Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) can be used to make a variety of delicious drinks and home brews like a simple pot of nettle tea, cordials, wine and beer. It is necessary to approach nettles wearing a pair of gloves (washing up gloves are perfect), a pair of scissors and a large basket; armed with these they are very easy to pick. For culinary use nettles are best picked when young, just using the tops (the top 8-10 leaves) and before flowering commences. It is the hairs in the nettle that give you that painful, itchy sting, each hair being a brittle hollow needle;the tip breaks easily on contact, which releases the formic acid inside. Stinging nettles are rich in vitamin A and C, as well as iron and other minerals.
This nettle beer actually looks and tastes more like a wild flower “champagne’ (no hops or malt are added to the brew) than it does a beer and the process is very similar to the one I use when making Elderflower fizz.
You don’t need loads of home brewing equipment to make this nettle beer. But you will need a large saucepan (or boil the nettles up in batches in the largest pan you have), a food grade bucket with lid (easily obtained from a home-brew shop or on line), a square of muslin or a large jelly bag, measuring jugs, syphon (but not essential) and Kilner jars/bottles with wire tops or fizzy drink bottles.
- Makes about 10 litres
- 7 litres of freshly rinsed nettles tops with stalks (use a measuring jug and pack them in quite tightly)
- 30g ginger root, roughly chopped
- 10 litres of water
- Juice and peel (a potato peeler is good for this) of 1 lime
- juice and peel of 2 lemons
- 7g sachet dried yeast (I used dried bread yeast but you could use a beer yeast just follow the instructions on the packet.)
- 1kg granulated or caster sugar
- Put 5 litres of nettles and the chopped ginger into a very large pan with the water. Bring to the boil covered with a lid and boil gently for 20 minutes.Take the pan off the heat and allow the nettle mixture to cool for 15 minutes or so, still hot but not scalding.
- Put the sugar, lemon and lime peel and juice into a very clean/sterilised fermenting bucket (with lid) and stir well.
- Place a colander over the bucket and pour in the nettle liquid, discarding the boiled nettles and ginger.
- Stir the liquid into the sugar mixture with a large preserving spoon until the sugar has dissolved.
- Add the remaining fresh nettles to the bucket. When the liquid is lukewarm sprinkle over the sachet of dried yeast. When the yeast has started to bubble up on the surface of the liquid/leaves give it a final stir.Put the lid on and leave for 4 days.
- Line a large colander with a square of muslin,positioned over another sterilised ferment bucket/large pan or use a large jelly bag and pour through the fermenting liquid (should have a nice fizz by now), discarding the peel and nettle leaves.
- Allow the sediment to settle in the bottom of the bucket or pan. Siphon or use a clean/sterilised jug, dipping it into the liquid (as to not disturb the sediment) and pour the nettle beer into sterilised wire top bottles, Kilner jars or empty fizzy drink bottles.
- Store in the fridge or in a cool dark cupboard. Its ready to drink in 10 days. It should keep for several months depending on the yeast, but we've never got past 2 months before its all disappeared in this house! Just taste it every month and make sure it still tastes to your liking.
- There will be sediment at the bottom of the bottle, so just try to leave it undisturbed when pouring.
- Serve chilled with lots of ice and fresh mint leaves.
Still using gloves and a 2 litre plastic jug to measure out the fresh nettle tops. When measuring out the nettles, pick through and give them a little shake to make sure they are insect free. Give them a rinse under cold running water before adding them to the pan.
Using an extra large pan to bring the nettles and water up to the boil.
Adding citrus juice and peel and chopped fresh ginger for added flavour.
When the nettles are cooking they lose their sting and give off a wonderful fresh and fragrant aroma.
Mixing the sugar, lemon juice, lime juice and peel in a sterilised bucket.
Once the cooked nettles have been drained, the nettle liquid is poured onto the sugar in the bucket. A jug of fresh nettles gets added for that ‘extra’ fresh nettle flavour and aroma.
Two days in and the nettle beer is starting to fizz up and ferment, the sugar and yeast are starting to work together in harmony. If you look closely you can see the little bubbles in-between the leaves.
Four days later and the nettle beer is ready to strain and bottle.
One litre Kilner style jars are great for bottling the beer with their secure wire top lids. I also find them easier to store/stack on a fridge shelf or in a cool dark larder. If using bottles make sure they again have a wire top lid or a good tight fitting thread to the cap. I once used squash bottles when making a very lively ginger beer and came down one morning to find a very wet and sticky larder!
Nettle beer is best served chilled with lots of ice and fresh mint leaves. It is a delicious drink, slightly fizzy, lightly alcoholic with that unique taste of nettle. Brilliantly refreshing so its a fantastic cooling drink to enjoy on a warm late spring- early summer day.
” Nettles are so well known that they need no description; they may be found, by feeling in the darkest night ” Nicholas Culpepper a twelfth century herbalist.
Happy home brewing… I’m thinking Nicholas had a good sense of humour!