Google the health benefits of stinging nettles, and you will find the most incredible list of diseases and complaints that this plant has been attributed to helping with- everything from hay-fever and arthritis, to supporting menopause and detoxifying the body. Of course many of the claims are anecdotal, but there is also some robust research out there that backs up some of the suggested benefits.
Nettles are found across much of the world, and archaeological evidence here in the UK has shown the we have used the plant since prehistoric times, with 'Nettle Pudding' laying claim to being Britain's oldest recipe. Nettles are certainly nutritionally dense, containing a wide range of vitamins and minerals, as well as good amounts of protein and fibre.
All this sounds great, and we even have patches of nettles growing in our garden, but persuading my kids that they are going to start eating nettle soup a couple of times a week is not so easy. In my experience, introducing new foods is a lot easier if it a. tastes great, and b. the kids can relate it to things they already know and love. This recipe, which I got out of the book 'The Eatweeds Cookbook' by Robin Harford looked like the perfect place to start, and we couldn't wait to give it a go.
You will need...
200g freshly picked nettle tops
1kg granulated sugar
40g Citric Acid
500mls boiling water
I collected our nettle tops in freezer type bags, imagining that a bag of spinach must be about 100g. I wore gloves, used scissors to cut off the top portion of the nettles, and let them drop straight into the bags. This worked great - I didn't get stung, it didn't take long to collect them, and it made weighing really easy. I did wash the nettles really well, and had a good look to check I hadn't included any other plants by mistake. The recipe suggests using a salad spinner to dry the leaves which I did.
Combine the sugar, citric acid and water in a large saucepan and heat it to 60 C (I stirred it while I had it on the heat, and the sugar dissolved). Then remove it from the heat, throw in the nettles, and give it a really good stir to ensure all the nettles get covered with the syrup.
Cover and leave for a week, giving your mixture a good stir each day. As the week went on the nettles looked more and more macerated and slimy.
After a week, strain the nettles (I used a jelly bag in a sieve) and bottle in sterilised bottles (which I took to mean glass bottles which had sat in a low oven for a 10 minutes or so). Remember to let your bottles cool for a few minutes before adding the cold cordial, or you may end up with the glass cracking.
The resulting cordial is lovely. It is a beautiful amber colour, really syrupy (like a Bottle Green cordial) and tastes not quite like anything I have tried before. Hubby describes it as tasting a bit like peaches with a hint of elder-flower, I think it tastes a little like lychees and sherbet. I would definitely recommend giving it a try.
I am expecting the cordial to keep pretty well, due to the citric acid and amount of sugar. I am storing it in the fridge, and will come back and update the post if that turns out not to be the case. I love the thickness of this cordial, and will be using this method to make both elder-flower and meadowsweet cordial as soon as they flower. I also managed to think up a use for the leftover nettles that I strained out of the cordial - you can check out our recipe for Stinging Nettle, Apple and Pear Fruit Leather here.