Why would anyone ever want to eat something called a “stinging nettle?” Well, because it’s delicious and nutritious! Our ancient ancestors knew the value of this unhappily named plant and you can still enjoy it today. This week we’re bringing you a recipe for an ancient Nettle Pudding. For those of you not familiar with non-dessert puddings, it has the consistency of a dumpling and is often eaten with chunks of bread and the meat it is cooked along side.
The stinging nettle is most often seen as just a pesky weed, but in reality it is so much more. It is a member of the Urticaceae family, which is named for the Latin word uro, meaning “to burn” (the fine hairs on its leaves and stems can produce this sensation), and it can grow up to seven feet tall. Since ancient times it has been used as a food source, medicine and even as a material for cloth-making.
In Denmark, a 2,800 year old burial shroud composed of a “soft and shiny fabric” was found to be made of nettles rather than the more typical flax. Interestingly, the use of the nettle in the production of the textile revealed that this Bronze Age civilization was trading (the nettle is not native to this area) and that they were making use of wild plants in addition to domesticated plants.
Not only can the nettle be utilized in making cloth, it can also color it. The nettle is rich in chlorophyll and can be used to produce a green dye that has been employed for centuries. In fact, in World War II, the British government turned to green dye from nettles in order to camouflage army uniforms.
The nettle has been prized for thousands of years for its medicinal uses. The Egyptians used a nettle infusion to treat arthritis and lumbago. The ancient Greeks believed it could treat a host of ailments. Hippocrates wrote of 61 different nettle treatments including for bites and stings, and Galen, the Greek physician, wrote in his book De Simplicubus that it could be used as “a diuretic and laxative, for dog bites, gangrenous wounds, swellings, nose bleeding, excessive menstruation, spleen-related illness, pleurisy, pneumonia, asthma, tinea and mouth sores.” The Romans utilized it in the treatment of muscle pain and sciatica. They also thrashed their bodies with bunches of nettles in order to stimulate blood flow and circulation. This practice was popular with soldiers traveling from the warmer Roman climate to the colder climate of Britain. This is just a small sampling of the numerous uses of nettle through the centuries.
Finally, the stinging nettle has long been an important food source and was greatly appreciated by ancient cultures. Its use as food has always been closely tied to its medicinal value. Often it would be ingested during the spring because it was believed to help in circulation and could restore warmth to the body after the cold winter months. Generally, the younger plants were chosen for food because they are less bitter, but more mature leaves can be boiled until they are suitable for ingestion. The Romans boiled nettles along with meat in order to tenderize it. Europeans used it in soups and puddings like the one below. In fact, in 2007, the recipe below was named Britain’s oldest recipe and is believed to be from around 6,000 BCE.
So take a chance on an unusual food and live on the wild side by eating some Nettle Pudding. It’s rich in vitamins and minerals as well as ancient history!
Ancient Nettle Pudding
Recipe courtesy of Ancient Craft and Celtnet Recipes
According to Celtnet Recipes, “when most food was boiled in a large pot, adding dumplings or ‘puddings’ to stocks (was) a good way of putting starch in the diet. These large dumplings are flavoured with wild herbs and nettles.”
- 1 bunch of sorrel
- 1 bunch of watercress
- 1 bunch of dandelion leaves
- 2 bunches of young nettle leaves
- Some chives
- 1 cup of barley flour
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- Chop the herbs finely and mix in the barley flour and salt.
- Add enough water to bind it together and place in the center of a linen or muslin cloth.
- Tie the cloth securely and add to a pot of simmering venison or wild boar (a pork joint will do just as well). Make sure the string is long enough to pull the pudding from the pot.
- Cook the pudding until the meat is done (at least two hours).
- Leave the pudding to cool slightly, remove the muslin, then cut the pudding into thick slices with a knife.
- Serve the pudding with chunks of barley bread.
*The pudding can be served along side the meat with which it was cooked, or it can be served as its own stand-alone dish.
 Pappas, S. (2012, September 28). Ancient Burial Shroud Made of Surprising Material, Scientists Find. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
 Vance, K. (n.d.). History of Stinging Nettle. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
 Nettles – discover its healing, medicinal qualities. (n.d.). Retrieved January 2, 2015, from http://www.nettlesforhealth.com/#!nettle-uses/c18ah
 Vance, K.
 What Else The Romans Did For Us. (n.d.). Retrieved January 2, 2015.
 Vance. K.
 Macrae, F. (n.d.). Traditional English cooking: Nettle pudding and other ancient recipes. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
 Boiled Nettle Pudding a classic reconstructed Ancient Recipe. (n.d.). Retrieved January 7, 2015, from http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/ancient/fetch-recipe.php?rid=ancient-boiled-nettle-pudding