By Ben Mardis
Wild-foraged stinging nettle plants can be turned into a tasty tonic with this nettle beer recipe.
It’s a great feeling to arrive home with a paper sack full of wild stinging nettle greens after discovering a fantastic patch.
When harvested sustainably by cutting just the tops, nettles seem to thrive after getting a “haircut’’, so I often find myself bringing home more food than I could possibly eat that day let alone in that week. My frivolous foraging is not without reason however. I can preserve the leaves by drying and storing in an air-tight container, freezing fresh, and making nettle pesto. Once I have enough wild greens put away for the whole year, I’ll make a couple gallons of beer with any remaining surplus.
Fresh nettle tea stored in the refrigerator will only stay good for about one to two weeks, but making a fermented beverage helps preserve the nutrients of the greens for an extended period of time. Almost any wild green that you enjoy the taste of can be made into beer. In this article I’ll be going over how to make beer with stinging nettle (Urtica dioica).
Making nettle beer is so easy and is a very good way to get familiar with making alcoholic beverages in general. There are many nettle beer recipes out there but understanding the simple fundamental concepts will help you realize how few ingredients you really need to make it.
To make alcohol all you need is yeast, some form of sugar, and liquid to make the concoction anaerobic (devoid of oxygen). In contrast, fermentation with oxygen makes vinegar. It’s best to get comfortable with a simple nettle beer recipe before diving into one that has a bunch of different ingredients.
This nettle beer recipe turns out a very light and refreshing beverage and is a good one to start off with:
-2 medium pots
-some sort of strainer, muslin, or nut milk bag
-large wine bottle with a balloon, or a ½ gallon fermentation vessel with an airlock
-8 ounces (by weight) of stinging nettle leaves (harvested in spring before going to flower). This is roughly about a gallon jar loosely packed. You can also throw in any other wild greens that you like such as miner's lettuce, cleavers, lambs quarters, or chickweed.
-½ gallon of water
-½ to 1 cup of sugar (you could also use honey or brown sugar)
-2tbs of apple cider vinegar or juice from 1 lemon
-½ tsp of ale yeast (order online or at a home brew store)
-1 ounce of fresh ginger finely chopped (optional)
-Begin by preparing a nettle infusion: Bring a little more than a half of a gallon of water (to account for reduction) to a boil and then add in the nettle leaves and other wild greens. Turn off the heat and let sit for anywhere from 1 to 4 hours. The longer the steeping time the stronger the flavor will be.
-Once cooled to room temperature strain the infusion through a muslin or nut milk bag and squeeze out the excess moisture into the second pot. You can set aside the pulp for making pesto or drying in a dehydrator later if you like.
-Pour about a cup of the liquid into the bowl and add the yeast. Leave this to set for about 10 minutes to fully rehydrate the yeast.
-In the meantime finely chop the ginger and add to the fermentation vessel.
-Add lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and sugar to the infusion pot.
-Mix until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved.
-Once the yeast is rehydrated pour the bowl of liquid into the pot and mix.
-Carefully pour the pot of liquid into a fermentation vessel. Using a funnel or liquid measuring cup can be helpful for this step.
-Label the fermentation vessel with the contents and the start and end date for fermenting. The beer will be lightly bubbly and ready to drink after about 3 days or when the yeast activity has slowed down and the brew is no longer vigorously bubbling. After this time carefully pour off the beer into whatever airtight vessels you choose to use for long term storage.
-Be sure to burp (release some pressure) from the vessels for a few days to prevent excess pressure build up. Omitting this step could lead to your vessel exploding randomly from over-pressurization!
- Enjoy! This is a great nutritional beverage for the winter when fresh greens are no longer available. Open vessels very slowly to release the pressure, just a word of caution.
I hope you have fun experimenting with fermenting your favorite wild greens! Maybe we'll see you at one of our upcoming wild plants courses!
By the way, when you're out foraging for wild plants and mushrooms, it's important to know how to stay safe in the outdoors, especially if you were to get lost. Right now you can get a free copy of our mini survival guide here, where you'll discover six key strategies for outdoor emergencies, plus often-overlooked survival tips.
About the Author: Ben Mardis is an experienced educator that is passionate about permaculture and naturalist skills. He is a guest instructor at Alderleaf. Learn more about Ben Mardis.