Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica
No British wild plant (except maybe a thistle) is easier to identify; if it stings its a nettle! A useful plant not just for eating but also for; herbal tea, fertilizer and even making string.
What to look for:
Tough hairy upright stems (can be up to 2.5m!) with saw-toothed leaves. The painful sting is a giveaway but not an essential requirement for identification.
Where to find it:
Damp and / or shaded areas or where there is lots of fertilizer. Nettles under tree shade tend to be more tender and are less bitter. Avoid nettles by footpaths.
When is it about:
Pretty much all year round. The best time to pick for eating is late winter and early spring when the leaves are pale and tender. By the time it flowers the leaves are too bitter. However in the autumn stems often produce more new leaves. Wear gloves when picking!
Recipe: Stinging Nettle Pesto
30g (1oz) Nettle tops
3 cloves garlic
30g (1oz) Gran Padano cheese (crumbled)
30g (1oz) Ground Almonds
About 8 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
Wash the nettle tops, remove old or discoloured leaves and shake off any excess water. In a food processor whiz together the garlic, almonds and about 3 tablespoons of the oil to form a paste. Add the cheese, nettle tops the rest of the oil and combine to form the pesto, season with the black pepper. Add more oil if the mixture is too stiff. If you don’t have a food processor to hand; crush the garlic and combine to a paste with a pestle and mortar, then place in a bowl. Finely chop the nettles and grind in the pestle and mortar with a tablespoon of the oil a chunk at a time. Place the nettle mixture with the garlic and almond paste along with any remaining oil, then stir in the cheese and season with the pepper. To make this recipe vegan; substitute the cheese for dried bread-crumbs, add more oil if the mixture seems too dry. The pesto will keep for up to about 5 days in the fridge.
Note: Do not eat any wild foods unless you are 100% certain about your identification.