Recently I learned about a fermented drink that is so totally cool, that I had to write about it.

Nettle beer is a historical fermented drink from old England. People started making it in prehistoric times and in some areas they still do. Definitely worth having a go at making it yourself!
It is brewed from nettles (Urtica dioica), water, sugar, and yeast.
It offers a unique, earthy, and slightly bitter taste. 

nettles

There may be some potential health benefits to nettle beer as it is a fermented drink:

  • It is ich in minerals: Nettles are a rich in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium. These nutrients can contribute to overall health and well-being. Through the fermentation process the vitamins and minerals are more easily assimilated in the body. 
  • Antioxidants: Nettles contain different antioxidants that may help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
  • Anti-inflammatory: Some studies suggest that nettles may have anti-inflammatory properties, potentially beneficial for joint health and certain inflammatory conditions and that would be great for almost anyone in the modern world as the toxins we are exposed to do cause inflammation.
  • Digestive support: Nettles have traditionally been used for digestive issues like constipation and stomach cramps. Due to the fermentation process there will be microbes in the drink that can be beneficial do the human microbiome. 

Keep in mind:

While nettle beer has potential health benefits, it’s good to remember that it is an alcoholic beverage. 

Enjoy exploring this historical beverage and its unique flavor profile! Remember, the brewing process might require some adjustments depending on your recipe and flavour preferences. So, have fun experimenting and find what works best for you.

Nettle

Nettle Beer

Diana
A recipe from historical English times for a healthy fermented drink
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 10 days
Course Drinks, Fermentation
Cuisine European
Servings 8

Equipment

  • 1 demijohn
  • 1 airlock

Ingredients
  

  • 1 kg nettle tops fresh
  • 4.5 litres water filtered
  • 1 packet ale yeast
  • 20 gram cream of tartar
  • 750 gram sugar sucanat, rapadura, jaggery or any other whole sugar

Extra flavour

  • 1 lemon, juice and zest

Instructions
 

  • Make sure you wear gloves while harvesting your nettles
  • Wash the tops well to make sure there are no bugs or dirt in them
  • Put the nettles into a pan with the water and simmer that for 15 minutes
  • Strain the nettles out of the water and put the nettles on your compost heap
  • Add lemon juice and zest
  • Add sugar and stir until dissolved
  • Add cream of tartar and stir until dissolved
  • Let the fluids cool down to a lukewarm temperature
  • Add the yeast and stir this in gently.
  • Move the fluids to a sterilised demijohn with an airlock
  • Let it ferment for about 5 to 7 days, by then the bubbling should have slowed down.
  • Bottle the beer and put it in cold storage for about 3 days to become bubbly.
  • Enjoy after that
Keyword Fermentation, Traditional

History:

People have been making nettle beer in England for a very long time, likely since before recorded history. Here is what I could find about it.

Prehistoric times: Archaeological evidence suggests people in Britain were using nettles for food and medicine as early as the Mesolithic period (8,000-4,000 BC). While brewing hasn’t been directly linked to this era, it’s certainly plausible that nettle ferments were part of their diet. This would have been a wild ferment and it would be really interesting to try to make a wild ferment like that and see how that tastes. 

Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods: Romans introduced hops to Britain around the 1st century AD, leading to the development of ale brewing. However, nettles likely remained a common ingredient in some brews, as evidenced by references to “stinging ale” in Anglo-Saxon texts.

Medieval period: Nettle beer is explicitly mentioned in several medieval English sources, including recipes and medical treatises. It was considered a healthy and refreshing drink, particularly in spring when nettles are young and tender.

Early Modern period: Nettle beer remained popular throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, although it gradually became less common as hops became more widely available and affordable.

19th and 20th centuries: Nettle beer became replaced by commercial beers which became readily available.

Interest in traditional and wild foods revived in the late 20th century, which has lead to a resurgence in nettle beer making. I wonder whether I would have been able to learn about this beer so easily had that not happened.  I am always grateful for revivals of foods and drinks of old. 

Today, nettle beer is still enjoyed by some in England, often seen as a novelty or artisanal drink. It’s also made by foragers and enthusiasts who appreciate its historical significance and unique flavour, which is how I learned about it. 

So, while pinpointing an exact time period for nettle beer in England is difficult, it’s safe to say its been present for centuries and remains a part of Britains brewing heritage.

As I’m Dutch I had to look up whether nettle beer was also made in The Netherlands and yes, it has pretty much the same historical time line as in England. It’s lovely to see that enthousiasts have also started brewing it again as a novelty or artisan drink.