Blog posts originally featured in Cornwall's what's-on magazine: Blackbird Pie. Click on logo to go to their website.
Stinging Nettle Day
Have you ever eaten a stinging nettle rolled up inside a dock leaf? Me neither. But you can find out because there is a curious celebration on May 1st in Liskeard, called Stinging Nettle Day. So if you fancy the custom of eating the stuff raw, all you've got to do is pluck a leaf (pinch from behind and you won't get stung), roll it up in a way that the stinging hairs stay on the inside, then chew between your teeth. It's surprisingly nice!
Things could be worse...
If you live a few miles away in St Neot, the prickly burning horderve has a more sinister role to play. On Oak Apple Day, May 29th, there is a tradition for children to wear an oak leaf in the morning and a fox glove in the afternoon to commemorate being a royalist during the civil war. If you refused, you were doomed to being chased by someone grasping a bunch of stinging nettles. Ouch!
So what else...
Can you do with these prickly little plants? Well, you could whip yourself to keep warm, as did the Romans, but I wouldn’t recommend that. So let’s take a leaf out of the Liskeardians and have a go at eating them instead. Most common for the digestive palate is nettle soup and nettle tea; the latter being the easiest. Simply steep some freshly picked leaves in hot water and then drink. Just remember to wear nettle-proof gloves, a long sleeve top, long trousers, wellies and maybe a full-facial helmet when picking this defensive little plant. Okay, the helmet might be a bit OTT, but be warned; these plants are not conducive to shorts and t-shirts.
As for nettle soup...
Well, this makes for a hearty warm beverage. You simply boil the leaves in water for about ten minutes, drain, puree into a mushy consistency, then add other soupy ingredients, like onions, potatoes, carrots and herbs. After, which, you wash it all down with a nettle beer - my second year's batch is about to be brewed with a little addition of ginger to give it that tangy zing! As for the younger ones out there, well, there’s always that nettle tea! Although I'm sure we could muster up a nettle and ginger cordial.
With a belly full of nettle products...
All you need now is to enjoy the rest of spring lounging about in a nettle-woven hammock. Okay, you’ll need rather a lot of them, but in all seriousness, making fabric or cord from nettles is slowly becoming a commercial enterprise. So, grab some long stemmed nettles and strip the leaves by running it through your hand - remember your nettle wear! Flatten the stem with a rolling pin or rubber hammer, scrape out the pith and split the stem into about four strands, then plait them together. If you collect enough, you could feasibly make a hammock. If your nettle supplies are a little thin on the ground, you can always make a necklace instead.
Now where are those plantains?
A book worth reading: Warren, P. (2006) 101 Uses for Stinging Nettles. Wildeye
Check out our nettle workshop for this summer (click on link): A day with Nettle