Last Sunday, we enjoyed an unusual and delicious Sunday lunch starter – nettle pesto bruschetta! The pesto had been freshly made at a workshop to celebrate the wonders of nettles, organised by the TKT Food Group and hosted by Kentish Town City Farm.
The workshop began with exploring the urban jungle of Kentish Town City Farm. Biodiversity is abundant here with chickens, goats and cows on grassy slopes (yes, in london!), bumblebees, ladybirds, elderflowers and wheat, and ‘weeds’ such as nettles, comfrey, goose-grass/cleaver, burdock, dandelion, plaintain, chickweed and mallow… The diversity in this small space is endless!
Chris from the farm was a walking encyclopedia on the biodiversity, medicinal and folklore qualities of weeds, particularly nettles. There are many reasons why we should be nice to nettles. For biodiversity, nettles are home to at least 40 insects, especially butterflies, and are an indicator that soil is rich in nitrogen and phosphates, essential for healthy plants. So instead of lamenting the sight of nettles in your garden, thank them for showing you where the fertile soils are! Nettles also have detoxifying qualities and are rich in minerals. So they are one of Nature’s important healers for joint problems, e.g. arthritis (brushing your skin with nettles is encouraged!), skin conditions like eczema, and respiratory problems. Folklore considers nettles as bestowing courage (not surprising given the painful stings). Nettles have also been used to make clothes, ropes and dyes.
It was interesting to learn that not all plants which look like nettles are stinging nettles. Some plants, e.g. dead nettle, imitate the appearance of stinging nettles to ward off predators. A distinguishing feature of stinging nettles are the glistening hairs or stings on the top side of the leaves and stems. Thick gloves help avoid the stings. For the courageous, grasp the nettle stem from underneath the leaves.
The nettles are out early this year so we were ‘late’ in foraging for the young and tender nettle tops. However, we still found enough nettles that had not yet flowered to make pesto. We also collected some cleavers (or goosegrass! the plant that inspired velcro) to mix in. Chris highlighted the importance of conscious foraging, to be mindful that we don’t destroy the food source and habitats of our fellow creatures.
So with our foraging delights, and some stinging fingers, we made some vibrant green pesto, guided by the following recipe:
125g (or a colander) of nettle tops (and cleavers) (steamed for a minute or two)
1 or 2 gloves of garlic
50g pine nuts (or cashew nuts or sunflower seeds if preferred)
60g parmesan (or omit if vegetarian/vegan)
80ml (5 generous tablespoons) of olive oil
Process – steam the nettles and cleavers, drain, and blend in a liquidiser with the other ingredients. Pour into jars. Serve and enjoy. Simple!
It was a great day of foraging, meeting neighbours and changing perceptions about the value of weeds.
Be nice to nettles and in return enjoy a nourishing pesto – or nettle soup, beer, tea or wine if you prefer!