In April took a foraging course in Clissold Park with John from Forage London. It was a sunny morning in London, the kind where you actually believe this city couldn’t be better if we tried. We wandered the park identifying nature’s bountiful Spring presentation of edible salad leaves (and a couple of poisonous ones – always important!), berries, roots and fruits and most wonderfully, sampling pre-prepared products John had brought with him – stir-fried burdock root, dandelion coffee, chutneys, rosehip syrup, elderberry-clove cordial.
While we identified an overwhelming 20+ plants, what stuck with me most (as usual) were the stats John knew about the vintamin and mineral content of a few key plants I was already familiar with. Nettles have 40x the iron and protein of spinach or kale – they are free. Elderberries have highly potent anti-viral properties, and a simple syrup taken as a daily tonic can help fight off colds better than any berrocca. Wood Aven (or ‘clove root’) is a ‘weed’ that has a flavourful root that was used to spice food before the advent of the spice trade. I’ve got a good eye now for garlic mustard, red/white dead nettle and sticky weed.
But it was nettles I was most interested in. So last week I bravely donned my marigold gloves, snipped a tub of nettles from a safe patch near my house that dogs have no access to and made a nettle smoothie using my usual ‘green smoothie’ recipe (being sure to steam the nettles first to get rid of any sting!), and also made a simple dinner of grilled steak, new potatoes with wild garlic and nettles sauteed like spinach with butter.
The smoothie was great actually, nettles have a lovely minty freshness that played well with the kiwi and pear. Sadly I made 2 days worth and the next morning the vibrant green of my drink had become a bit murky brown – lesson: nettles don’t keep that well (in smoothies). Tasted fine, however.
The sauteed nettles had a texture that reminded me slightly of the fiddleheads ferns I used to eat in Canada as a child – a lovely crunchiness emerged after a quick fry and they certainly tasted delicious (but what doesn’t, covered in butter and salt?). As Hugh Fearnley Wittingsall says: if you like your greens, you’ll like nettles.
I often buy big packs of kale to have in my daily morning smoothies, but at least on weekends this will be replaced with fresh nettles – not only are they free, but they are better for me.
Vibrant Green (Nettle) Smoothie
250 mL ‘posh’ orange juice
big handful of nettles
1 kiwi, (cut in half and squish insides into blender)
1 pear, peeled and cored
1 tsp spirulina powder (optional)
1 banana (optional)
125 mL water (optional if you add banana)
So I vary the ingredients of my smoothies, but OJ, Kiwi, Pear and Spirulina are pretty constant. They don’t seem to get gloopy if you use a blender instead of a juicer and taste great together.
My basic method is this: boil the kettle and pour the water over the nettles just until they wilt (this melts the acid on the leaves that stings) and drain. In your blender, blend just the OJ and nettles until they are smoothly combined. Then add kiwi, pear and anything else you like. If you want ice, add ice, or add gin as my brother does. With nettles the spirulina might be redundant given how much of a superfood is, so it could be skipped. Drink after a good fasted morning yoga session (cliche, me) or anytime and feel like friggin Popeye.