Home ยป In praise of Urtica dioica

In praise of Urtica dioica

Urtica dioica
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the bad old days before Mr Sainsbury and Mr Tesco worked their airmiles magic on the planet, this time of year was known as the “hungry gap” – the time between using up last year’s harvest and starting to eat this year’s crops. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and over dinner this evening we discussed who was the first person to get stuck into a meal containing a toxic cocktail including acetylcholine, histamine, moroidin, leukotrienes, and possibly formic acid (ref). A pretty hungry one, I’d bet.

Fortunately, careful picking (!) and a little cooking renders this toxic feast quite palatable. For the gastronome who remains unconvinced, I would recommend Mr Fearnley-Wittingstall’s treatment: nettle soup

Note to chef – maybe a little more garlic next time.


AJ Cann

Alan Cann is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester and formerly Internet Consulting Editor for AoB.


  • We’re spending our week muddy and grubby with the children, and after coming in scratching from the nettle encounters I wonder how well nettle soup would go over? With Mr. Tesco at the end of the road I suspect that experiment won’t be happening at our house… at least until we’re no longer cooking for children ๐Ÿ™‚

  • About ten years ago i met an herbalist lecturer at the Gaia Herb Conference (I don’t remember his name, but he lived on an island near Seattle) who said the U. dioica sting contains a neurotransmitter, and that the sting is good for our brains, though eating it destroys the neurotransmitter. I think he said it was the acetylcholine.

  • A life without nettle soup would be infinitely less enjoyable. we parctically live on the stuff in the spring. Onions, garlic and nettles, a blob of miso at the end. I’ve never tasted anything better.

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