Wild Vegetable Rennet

“Blessed be the cheese makers, for they shall inherit the earth!”
Life of Brian.

Want to make your own cottage cheese or cream cheese?

Although you can’t forage milk, without upsetting your local farmer, you can stick to your foraging principles by making wild rennet. What is rennet? Rennet is the liquid you add to milk to ‘ret’ it – simply put it triggers the process of separating the curds (lumps) from the whey (liquid).

You can make rennet from quite a few wild plants. It is slower acting that shop-bought rennet and usually needs to be left overnight to curdle the milk. The best plants are nettle, sorrel and thistle. In Cornwall, they make a cheese called yarg, which traditionally was set with nettle rennet and wrapped in nettle leaves to mature. All thistles in the Compositae family will work, e.g. purple thistles (especially the giant ones), globe artichoke and cardoons. Other plants to try for wild rennet include fumitory, unripe fig sap, or yellow (Lady’s) bedstraw.

Sorrel rennet

Sorrel is what I usually use as I can always find a lot of it at most times of the year and you can use any of the varieties. I run the sorrel leaves through my hand juicer and add 5 teaspoons of sorrel juice per litre of milk. Leave it overnight in a warm place for it to curdle. Then strain it through a muslin cloth or nylon bag until it stops dripping. Keep the whey for cooking. Take the curds and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then pot, and put in the fridge. Add chopped chives, or finely chopped wild garlic leaves, for a seasonal twist.

You can also make a simple sour cream by adding a teaspoon of finely chopped sorrel leaves to a cup of milk.


Be careful not to add too much sorrel rennet. Too much can make the cheese too acidic or cause indigestion. Experiment in small batches until you find the strength you like.

Cardoon rennet

Cardoons contain an enzyme called cynarase which will set fresh sheep’s milk in about an hour. The stamens – bright purple threads – are gathered in Spring and dried. A warm tea (never too hot for the enzymes) is made by adding a small amount of warm water to the thistle stamens and pulverising in a food processor. As it mushes up add a little more warm water to keep it moving. Strain off the resulting brown liquid to use as the rennet. Cardoon sheep’s cheeses have an exquisite flavour and creaminess.

No food processor?

Pulverise your dried cardoon or thistle stamens in a pestle and mortar. Keep in an airtight tin. To make rennet, put 6 heaped spoons of powdered thistle back into the pestle and mortar, and add just enough warm water to cover it. Then repeat the following two steps, 5 times over: Soak for 5 minutes, pound for 5 minutes more adding a little more warm water after each pounding. At the end of this, you will get a dark brown liquid – the rennet. Strain it off and add it to the milk. This amount should turn about 5 litres of milk.

Artichoke seed rennet

The above method works with the stamens and/or the seeds of artichokes, especially if you can get the seeds when they are still white and immature. However I have also had success with old seed. Remove the seeds and pound them with a little water until you have a brown liquid. Use a teaspoonful to a litre of warmed goat or sheep milk. Keep in a warm place or use an insulated flask for a couple of hours until the curds have split.

Quick thistle rennet

Pick a bunch of thistle flowers when they’ve finished blooming and gone brown but before they produce thistledown. Tie the stalks together and hang them, head down, in a warm place to dry. Don’t cut the stems off! When dry, hang the bunch into your milk and leave it until the milk separates.

This thistle has run to down. Pick them before the down appears.

Nettle rennet

Salted nettle rennet will make a semi-hard cheese like feta or gouda.
Brandnetel GroteMethod: Nettles are always best used young before they go to seed. Fill a large saucepan 3/4 full of nettles (Urtica dioica) and just cover with water. The volumes should be about 1:1 (So for 1 kilo of nettles you need about 1 litre of water.) Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes, then add 1 heaped tablespoon of salt and stir to dissolve. Strain off the nettles and keep the liquid – your nettle rennet – in a jam jar until you are ready to use it.
Use around 60-100 ml for 1 litre of warm milk, 130-150 ml for 2 litres, 190-200 ml for 3 litres and 250ml for 4 litres. However, remember that the strength of your rennet can vary and the efficacy will also depend on the thickness and fat content of the milk. You will have to experiment!
You can also put a large handful of chopped fresh or a small handful of dried nettle into a muslin bag and infuse it in warm milk. Keep the milk just below body temperature 35 C (95 F) until the milk rets. This is a slower process.
In Cornwall, they make a cheese called yarg, which is wrapped in nettle leaves to mature. If you want to try wrapping your cheese, freeze the nettle leaves first to avoid the stings!

