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Pontification on Pollinators #GreenBag

Hello from the Green Bag committee, your environmentally friendly friends at Brown Bag! We've stopped by today to highlight the wonders of nature and what we can find therein, especially the magic of the Stinging Nettle.

It's that sunny time of year when flower shops are chock-full of traditional annual bedding, from Begonias to Petunias to Geraniums. It's a wonderful time to spot the summer's most amazing wildflower offerings, and if any Brown Baggers have had the chance to plant a seed bomb or two, perhaps you've spotted a few of these happy scamps in the green:

- Clarika

- Bitter Candytuft

- Cornflower

- Flat Pea

- Cow Cookie

- Crimson Clover

- Poppy

While these plants add color to your garden, the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan notes that despite their pigment these common flowers are actually not a good source of pollen and nectar for the surrounding bees and insects. The good news, however, is that there are a number of options you can add to the mix that offer an excellent source of food for pollinators, such as Bacopa or Bidens. Those of us residing in the Pacific Northwest, and many other regions around the world, are lucky to be gifted by nature with an abundance of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). What you may not have known is that the common nettle, stinging and annoying it's true, is also a fabulous plant for attracting wildlife, butterflies and moths in particular, with the added benefit that we can eat it as well (the nettle that is).

Stinging Nettles

Have a look at your nearest nettle patch and see if you can find the eggs or caterpillars of a peacock, small tortoiseshell, red admiral butterflies, or even the less famous but just as gorgeous burnished brass moth. They all have similar habits; once they emerge from their eggs, the peacock and small tortoiseshell caterpillars build a communal web, which they shelter under when not feeding. The red admiral and burnished brass caterpillar fold the leaves of the nettle to make a small tent, like a safe little restaurant. From these would-have-been cut-down weeds, you can now find the webs, shed larval skins, and of course, colourful adults flitting around your garden.

Red Admiral Butterfly

Nettles are incredibly rich in iron, folates, and other minerals. They are also guilty of tasting great when made into a soup. Yes, nettles are safe to eat - butterflies and moths generally lay their eggs in the center of a nettle patch so the outer plants will be OK for you to eat, as long as you know when NOT to eat them: when in flower, when the leaves are tinged purple, when the plant site is polluted, or when exposing your skin.

This brings us to Step One of nettle picking: wear gloves! With a pair of gloves covering your hands, pick or cut the young nettle leaves from the tops of the plants - you’ll need just over half a shopping bag full, for a soup to feed the family. See one of our recipes below!


  • 50g butter
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 large floury potato (Maris Piper or similar) cut into cubes
  • 1 large carrot peeled and chopped
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock
  • Half a carrier bag full of nettles, washed and picked through with tough stems discarded
  • 2 tbsp crème fraîche
  • A few drops of olive oil and a few drops of Tabasco pepper sauce


1.    Melt the butter, add the onion and cook gently for 5-7 minutes until softened.

2.    Add potatoes and carrots and cook for 1 minute stirring to coat with butter.

3.    Add nettles and the stock; bring to a simmer and cook gently until the potato is soft, about 15 minutes.

4.    Remove from the heat and puree the soup until smooth using a hand-held blender and season well with salt and pepper.

5.    Ladle into warm bowls and float a teaspoon of crème fraîche on top. As this melts swirl in a few drops of olive oil and Tabasco.

Rachel Sherman

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