This is a manic time of year, right? Exams to get them through, then school sports days, holidays to plan and on top of all that the garden explodes. Literally explodes. I swear, I went out of the house one morning and my garden was all neat and tidy and I came back to a jungle. I have noticed that I usually develop a more tolerant approach to weeds about this time of year and advise you do too; changing my definition from a plant growing in the incorrect place to anything goes as long as it’s not a stinging nettle. Evil things that they are.
Now, if you haven’t got any nettles creeping up under the fences around your garden count yourself very lucky. They are nothing if not persistent and don’t mix well with my rather half-hearted approach to gardening and weeding. Or my children, come to mention it. But they are incredibly good for you (like that other persistent garden pest; the dandelion) as long as you’re not thinking of rubbing them sadistically against your skin. So whether you take my laissez- faire attitude towards weeds or not, it’s best to persevere with its removal for your own sake. Nettle leaf is packed full of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and beta-carotene and high amounts of the vitamins A, C, D, and B complex and so needs harvesting. But it is definitely too nutritious to chuck on the bonfire. Also, somewhat unexpectedly nettle is also rich in substances (known as prostaglandins) that support resistance to redness and irritation. Although obviously not if applied topically. Whether you choose to dry the leaves to make your own tea or use them in a soup or a pesto it’s up to you but keep some young tops back (the most evil of all nettles) to make this deliciously refreshing summer cordial. It couldn’t be easier to make and makes a lovely change from the traditional and (at this time of year at least) ubiquitous English elderflower cordial. Apart from tasting like summer in a glass it has the added benefit that (mixed up with some soda or sparkling water and with a slice of lemon and a mint leaf or two) it’ll keep you from reaching of the summer cocktails or gin and tonics whilst you fritter away those hot summer’s evenings. I’ll gloss over the fact that it also makes the perfect cocktail mixed up with prosecco or into those aforementioned gin and tonics. You really don’t need to know that.
Nettle and Elderflower Cordial Recipe
Around 30 elderflower heads, very gently washed
250g washed nettles (use the tops)
1.5 litres water
90g citric acid (if you can’t find it in the chemist’s you can it easily online)
2.5 kg golden caster sugar (white granulated is fine if that’s all you can get)
2-3 lemons, sliced
Start by adding the sugar to the water then slowly bring to the boil, stirring.
Pour into a clean bucket, or something large enough to hold it all but that isn’t metallic.
Add the citric acid, lemon slices, elderflower and nettles then give it all a good stir.
Leave the whole mixture somewhere cool to steep for about 3 days. The garage is perfect. Whenever you pass give it a good stir.
When the three days have passed, strain through a muslin and pour into bottles that you have previously sterilized by heating in the oven to 130 deg. C.
Your cordial should keep for a month or so in a cool spot but once it has been opened don’t forget to keep it in the fridge.
Serve over ice with sparkling water or as detailed above. Enjoy!