2017 update: I recently read an Open Access paper using nettle leaves to make the cheese. Their method is as follows:

2 litres of whole cow’s milk in a sterilized plastic container with 20 grams of Urtica dioica leaves covered with plastic film, stored in controlled temperature conditions (37C for 24 hours).
After this period of time, the nettle leaves were removed leaving the curd in a strainer lined with a cheese cloth. The curd was strained for 24 hours at 4C.
The cheese was placed in 6 molds of 100 g each. It was lined with a cheese cloth, and a weight of 300 g. was placed on top of the cheese molds as the whey drained out.
The cheeses rested for 24 hours at 4C in a gastronorm grid on top of another gastronorm pan. Every 4 hours, the cheeses were turned over in the same mold and this helped to make the cheese uniform in both texture and shape.
Brine: 2.5 litres whey, 10% (250 g) salt and 0.2% (5 g) of calcium chloride, boiled and chilled at 10C. Cheeses were soaked in the brine for 1 hour and stored at 4C with 75–80% relative humidity.
The brine enhances the flavor of the cheese and acts as a preservative by suppressing the growth of undesirable bacteria and fungus.
Blanched nettle leaves were used to cover the cheeses to enhance their flavor and improve the esthetics.

Fiol, C., Prado, D., Mora, M. & Alava, J.I. (2016). Nettle cheese: Using nettle leaves (Urtica dioica) to coagulate milk in the fresh cheese making process. International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science, 4, 19-24. Open access. The full paper is published here.

Lady’s Bedstraw (Curdwort) rennet

Cheese made with Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum) rennet has a lovely yellow colour and is the texture of marscapone.
This was once the yellow of Cheshire cheese although nowadays they dye it with annatto. For Cheshire cheese it was mixed with calf rennet for a harder texture. It is a slow setting rennet and can take 12 hours. It varies!
Galium verumMethod 1: Chop and lightly bruise your Lady’s Bedstraw stalks and leaves with a rolling pin, then infuse in warm milk (just below body temperature 35 C (95 F) until the milk curdles. A handful should curdle a litre. It is easiest to put the plant parts in a mesh bag and stir it around occassionally rather than trying to strain off the plant with the whey.
Method 2: Chop and bruise your Lady’s Bedstraw stalks. Put in a saucepan and just cover with water. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain. Try using around 125 ml for 1 litre of warm milk.

Fig sap rennet

Fig sap is a milky white latex. It will set warmed goat or sheep milk. Take a small twig off the end of a fig tree. When you strip the leaves off the sap will start to drip out. Drip in the sap (even just 5 or 6 drops into a litre of warm milk is usually enough) and use the twig to stir it in. Leave aside, covered, for a hour in a warm place until the curds have separated from the whey. Don’t put too much fig sap in as it can make the cheese a little bitter.

(Cheat’s tip: If you have a disaster with vegetable rennet and a batch doesn’t curdle, you can always add a little apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to rescue it!)
If you want a particular cheese recipe just DM me on Twitter @monicawilde

PS According to the ancient Greeks, mint prevents milk from curdling even if you’ve put rennet into it!


  1. Thankyou so very much for this information. People like you give others the courage to step out and do more for themselves rather than relying on the poisons from grocery stores. Yay!!! And again “Thankyou” so much for providing this information. You are truly blessed.

  2. Thank you for sharing all this. I tried my first nettle experiment. It didnt produce mozzarela as intended but instead I got very nice creamy soft cheese that I can spread on bread. Lovely. I will try all the rest natural rennet now.

    • Thank’s for letting me know how you got on. Keep experimenting with different quantities. You may find nettles work stronger in the spring when they are at their juiciest! Do let me know if you work out some fab recipes! Best wishes. Mo.

  3. warrenjamesanderson

    Youshould be able to make it from soya milk a comment fromwarren james anderson

    • Not sure if soya milk has the same enzymes as animal milk. Will look into it. Curdled soy milk is tofu, so it will react with some sort of “rennet”.

      • tofu is coagulated at much higher temperatures (with nigari or magnesium sulphate for example). rennet has no effect on soy proteins. i sometimes wonder if a low temperature setting agent might exist for soy and indeed that is what brought me here. unfortunately to coagulate soy you need to bring it to a tempertature which kills any cultures – much like like paneer or queso fresco. maybe i’ll find something someday. can i buy dried thistle flowers anywhere?

