Richard is a wild food enthusiast and has used wild plants in his diet for the past seven years. He is also a foraging instructor.
Nettle Tempura Recipe
Nettles (Urtica dioica) are a well known wild edible plant. There is no doubt that you will have gotten stung at some point in your life, but did you know that this widely available free food makes a wonderful wild alternative to cultivated greens?
In fact, nettles are a powerhouse of nutrition, and I would consider them a superfood. They are 1.4 times as mineral-dense as spinach, and they are notably rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, beta carotene, vitamin A, iron and protein (according to Wild and Curious Foraging).
They are one of my favourite wild greens because they can be found and foraged throughout most of the year, unless you have had an especially hard winter. Nettles are not only great as a food, their strong, fibrous stems can be harvested and made into rope, fishing nets and even clothes!
Nowadays we see them as a pest and a weed we have to remove from our gardens and allotments. Instead of spraying and pulling out this valuable free food source, why not eat them instead?
Aside from the usual teas and soups that we associate with this plant, there are many other things we can do. They are essentially a green leafy vegetable that can be used just like any cultivated counterpart.
Here I show you a very simple and an extremely delicious way to prepare this fantastic wild plant. Nettle tempura is a great way to introduce this foraged food to parents and children alike.
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4 servings (approximately)
- 180 grams young nettle leaves
- 80 grams hodmedod's yellow pea or fava bean flour
- 100 milliliters sparkling spring water
- 2 litres olive oil (or enough to fill your pan 1-2 inches for deep-frying)
- Pinch of sea salt
Note About Measurements
Some of the weights are approximations and are close enough to produce the desired outcome, but be ready to tweak the figures to make the perfect batter. I rarely cook with measurements, so I have had to use a little guesswork to achieve the quantities listed. Making batter is an easy task, and I would advise you to add a little sparkling spring water at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
- Pick your young nettle leaves from a clean. unpolluted source. Gather a small bag full or however many leaves you wish to cook. Use gloves if you are not confident in picking the leaves without getting stung.
- Wash the leaves in filtered or bottled water just to remove any debris or bugs. You can skip this step if you do not mind a little extra protein in the form of aphids!
- Mix your batter. I use hodmedods yellow pea or fava bean flour, but you can use any organic flour (personal preference). Add the sparkling spring water to a bowl of approximately 100g of flour. Stir in the water bit by bit until you achieve a thick and runny consistency that only just coats the nettle leaf but doesn't run right off either.
- Preheat a pan with enough olive oil to submerge the leaves for frying. Test it with a little batter until it reaches the ideal temperature and then dip your leaves in the batter frying immediately. Depending how hot your oil is it may take as little as 20 seconds for each leaf to be ready and crispy. Be quick and observant, you don't want the leaves to burn!
- Lay each leaf on a plate with a kitchen towel to allow any excess oil to soak away. Salt lightly and enjoy.
Final Comments and Tips
Please be aware that whilst nettles are an easy plant that many of us can identify, there are a few precautions that you should consider when you are out picking this wild edible.
- Be 110% certain that you can identify a nettle. Whilst there are not really any poisonous look-a-likes, it is always good to know what you are looking for. You may find white dead nettles (Lamium album), hedge wound wort (Stachys sylvatica) amongst others of the same species which are all in the mint family, have different flowers and do not sting.
- Pick away from polluted areas; for example, busy roadsides, cities, agriculture where the farmer has sprayed.
- If you are harvesting from private property, seek the land owner's permission.
- Be considerate of your surroundings, pick only what you need and leave enough for wildlife and any other foragers.
- If you are still unsure and would rather seek the help of an experienced forager, you can find a reliable directory that hosts foraging instructors throughout the world by referring to the Association of Foragers.
I hope this short recipe has inspired you to go out there and try stinging nettles in your diet. They are a wonderful food and you are certainly missing out if you have not yet taken this wild plant into your home kitchen.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Richard Mawby