James Whelan Butchers: Eat Yourself Well

With the chocolate eggs of Easter already a memory, the longer evenings and brighter mornings are just bursting with potential.  I feel summer is only around the corner and with it comes an urge to think carefully about what I’m eating.  Maybe it’s the fact that we can go outdoors again without three layers of fleece lined clothing that makes me feel healthier and more conscious of what I’m doing to and for my own body.  Eating well and feeling well are as we know, intrinsically linked.  This is by no means a new revelation; as Hippocrates famously said, “Leave your drugs in the chemist’s pot if you can heal the patient with food.”

There is no doubt that there is a historical case for eating yourself well.  Perhaps our problem is that we only think about being well or getting well once we are sick or have some sort of complaint.  In this instance we will look for the causes and sometimes it takes a small illness to turn us on to thinking about vitamins, minerals and nutrients.  Some will immediately invest in the local health food store and stock up on herbal remedies or supplements.  These are all good things to do, but surely it makes more sense to nourish our bodies through the seasons using wild plants and herbs to supplement our everyday cooking where possible.  In doing this we are increasing the taste of our food while healing and helping our health.

In our industrialised and technologically advanced world we have largely forgotten the treasures available freely in nature.  Each season produces different plants to help us with exactly what we need.  After a long winter the body needs a good boost and that is why nettles are at their peak throughout spring.

Wild stinging nettle is a wonderfully nutritional plant. It is rich in chlorophyll, calcium, silicon, chromium, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. It contains vitamins A, C, D, and E, along with the minerals sodium, copper, and iron. It’s very high in protein and traditionally it has been used as a spring tonic. Past generations always capitalised on what nature had to offer but our ‘know it all’, prepackaged, convenience driven mentality has long since forgotten such benefits. Hopefully this generation will re-discover what our ancestors have known all along.

We are currently in nettle season and I can’t encourage you enough to go out and grab some immediately.  Just make sure you’re wearing gloves and don’t worry, drying and cooking kills the sting.  Possibly the reason we have such poor associations with nettles is the nasty encounters we all remember from childhood.  There was the joy of running through a field on a spring or summer’s day only to have your bare ankles cruelly attacked by a stinging nettle.  I seem to remember it burning for hours afterwards.   These days I actively go out looking for nettles to harvest instead of trying to avoid them.  A pair of gardening gloves and something to put them in that can be sealed for the trip home, should lead to a happy nettle finding excursion.

While we mainly associate nettles with liquid foods such as nettle tea or nettle soup, effectively it is a green and can be used just like any other green; spinach, cabbage or kale.  Nettles can be substituted for any of the above in recipes you may already have for lasagne, quiche, stew or even pesto.


Nettles are excellent for the blood system; detoxifying and removing unwanted impurities.  They help with lowering blood sugar, improving digestion, relieving pain and lowering high blood pressure. They also enhance the operation of the circulatory, immune, endocrine, nervous, and urinary systems thereby reducing fatigue and exhaustion.  It is even claimed they can eliminate chronic headaches.  For expectant mothers it is a very helpful source of iron and calcium and together with red raspberry and alfalfa nettle is a good prenatal herb.  And, saving the best until last, if all the body systems such as the kidney and the bladder are in good working order this will also help with weight loss.  So anyone trying to get beach ready could help themselves by exploring nettles as food and a delicious food at that.  Nettles are best harvested at this time of year before flowering and can be easily dried for use later in the year.  The stems, leaves, flowers and roots of the nettle plant all have powerful medicinal properties so take the whole lot.

Nettle tea couldn’t be easier and doesn’t require any milk or sugar.  Use about 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh nettles to each cup of boiling water.  (For God’s sake remember to continue wearing your gloves when handling and chopping the fresh nettles.)  Leave it to infuse for five to 10 minutes before straining and enjoy.

Nettle Soup

Here’s a simple and delicious recipe for Nettle Soup.

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 potatoes
  • 2 handfuls nettle heads
  • 1 pint of vegetable stock
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper
  • 150ml single cream

Peel and chop the onion, garlic and potatoes and fry them for 3-4 minutes in a large saucepan in a little olive oil. Trim away the stems from the nettle tops, wash well and add them to the pan. Pour over the vegetable stock. Boil fairly rapidly for 15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. Add cream, liquidize and return to the pan to keep hot. Season and serve.

Friends have used variations of the above with great success.  Some have added carrot, the calorie conscious have swapped various things for the cream, some one even used chicken stock and said it was a triumph.  So feel free to experiment and remember, “The sting of the nettle is but nothing compared to the pains it heals.”  Eat and enjoy the week.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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