        • For dried thistle flowers you could try a herbalist but most will mainly stock milk thistle seed and blessed thistle seed. Alternatively a florist?

  4. Any luck with using ground ivy, mallow or yarrow yet? I’m a permaculture designer, so I’m always looking for additional functions for plants. The nettle experiments are great news. While I’m not experienced in making cheeses, I’d like to pass on any good information regarding cheese-making with as many vegetable rennet sources as I can find. Thanks.

    • Hi Phil. I haven’t had time yet to experiment with them. Was living in a caravan for 2 1/2 years with limited space! Now I’ve moved into the house we’ve built, there’ll be a lot more food experimentation 🙂

    • Io ho provato con le ortiche ma. Non ha funzionato!
      a volte uso latte di fico ma rende amaro il formaggio,per questo preferisco il caglio di vitello!
      Davide dall italia.

      • Spiacenti l’esperimento con ortica non ha funzionato. Caglio vegetale è più mite rispetto caglio di vitello, ma non si può scegliere un vitello da una siepe! 🙂

  5. Thanks for posting… I’d never heard of veggie rennet other than lemon juice and vinegar. Think I’ll try it out with wood sorrel.

    • Gently with the sorrel as it can make it a bit acidic if too much is used. I’ve not tried wood sorrel only common sorrel before. Thistle is by far the best.

    • Possibly. Try it out by grinding but in a pestle and mortar with a little warm water (like with my instructions for the thistle seed). Do let me know if it works out!

      The history of the bedstraws with cheese goes back quite a way. The genus name Galium is derived from gala, the Greek word for milk. Goosegrass (Galium aparine) was said to be used to sieve curds and whey – it’s ability to stick to itself making it a perfect primitive sieve for Greek shepherds. One of the common names is ‘milk sweet’. Apparently all the Galiums can be used for rennet to some degree.

      Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) flowers were the most popular for natural rennet and to colour cheeses such as Double Gloucester.

    • You need to learn about them. Study the flower arrangement, the leaves, and all the details about them. The easiest way is to go on a course. See http://www.foragers-association.org for a teacher near you. Alternatively learn to read keys and buy some good reference books. I always tell my students that if you can tell the difference between a cabbage and a lettuce you have the mental power!

  6. Hi Monica! I am in the middle of trying to make feta cheese using raw cows milk and a nettle rennet, so far it is not working! Making another stronger brew of nettle rennet right now to see if I can bring some curds on…please let me know if you have any thoughts. I want something to come of this fine milk!! 🙂 Thank you, Holly

  7. loulourella

    Hi Monica, I’m collecting spear thistle for rennet and am a bit stuck on the quantities you described. When you say to pulverise the “thistle heads”, are you talking about the stamens only, or the whole flower? Then what sort of heaped spoon do you mean – table or tea? Thanks so much for this post!

    • The white undeveloped seeds at the base of the dying purple petals is the part I use. I use about a dessertspoon, make a liquid, then add the liquid a teaspoon at a time. Too many variables to be accurate!

  8. I bought (open-pollinated) seeds to start patches of these plants for future use. I saw the question about freezing rennet & my advisors say you should be using up your rennet in less than an hour. Still, I need to ask: what if I am making cheese in winter? I live near D.C. in the USA and if you have heard of Snowmageddon, that was us. Do I put my plants in pots and bring them indoors to have fresh? Or can I dry and reconstitute them? I ask because my “cheese closet” really is a closet and making cheese in the cool of the year is safer than in our hot humid summers. Thanks

    • Hi. You didn’t mention which plant seeds you have? I dry immature thistle, artichoke and cardoon seeds and just make rennet from the dried seeds when I need it.

  9. Thanks .. commercial rennet is expensive for my home trials making cheese, so i’m going to try the nettle method 🙂

  10. Demetrios

    Hello Monica,

    Can you advise me on what natural rennet i shall use in order to produce cheeses like brie and/or camembert?

    Thank you in advance for your time.


