Weed wonder

Just eat it: With weeds like the stinging nettle, if you can't beat it, harvest it, can be a good way of dealing with the problem.
Just eat it: With weeds like the stinging nettle, if you can't beat it, harvest it, can be a good way of dealing with the problem.

I've discovered a great way to get rid of one variety of weed that seems to grow prolifically in our section; put it on the menu.

During a recent bout of weeding I grabbed my gardening gloves, which I tend to use only when dealing with plants that bite back, like roses or stinging nettle. I then gathered up a large handful of the nettle seedlings that were making themselves at home in the tunnel house.

"I'm going to eat these," I announced. Much to the other half's horror, I went on to explain my plan to cook stinging nettle soup for lunch. It's a recipe I'd been keen to try for a while.

A quick bit of reading will tell you that nettles, while maybe best known because they let you know in no uncertain terms that they don't like to be touched, are also credited with health benefits from giving you shinier hair to sorting out PMT, bronchial problems and a host of other issues.

The plant contains many vitamins and minerals and its beneficial properties are described in a long list of words, many that I've never heard of, but that sound impressive.

Interestingly, given the rash produced by the nettle's sting, it's also described as having anti-histamine properties.

While I gather most uses require the nettle to be taken internally, there are suggestions that applying the sting to arthritic joints or painful muscles can help ease the pain; not something I'll be trying at home.

Speaking of the nettle's sting, the volatile compound that causes the sting is neutralised by applying heat. This apparently works whether you blanch the nettle in boiling water, or dry it in an oven set on low.

I can't vouch for the oven drying, as I haven't tried that (yet) but blanching certainly works. Thinking that if blanching didn't really neutralise the stinging properties of the nettle I'd rather find out before it reached my mouth, I scooped a large spoonful out of the pot after it had been cooking for a minute or two, let it cool on the bench, then rubbed it over my wrist.

It had no more effect than if I'd used wet spinach. The soup itself had a potato, onion and chicken stock base and quite a large amount of fresh nettles. The nettles wilted significantly when cooked.

I have a dairy allergy, so when the recipe called for cream, I substituted coconut cream. In small amounts, coconut cream adds the required texture without adding an overpowering flavour.

Once it was all cooked and the other seasonings added I pureed it in the blender. The result looked like something you'd buy in a restaurant. Well, maybe something I'd buy.

While the other half was happy to help me source nettles for my soup, I'm sure many blokes will relate to his decision to stick with cheese on toast for lunch.

Beauty is only skin-deep though, as the saying goes. While the soup looked pretty, the real test came when I sat down at the table. I'm happy to say it tasted great. The nettle flavour was like a stronger, fresher tasting version of spinach.

The soup was pretty easy to prepare and only took a few minutes to cook as I'd diced the potatoes finely. The biggest hassle was having to wear gloves to prepare the nettles then making sure I'd wiped the bench thoroughly afterwards before removing the gloves.

Now I'm in the interesting position of wanting my weeds to grow back again, as not only am I keen to make more soup, I also want to try a recipe I've found for stinging nettle pesto.

For more on the recipes, see my website.

What to plant in July:

Garden guides suggest planting broad beans, garlic and shallots (if you haven't already done so), lettuce, spring onions, peas and snow peas, beetroot, salad greens and radishes.

Personally, I've been a bit lax on the planting front this week.

Still, the salad greens and brassicas in the outdoor garden are well away and my New Zealand spinach hasn't yet been frosted so the garden's looking productive, although no thanks to my week's input, which amounted to a bit of weeding, harvesting a new crop – more on that in my next column – and planting a handful of lettuce seeds in a punnet.


The Marlborough Express