There may still be rude interruptions from showers while I’m preparing my veg beds, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that spring has indeed sprung. And while the songbirds are merrily chirping in the early mornings and the lambs are gambolling across the fields, much to our household’s delight, the nettle tops are just about high enough to be cropped for soup.
My family used to be horrified at the thought of nettle soup, but years and a bit of foraging education later, we now love our first foray of the year for wild food. Nettle soup is perhaps the simplest way to eat these highly nutritious herbs but you can also add them into quiche mixes and even make them into pesto. And of course, if you are starting to feel the tight, swollen joints of arthritis making themselves known, drying your nettles and drinking a cup of nettle infusion twice a day will go a long way to sorting out those symptoms for you. Not only that, but as nettle contains an antihistamine component, it will help to deal with any early hayfever symptoms you may be noticing as the season gets underway.
Nettles have lived alongside human dwellings since before we have records and in Scotland, they were used to make rope, linen, and even paper.
Here’s my favourite recipe for nettle soup and you can watch me make it as part of our BBC Scotland online series from a few years ago here.
Only pick the top two or three leaves from the nettles – these will give the best flavour and are unlikely to be tough like the leaves further down the stems. Strip the leaves from the stems and blanche quickly in hot water and then plunge into cold – this disables the sting. Chop two onions and saute them in butter. Add the nettles to the pan and cook for a few minutes before adding 2 litres of stock. Cook for 10 minutes before blending. Add a little single cream before serving for an extra treat.
This delicious, vibrant soup is packed with vitamins and minerals, and in times before refrigeration would have been one of our first tastes of fresh greens after the long winter. Nettles help to support the body’s own detoxification processes and makes sure you are topped up with key nutrients like iron and vitamin C.
Learning to pick nettles is a great way to get kids outside and learn about plants. So grab your basket, some gloves, and snips, and go explore!