As with just about every plant and weather phenomenon, superstitions are part of the lore of nettles. Gathering nettles has become a spring ritual for us. When the nettles are ‘just right’ it’s a sure sign that winter is behind us. Although seeking courage wasn't part of our quest (nor was protection from lightning, though that sounds like a good thing), the word 'courage' seemed like a good collective noun for a bunch of them.
We looked for nettles in early March, and though we found a few, they weren’t quite tall enough for picking. About 8 inches seems best – with plenty of leaf, but easy enough to cut without harming the plant.
Then, in early April, we decided to try again. And yes, they were the right height – and abundant.
Picking three bags (ordinary, shopping-type bags) left us with two bags once the leaves had all been stripped from the stems.
Then, eight pots of water later, eight little bags were lightly steamed and ready for the freezer. Best of all, once they’ve been blanched, their nasty sting (which Hans Christian Andersen's courageous princess endured) is gone.
I’ll use these throughout the year – sometimes in combination with spinach, sometimes on their own – in lasagnas, cannelloni or spanakopita.
Iron-rich and flavourful, they’re a forager’s dream.