    • Most of the natural rennets work best with sheep and goats milk. Sheep’s milk gives you a higher yield with 20% solids and 7% fat (goat’s is 13% and 4%, cow’s 12% and 3% respectively) with smaller, more easily digested fat molecules than goat or cow. The amount or rennet will vary according to when in the lactation cycle the milk was taken. Milk from ewes in early lactation coagulates much faster than the milk from late lactation, so less rennet is needed in early milk and more in later milk. I like using thistle seed rennet the best. As it’s too early to collect your own thistle seed now (April) you could buy milk thistle seed or holy (blessed) thistle seed from a herbalist. As the best rennet comes from immature seed you’ll need to use more rennet if using mature seed. If you have a good thistle rennet then 1/2 to 1 tsp is all you need for 4 litres of milk. Add the mesophilic starter and the penicillin candidum then heat it 70C for 5 minutes and leave it off the heat to set for an hour or two (longer than a calf rennet and cows milk). Cut it into cubes and then ladle them into 3 medium sized Brie wheel moulds. Etc. Age for 30-60 days. Some people have successfully used thistle rennet and cows milk but it make a more bitter cheese.

      • Demetrios

        Hello Monica,

        Thank you for your reply. By the way, i always thought that goat’s milk (which i have read to be the second most appropriate animal milk for people to drink after donkey’s ofcourse) is more appropriate instead of sheep’s or cow’s, and in fact i was planning to use it to produce my brie and camembert cheeses, despite the fact that original French brie and camembert were produced from cow’s milk. But you wright that sheep’s milk would be a more ideal option. Can you elaborate?


        • As I mentioned in the previous comment, you get a higher yield from sheeps milk. But by all means use goats milk. It’s often easier to source.

          • Demetrios

            Thank you Monica. If anything else arises i will let you know, because i have never done this and i am experimenting. By the way, i wrote “wright” instead of “write” by mistake in my previous message, forgive me.

          • Demetrios

            Another question arose. Can i use old brie and camembert cheeses to produce new cheeses, instead of having to buy again and again new cultures? I am asking this question in the spirit of self sufficiency.

  11. Thank you for this info, I have sheep sorrel in my garden I shall try some sour cream with my goat milk (waiting patiently, she’s 4 days over due!) This year I am also growing ashwagandha as a medicinal herb. The berries are touted as being a vegetable rennet. Ashwagandha grows wild in some parts of the world but not north of the 49th parallel where I am trying it as an annual.

  12. Have you tried yarrow yet? It’s something that grows abundantly near my home. Can you at least tell me what part of the plant to use?

    • No I don’t use yarrow. I know other websites list it as a plant rennet but I wonder if they have actually tried using it or are just copying and pasting information. This is because, in my experience, it doesn’t work as a rennet like the other herbs that I’ve written about. If you want to try it, the leaves and flowering tops would be the parts used. Let me know if you have any success (and at what temperature). Thanks.

  13. I just made my second batch of “farmers cheese” using juice from boiled rowan/mountain ash(Sorbus aucuparia) as the coagulant. The ascorbic acid as well sorbic acid work rather well. I used raw cow milk and it came out rather like halloumi. I’m experimenting with uncommon acids in plants, next I’ll use sumac(Rhus typhina) which has malic acid, as well as a few others. And regarding the sorrel, Oxalis or Rumex, I assume it’s the oxalic acid that’s the working agent, if not I’d love to know more. Just found this site, exited to read more.

  14. Sue Bayliss

    Hello, I,m not having any success so far with nettle. I,m using full fat pasteurised milk heated to 37 degrees centigrade, and have tried using nettle rennet made from a pound of nettle leaves and about litre of water. Am I missing something? Do you have to keep the milk at 37’ overnight or can it be allowed to cool down once you’ve added the nettle juice?
    I’m desperate to get this right! I belong to a Viking re enactment group and would love to be able to use nettle cheese at our shows. Thank you so much!

    • I’m assuming you’ve boiled the nettle for around 30 minutes – adding a little salt helps draw it out. After it’s added to the milk you need to keep the whole lot warm (like making yoghurt) for a few hours/overnight. Some of my thistle cheeses don’t even start to set for several hours depending on the age of the plant I guess! In general I use goat milk with plant rennets. You could also try putting the nettles through a wheatgrass juicer so the juice is stronger and then simmering it in the milk. That’s worked for me before with goat milk.

      • Monica thank you so much for replying. I left the whole pan of milk and nettle juice out in the kitchen at about 18 degrees when I went out for the day, on my return the magic had happened! I was ridiculously happy. I tied it all up in a muslin and left it to drip. Mixing the soft cheese with fresh wild garlic, salt and pepper made a really good spread. Mysteriously I seem to have the same volume of whey as I had original milk, that really is magical….

  15. Aaron Kapenga

    Could I dry lady’s bedstraw to make cheese in the spring with goats milk?

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