nettle infusions

Our little one has a cold. I’m pleased to have the rosehip cordial around for her, and some homeopathic pulsatilla, and it’s excellent timing for some very cosy organic cotton pajamas to have shown up in the post for her today. Tomorrow I hope to pick up a whole chicken to make a broth, but for now, I’m making nettle infusions. Luckily our children like them. This is a great way to get vitamins and minerals, and very inexpensive – free if you harvest the nettles yourself. I tend toward the anemic side, so nettles are an excellent herb for me.

We put on heavy gloves in the spring or early autumn to gather the fresh new leaves of the stinging nettle. I lay them out on a tray and pop them in a low oven after we’ve finished baking something else. They dry quickly and lose their sting. Then we crush them into a jar to keep for infusing later. I put a cupful of dry nettles in a jar, and pour a few cups of boiling water over them, cover with glass or ceramic, and leave to infuse at least twelve hours, usually twenty-four. The infusion should be a very dark green. I love how blood-strengthening foods announce themselves with their dark colours.

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Strain and drink it cool, or heat it up on a chilly day like this frosty one we’re having. It’s nice with lemon and a bit of sweetener, we use stevia. I sometimes use a french press for these kinds of infusions. My grandmother used to make nettle soup, and friends make nettle tortellini. Do you use nettles?

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elderflower preserving

Early in June of this very dry year in London my little girls and I set out to gather elderflowers for cordial. At first we didn’t know what elder looked like; then we saw it everywhere. Our best finds were along an old trail that was once a railroad, where medicinal plants grow like, well, weeds. We picked a little from each elder, so that enough blossoms were left to fruit into elderberries later in the year. In fact, we’ve never noticed what those berries look like either, so must learn to recognise them next, when we hope to catch them ripe for elderberry recipes.

Elderflowers like to be used right away, or they wilt unhappily. We poured boiling water over the blossoms. Some lemon peel enhances the flavour. Then we covered it to infuse overnight. In the morning we strained out the flowers and composted them, added sugar to the pot, warmed it very slowly to dissolve the sugar, brought it to a boil, and simmered to reduce it a little.

We put the cordial into bottles for refrigeration, and the next day we were brave enough to try it again with sterile bottles, so that we could keep some for winter. Somehow I always end up overfilling the bottle and pouring cordial all over the counter, but little children didn’t mind “cleaning up”.

We followed the recipe in River Cottage Preserves. And then we were very much in love with elderflower and began to make more flowery plans.

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Have you made a cordial? We like this one for popsicles, poured instead of lemon onto sponge cakes, and – my sweetheart and I are rather fond of it in vodka. But usually we just dilute with water in a bottle, and bring it along on a picnic. Like this.

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Find the illustrated guide and recipe, here.