The common nettle, stinging and annoying it is true, but also a fabulous plant for attracting wildlife, in particular our prettiest butterflies and moths to your garden, with the added benefit that we can eat it as well.
Have a look at your nearest nettle patch and see if you can find the eggs or caterpillars of peacock, small tortoiseshell or red admiral butterflies or even the less famous but just as gorgeous burnished brass moth. They all have similar habits; when they emerge from their eggs, the caterpillars of the peacock and the small tortoiseshell build a communal web, which they shelter under when not feeding. The red admiral caterpillar and the burnished brass fold the leaves of the nettle to make a small tent making a safe little restaurant. As well as the hungry caterpillar, look out for the webs, shed larval skins, droppings, and of course, the colourful adults flitting around your garden.
Butterflies and moths generally lay their eggs in the centre of a nettle patch so the outer plants will be fine for us to eat. Nettles are incredibly rich in iron, folates and other minerals as well as tasting great when made into a soup. First, wearing a pair of rubber gloves, pick the young nettle leaves from the tops of the plants, you’ll need a just over half a shopping bag full, for a soup to feed the family.
1 onion chopped
1 large floury potato (Maris Piper or similar) cut into cubes
1 large carrot peeled and chopped
1 litre vegetable stock
Half a carrier bag full of nettles, washed and picked through with tough stems discarded
2 tbsp crème fraîche
A few drops of olive oil and a few drops of Tabasco pepper sauce
- Melt the butter, add the onion and cook gently for 5-7 minutes until softened.
- Add potatoes and carrots and cook for 1 minute stirring to coat with butter.
- Add nettles and the stock; bring to a simmer and cook gently until the potato is soft, about 15 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and puree the soup until smooth using a hand-held blender and season well with salt and pepper.
- Ladle into warm bowls and float a teaspoon of crème fraîche on top. As this melts swirl in a few drops of olive oil and Tabasco.
If you want to enjoy the beauty of butterflies and moths in your garden and enjoy a gorgeous soup, leave the weed killer alone and leave at least one patch of nettles to grow.