her for the recipe!
If you need these to be gluten free, do make sure you use gluten free certified oats or they will be contaminated with gluten due to the processing methods used in the growing, harvesting or production!
140g medium oatmeal (this is hard to find gluten free so I actually buy oat groats and grind them up in my spice mill until they're coarse chunks)
10 twists of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
75ml extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp nettle seeds
1 handful of mixed seeds (I use a combination of linseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and hulled hemp seeds)
Dust 2 trays with gluten free flour. Mix all of your dry ingredients in a bowl then make a well in the centre. Pour in your olive oil then pour in enough boiling hot water to bind your ingredients into a firm, but not overly sticky, dough. Work quickly! Don't worry if you end up adding a bit too much water, just add more oats. Form your dough into a ball and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 180C.
Roll out your dough into a sheet about 5mm thick. Cut out circles using a 2 inch round biscuit cutter or use a knife to cut into rectangles. I prefer rectangles because they're less work when time is a premium!
Transfer onto your baking trays and bake for 20 minutes. Turn them over and bake for a further 10 minutes before removing from the oven. Cool on the trays for a couple of minutes before transferring them onto wire racks to cool completely.
The better the quality of extra virgin olive oil you use, the better these will taste. Trust me, they're worth it!
If you can't find oat groats to grind down or gluten free oatmeal, just use more oats. They'll have a different consistency as the oatmeal gives them a lovely crunch but it'll work
If all you can find is jumbo oats, blitz half of them in a food processor to make them finer or you'll have issues getting them to bind to each other.
If you'd like to learn more about foraging and how to use wild foods, don't forget to head over to my other website www.msitu.co.uk where you can book onto one of my foraging walks or Forage & Feast events. If you'd like to learn more about Gluten Free baking, I will be running a series of in-depth workshops from my new bakery when we open in October. The first one of those is slated for the weekend of the 12th and 13th of November and details can be found here.