The stinging nettle as food has always intrigued me, but upto now their handling has been a mystery. 'Young shoots' are usually required but, as I remember, new or old they always sting. And so, year after year, I have postponed trying them.
Well, this spring I assigned a couple of hours to nettle research and handling - resulting in nettle soup and nettle bread.
The trick in handling is to use gloves of course . Picking nettles in April - any will do. The big bunch in the picture came from one corner of the garden and yielded around 400 grams of leaves.
Nettles are supposed to be a good source of iron. But then look here - there's loads of other stuff too calcium, histamine, serotonin (this seems like fantasy to me). Mature nettles contain upto 25% protein apparently! Here are some information videos, including one with a man describing his harvest of nettle roots 'sold for $10 a pound' to make prostate medicine. And here is a 'traditional' nettle eating competition from Dorset held at the Bottle Inn, Marshwood, Bridport, DT6 5QJ (the 2014 event is due on June 7th).
So for nettle soup I recommend Darina Allen's recipe, but go easy on the cream which robs the subtle nettle flavour. I replaced the chicken stock with a strong fish stock, mmmm tastey!
For the bread use about 300 gms of roughy chopped leaves and mix into the dough. I used 60% wholewheat flour; probably a larger proportion of white will let the subtle flavour of the nettles shine through more.