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Tender-handed stroke a nettle, And it stings you for your pains; Grasp it like a man of mettle, And it soft as silk remains.

From a verse by Aaron Hill, an 18th century writer.

One day, a while back, my old school friend Ben posted a picture on Facebook of the Nettle Soup he’d made for lunch. While not usually a fan of the ‘look what I’m about to eat’ variety of Facebook post, Ben’s made my taste buds perk up. The soup was incredibly green and delicious-looking, made from something that is readily and freely available, and extremely good for you.

The nettles used in Ben’s recipe are of the species Urtica dioica – usually called common nettle or stinging nettle. It’s the sting that puts a lot of folks off, understandably, but from experience, it really only lasts a few seconds. Spring is when nettles start appearing in gardens with alacrity and this is also the time nettles are at their best – sweet and tender, and ‘soft as silk’.

Ben would probably disagree with the last part of that sentence. “Wear gloves to pick the nettles,” he says. “That fabled saying, ‘Hold the nettle with all your might and it will not bite’, as told to me by my late grandfather, is bullshit.” (I’ll wager that saying finds its origins in Aaron Hill’s verse quoted above.) And you should wear gloves when you wash them as well; in fact, always wear gloves when handling nettles. But the moment nettles meet the heat, no matter how you’re cooking them, they lose their sting.

Nettles

Ben’s Nettle Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  • 150 – 200g nettles (use only the fresh, tender tips)
  • 30 – 35g of butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 – 2 leeks, sliced
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 litre vegetable (or chicken) stock (homemade is best)
  • Salt & pepper
  • Plain yoghurt or cream, to serve

Instructions

Cook off the onion, leeks, garlic and celery in the butter. Add the chicken or vegetable stock. Blanch the nettles quite quickly in the soup, to preserve the wonderful colour and delicious nutty flavour, then blitz it with a hand blender or in a food processor. I had some leftover mashed potato, so I whizzed it in. Spicy is also good, so add chillies or hot sauce to taste. A dollop of natural yoghurt or cream on top is a winner, as is serving the soup with some crunchy bread.

My advice is, don’t over-complicate it, and don’t invite any of the other plebs who commented on my post around for dinner, as they don’t deserve to experience this life-changing taste experience. [Editor’s note: As I was the only person who didn’t take the piss out of Ben and his Nettle Soup, I got to share the recipe. Kindness is its own reward.]

Ben's Nettle Soup

Ben’s Nettle Soup

Nettles are rich in iron and vitamin C; they’re as good for you as broccoli or spinach, and can be cooked in a number of ways – in a frittata or gnocchi, for example. Nettles are also good for your garden, and should be greatly valued, not only for their potential as a food source, but as a rich addition to your compost.

Nettle photos taken at CERES.

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