Nettle Soup Recipe
If there’s one wild plant many would recognise it has to be the nettle, also known as stinging nettle, burn nettle, or botanically as Urtica dioica. With its soft green leaves and tiny stinging hairs that break off and release acid into the skin, nettles are difficult to avoid in gardens and the countryside.
I’ve never forgotten my first nettle rash having fallen in a patch aged around 6 years old while I was playing in a nearby field; the searing pain! I didn’t think it would stop until Mum rubbed a dock leaf together in the palm of her hand, releasing juice that soothed my tormented skin. It didn’t occur to me that I’d be eating stinging nettle soup years later, made from the serrated, tender, young leaves of the nettle plant.
With records dating back to the bronze age, nettles have been used in the textile and culinary worlds, as well as medicinally thanks to the plant’s powerful therapeutic applications. Back in pre-pharmaceutical days when herbs and plants were used to treat ailments, stinging nettles were used for internal haemorrhaging, as a diuretic, for jaundice, a laxative and dermatological problems including eczema. They were also used in the cloth and paper making industries up to the 12th century, and cultivated in Scandinavia and Scotland.
If you have nettles in your garden, be sure to leave a patch for the wildlife too. They provide habitats for butterflies and moths, particularly when the plants are flowering, as well as insect eating mammals such as hedgehogs, frogs and toads.
These days when I’m working with groups, I often extol the virtues of homemade fertilisers and provide a nettle tea recipe. During these sessions, older people have regaled us with childhood memories of their mammies using nettles as tonics during the early springtime, washing their family’s hair with nettle rinses or conjuring up various nettle recipes to cleanse ‘their insides’ after long, damp winters.
According to 1600’s herbalist Nicholas Culpeper “…the decoction of the leaves… or the seed… kills the worms in children, eases pain in the sides and dissolves the windiness in the spleen. The juice of the leaves, or the doctation of them, or of the root, is singularly good to wash either old, rotten, or stinking sores or fistulas and gangrenes, and such as fretting, eating or corroding, scabs, mangeness, and itch in any part of the body, as also green wounds, by washing them therewith, or applying the green herb bruised thereunto, yea, although the flesh were separated from the bones…” apparently they can be hung up to dissuade fleas from entering the home too. It might be an idea to seek an herbalist or GP rather then self-treating at home if you’ve a fistula that needs treating.
Unable to share any medicinal recipes for nettles, I can share a culinary one that we often cook at home. It’s practically free to produce so great for large crowds, contains various amounts of Vitamins A and C, as well as mineral salts including calcium, potassium, silicon, iron, manganese and sulphur.
Nettle Soup Recipe
The trickiest part of this recipe is collecting the nettles before they flower. From my experience, this is when they are at their stingiest, but that’s easily solved with a pair of long cuffed heavy duty or rubber gloves. If you’re collecting them from the wild, be careful to avoid any that might have been sprayed with herbicides and don’t use nettles that are flowering. According to Rachel Lambert, at that stage they produce microscopic rods of calcium carbonate that can interfere with kidney function.
Once picked and plunged into the hot stock, nettles lose their sting and the subsequent nettle soup only takes half an hour to prepare and cook. This lower fat recipe, where the original cream and butter have been swapped, has been inspired by our trusty New Covent Garden Food Co Book of Soups. It will provide enough nettle soup for six hungry mouths; simply double up for an inexpensive meal for a crowd.
25g (1oz) Sunflower oil
A finely chopped onion
400g (14oz) finely chopped and peeled potatoes
450g (1lb) freshly picked, young nettle tops
1 litre (1¾) vegetable stock
*1 tablespoon (19g) cornflower mixed with 120ml milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
*The full fat version uses butter instead of olive oil and double cream instead of the cornflower mix. A vegan alternative is to mix soy milk with olive oil. Simply combine 159ml soy milk with 79ml olive oil to make 237ml.
- Cook garlic and onions gently in a covered pan without colouring.
- Add the potatoes and nettles to the pan and cook for another two minutes or so.
- Add the stock to the mix, pop on the lid, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Allow to cool for a short while then puree using a hand held mixer or a liquidizer.
- Return the liquidised soup to the saucepan, add the cornflour and milk mix and season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
- Reheat gently.
- Extra: we sometimes add dry roasted sunflower seeds to soups for an extra bite, or serve with a tasty bread like this variation of an irish soda bread.
Do you have any nettle tips, stories or recipes to share?