I made nettle vinegar last spring. It was supposed to be nettle beer, but I left it too long before bottling, and ended up with vinegar instead.
Harvesting nettles directly from the compost heap keeps the nutrient cycle very small
Nettle beer, by the way, is well worth the effort: It's a similar sort of drink to ginger beer - that is, not beer at all - but it is alcoholic, at least the way I make it. It can also get fizzy enough to spray the contents of the bottle all over everywhere when you try to open it, but I digress. What I had last year was nettle vineger. It was exceedingly good vinegar, but who wants a gallon of vinegar?
Even though I couldn't imagine what I'd use it all for, I couldn't bear to throw it out, so I bottled it all up anyway. Note: Naturally fermented, live vinegar will continue to ferment back to water if it has access to oxygen, so I filled the bottles as full as possible, leaving the minimum of air in with my vinegar.
Fast forward a few months and I'm perusing a book I'd heard recommended many times and recently purchased: Menopausal Years - The Wise Woman Way. Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90, by Susun S Weed.* Susun offers advice on the use of wild herbs, and particularly enthuses about nettles: "Nettle is my dearest ally. She does it all: keeps my bones strong, my heart healthy, and my menopausal journey on a smooth road. There is no better herb for restoring kidney and adrenal functioning."
I chopped the leaves with scissors after putting them in the jar, both to increase the flow of nutrients into the vinegar, and to fit more leaves in the jar.
This reinforced what I already knew, that nettles are a highly nutritious vegetable. I'm very glad to add them to my diet when the appear in spring**. However, Susun also recommends infusing nettles in vinegar, as this is a good way to extract minerals and make them more digestible. Wait - I have nettle vinegar! Wouldn't that be the ideal way to get a double dose of nutrients? I'll infuse fresh nettle leaves in nettle vinegar. This is simply a matter of filling a jar with leaves and pouring vinegar over the top, then leaving for six weeks.
The way to use this is to drink it diluted in plenty of water. Similar to a squeeze of lemon juice, a splash of vinegar makes a glass of water into a pleasant and slightly more interesting drink. I enjoy this with food, whereas I'm not so keen on a sweet soft drink with a savoury meal.
So that's what I'm going to do with all that nettle vinegar; I'll infuse more nettles into it and use in place of cordial for a drink with meals. When life hands you nettles... OK, I'd still recommend making nettle beer, but if you end up with vinegar, all is not lost.
*A key word in this rather lengthy title is "Alternative"; whilst the whole approach offers an alternative to the default treatment with HRT, she also offers a range of alternatives within the book. I don't reckon much to homeopathy, so I skip those bits, but can still learn a great deal from other suggestions. There's a mixture of poetry, ritual, and herbalism as well as information about conventional drug treatments and surgeries. If the following appeals to you, I would strongly recommend this book: "Great granddaughter, it is time to prepare for your journey. I am Grandmother Growth... I bring you the ancient women's mystery stories. Take the time to listen to me. Slow down. Take time off so you can hear the old, old memories beginning to chant in your bones, drum in your heart, pulse in your veins, transform your energy." (The book is not entirely written in the voice of Grandmother Growth, she gets interludes interspersed throughout).
**It's not recommended to harvest nettles later in the year, after they've flowered, as they develop crystals, which are irritant, particularly in the urethra.