There comes a time every year when I must choose between gardening and foraging/wild-crafting. It is really quite a dilemma… It appears that the last frost has now past. The winter’s compost is tilled into the garden, and the result is dirt that looks, well “dirtier” than ever. The starts are longing to set their roots down in something deeper than a four inch plastic pots and the seeds need to sprout in their permanent beds. But it has been two weeks since we last trimmed our secret nettle patch of its top growth and the forecast indicates a switch back to cold and dreary. And it will be perfect weather for creamy nettle soup. Can I do both?
Indeed. I am going to plant my tail off in the garden for the next two days so that I may gather some nettle on Saturday morning. I am an industrious little nut.
My husband and I have been visiting the same patch of stinging nettle in the woods near the river throughout the spring. We have developed the theory that if we trim the tops of this small nettle patch consistently, we will encourage new growth and slow the progression to flower and seed. So far, we have been greeted with bright new growth each time we return. While the other nettle now towers at and sometimes well above our heads, “our” little patch of the woods remains relatively tidy by comparison. We cut the top six to eight inches of growth, collecting the leaves only, and discarding the stem. An hour with a pair of scissors and a grocery bag, and we have enough nettle for another load in the dehydrator and a big pot of creamy nettle soup.
Before we start talking creamy nettle soup, let’s talk stinging nettle. There are very few foods (especially those of the plant kingdom) that put up a better fight than stinging nettle. Armed with these sharp silica barbs and laced with chemical defenses like formic acid, histamines, serotonin and acetylcholine, nettle delivers a seriously irritating, but altogether harmless sting with each slight brush of unprotected skin. PSA, nettle harvest time is a decidedly un-opportunistic day to wear leggings… You can, however, avoid most of nettle’s sting by folding the leaf from the topside (the barbs are situated along the stem and underside of leaves) as you harvest, or wearing sturdy gloves.
Nettles have a number of nutritive and medicinal qualities. I infuse 100 proof alcohol with nettle and bee pollen for an allergy support tincture intended for those dealing with environmental and seasonal allergies (you can find that in our Homespun Natural Wellness Etsy shop). For lack of a better term, nettle hijacks the histamine response and essentially downregulates hypersensitivity to irritants and pollutants. An antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antihistamine constituent called quercetin is largely responsible for this action. In addition to helping to address the discomforts of allergies, nettle is indicated both internally and EXTERNALLY for rheumatic and arthritic conditions. Yep, that’s right – rubbing the irritating hairs against sore and stiff joints is said to relieve pain and inflammation. Admittedly, this particular use is not for the tender and faint of heart… In addition to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antihistamine actions, nettle is also considered alterative, astringent, diuretic, hypoglycemic, hypotensive. Nettle can be dried and prepared as a tea/infusion or encapsulate, or tincture fresh.
Beyond the medicinal uses, stinging nettle is full of vital nutrition. Nettle is high in vitamins A, B complex, C, and K while also serves as a valuable source of potassium, silica, iron and calcium. Nettle is surprisingly easy to incorporate into the diet. I use it much in the way that I would spinach. Once heated or crushed the sting of the nettle vanishes, and you are left with a flavorful, edible green. Blanched, shocked and drained, nettle can be added to cheese fillings for pasta or calzones, or featured in creamy nettle soup. Nettle can be sautéed and served as a bitter green or prepared as a pesto. I am also interested in creating my own rennet for cheese making by simmering a pot of nettle to a concentrated extract. My friends at Gather and Cordial Wildcrafted Consumables even concoct the most exciting cupcakes from nettle (see recipe here)!!! Who said that nettle recipes have to be savory?!
While nettle is pretty safe to eat freely – and I do encourage you to prepare the creamy nettle soup as it converted even my HIGHLY skeptical family to the nettle side for good – please do your research before using medicinally. If you are hypotensive, in your first trimester of pregnancy or on prescription medications, you should consult a health provider before incorporating nettles into your regime.
Creamy Nettle Soup
- 2-3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 leeks sliced and soaked to remove any sand or dirt from rings
- 2 large russet potatoes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
- 4 cups packed nettle leaves blanched shocked and drain
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
- zest of one lemon
- juice of one lemon
- 2 cups heavy cream
- salt & pepper to taste
Mince garlic, set aside. Slice leeks, divide rings and soak in cold water to remove sand or dirt; drain. Peel and chop large russet potatoes. In a large stock pot, bring water to a boil and drop nettle in batches into water for 30 seconds, then transfer blanched nettle to ice water; drain.
In a large stockpot over medium heat, add butter, drained leeks and minced garlic. Saute until translucent, soft and fragrant.
Add stock and potatoes. Simmer until potatoes are tender.
Add nettle, nutmeg, lemon juice and zest, and return to a simmer.
Remove from heat. With an immersion blender (or use a blender in batches), puree soup until fairly smooth. Stir in heavy cream and salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle into serving bowls. Garnish with sour cream, creme fraiche or freshly grated aged cheese if desired.