Nettles – the free alternative to Spinach

In which the Wartime Housewife points out that nettles gathered from the hedgerow are free whilst spinach costs over £1 per bag.  Plus a recipe for Egg Florentine Au Naturel.

Nettles - free food

While Boy the Elder was tramping through the Brecon Beacons this weekend, Boy the Younger and I decided to strike out into the countryside ourselves.  When BTY fell off his scooter for the 3rd time, he got, complaining miserably that he had been stung.  And so he had.  The very first nettles were peeping through the brown, sodden remains of last year’s foliage, vivid green and packed full of venom.

It won’t be long before we can start having Nettle Soup again! we cheered.  But nettles are a perfectly good vegetable in their own right.  The other dish I really like to make is Egg Florentine which is usually made with spinach (which is the ‘Florentine’ bit) but can be made equally well with nettles. It would make an incredibly nourishing breakfast dish as well as a light lunch.

How to prepare nettles for eating

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to wear rubber or thick gardening gloves when harvesting nettles.  Always use the young tender leaves or the tender tops off older plants.  Get rid of any tough stalks and give them a good wash to get rid of any insects or anything else you wouldn’t want to eat.  Then treat them just like fresh spinach.


Rubber gloves
1 x small saucepan or poaching pan
2 x medium saucepan

½ carrier bag of nettles
4 eggs
1 knob of butter
1  quantity of cheese sauce – see below
a little paprika

Make the cheese sauce and keep it warm
Place the nettles into a medium saucepan with a little water and a knob of butter
Cover and steam until tender
Soft boil or poach the eggs
Drain the nettles and divide between 4 plates
Place one egg onto the top of each pile of nettles
Pour cheese sauce over the top of each
Sprinkle with a little paprika and serve immediately

Cheese sauce
2oz / 60g butter
2oz / 60g wholemeal flour (or 2 really heaped tablespoons)
4oz / 120g cheese – grated
½ pint / 300ml milk
1 pinch mustard power / ¼  teaspoon ready made mustard

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan then slowly
Stir in the flour and mustard powder to make thick paste (a roux)
Add the milk a bit at a time, stirring constantly
Simmer gently until the sauce has thickened slightly and then stir in the cheese

The sauce can also be done in a bowl in the microwave.  Follow the steps above but instead of simmering in a pan, pop the bowl in the microwave for about 3 minutes, taking it out to stir occasionally.



Filed under Food, Hedgerows, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Recipes, Seasonal

8 responses to “Nettles – the free alternative to Spinach

  1. Julie

    They make good Lasagne too!
    Julie xxxxxxx

  2. Yum yum. Are they John Nettles? Great pic.

  3. I have never actually tried nettles but there are plenty in the garden. You have inspired me to have a go, thank you!

  4. backwatersman

    A timely post, I think. I don’t know whether you are familiar with the folk song Four Loom Weaver? (;ttFOURLOOM.html) Any recipes for Waterloo porridge gratefully received.

  5. wartimehousewife

    Julie – I’ll definitely try that!
    Peter: Yes dear, of course they are
    Sue G: Let me know how you get on
    BW: No, I didn’t know that one, how brilliant. Re the Waterloo Porridge, opinion seems to differ as to whether it was just thin porridge (but why?) or a brand name for a type of cattle feed which the poor stole to eat themselves when they were hungry. Prepared as I am to try just about anything, I draw the line at cow food – where would it end?

  6. Pingback: I find a perfect tin to put my buttons in | Wartime Housewife

  7. Mavis Roberts, Mrs.

    I’d like to know what ‘Waterloo porridge’ is; is it a thin gruel made from oats or is it a gruel made from nettles? Are they stinging nettles or dead nettles (non-stinging)?

    Is it a reference instead to the Battle of Waterloo, soldiers having to make their own thin gruel in the field?

    Thanking you, Mavis Roberts.

    • wartimehousewife

      Welcome Mavis. You’ve got me going now! This rings very loud bells so I shall research this and come back to you tomorrow. (it’s 12.30am in England now so I hope you don’t mind waiting.)

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