Nettles - all zing, no sting

Whether it’s cocktails or risottos, salads or soups, top restaurants and savvy producers have a new ingredient that’s delicious and cheap. Alice-Azania Jarvis grasps the nettle

Prickly, scratchy, and having a nasty sting – on first inspection, nettles have little to recommend them. The lowpoint of any childhood trip to the park was a brush with them – their only friend was the soothing dock leaf. They are abundant – tufting precariously out of the grass – and yet no one wants anything to do with them.

Well, until now. Perusing the drinks list for the Zetter Townhouse in fashionable Clerkenwell, central London, something stands out: a concoction called a Nettle Gimlet, made from Beefeater gin and nettle cordial. Real nettle cordial? That’s right.

“It’s incredibly popular,” says mixologist- in-chief Tony Conigliaro of his creation. “There’s a curiosity about how it’s going to work – and also a renaissance in traditional English flavours.”

And – alien as it may sound – that’s exactly what the nettle is. The basis of Conigliaro’s creation, the cordial, has, in fact, been a tipple of varying popularity for centuries, and has an ale equivalent, with nettles used to flavour beer instead of hops. It was a common solution in 17thcentury Britain. “The thing is, it’s so simple to make,” explains Conigliaro. “We tried it with both fresh and dried nettles. With the dried ones, there were these beautiful tannic notes.”

He uses a dehydrator to dry his leaves, but you could just as easily take the lowtech route: “It’s just a matter of turning the nettles upside down and drying them by a window.”

Conigliaro is not alone in his enthusiasm for the welt-inducing weed. On menus across the country, nettles appear to be taking hold, laying down roots in characteristically persistent style. At London’s Sauterelle, chef Robin Gill has introduced a risotto with nettles, fresh peas, broad beans, mushrooms, and pecorino.

At the National Dining Rooms, Simon Duff is dishing up mussel salad with carpaccio of candy kane beetroot and nettles. Simon Rogan offers visitors to his Michelin-starred Cumbrian outpost L’Enclume a traditional pond pudding, complete with nettles, dock, bistort, dandelion and a dried nettle crust. While in Cornwall, local firm Foodswild has been brewing a nettle beer called Cornish Stingers for several years.

“We’ve actually been using nettles for a few years,” says Adam Simmonds, head chef at Buckinghamshire’s Danesfield House. “They’re one of those things that catch diners’ attention. Initially people are unsure, and then our waiters explain how they compliment the dish and they warm to the idea.”

He has put together plates as diverse as frogs legs with tapioca and nettles – “a sort of pond life creation” – and a nettle and strawberry panna cotta. “They go with lots of things: strawberries, artichokes, scallops. We use them dry as a garnish – they don’t sting, but there is a slight tingling sensation.”

What is more, they have, he says, a distinctive taste – “fresh, sort of grassy” – which offers something new. “Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any point.”

Actually, there might. It’s not just their gourmet potential which makes nettles attractive. From a nutritional point of view, they punch well above their weight. Health shops have sold nettle tea alongside the more pedestrian peppermints, chamomiles and dandelions for years. Hailed for its anti-bloating, digestive properties, it also offers a traditional method of relieving arthritis pain.

“Nettle tea is fabulous nutritionally,” enthuses Stephanie Moore, nutritionist and founder of Health in Hand. “Fresh or dried: it’s high in iron and vitamin C, which is the prefect combination as, in order to absorb iron, you need to have some vitamin C.

“It’s also a great anti-inflammatory, which makes it perfect for urinary infections or kidney disorders, and it’s thought to decrease blood pressure. Studies show that drinking two cups of nettle tea will make a real difference.”

Even better than nettle tea, says Moore, is eating nettles in food. “That way, not only do you get more of its benefits but, if you’re eating it as a salad leaf or blended in a drink, you’re enjoying them in their raw form.”

They’re also cheap. Conigliaro picked his own nettles when he started making cordial – now he buys them from local farmers.

At Sauterelle, Robin Gill gets them delivered from Surrey, or collects them from Borough market – but even citydwellers, he insists, can pick their own. “There are plenty of parks where you can find them. Just make sure you give them a wash.”

For home cooks keen to try their hand with nettles, Gill recommends starting with something simple, like a purée or a soup. “You want to blanche the leaves to remove the sting and then refresh in cold water. After squeezing out any excess liquid, sauté them in butter with a little bit of parmesan and add some stock. Or you could make a really vibrant purée to go with quails eggs and pancetta. Because of the grassy taste, they work well with fresh, sweet flavours: some peas, broad beans, scallops.”

Nettles, then, might not be quite the parkland baddie they once seemed. Healthy, affordable and all the rage in the restaurant world, their culinary incarnation is a lot more appealing.

Perhaps the dock leaf needn’t be the only cure for that sting. A cup of nettle soup and some panna cotta might just do the trick.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
Sport
Lewis Hamtilon and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg
SportShould F1's most aggressive driver curb his instincts in title decider?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin