Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Wild nettles are a gift that comes up in our garden in the spring. For the last couple of years, we’ve had a large patch of them growing in the shade out behind our chicken coop, and popping up in other places too, in garden beds and even flower pots.
While they are still young, we harvest them for soup (pick them before they begin to flower, as there may be compounds in the flowers that are harmful to us). You need to wear gloves, as the nettles have little stingers on the leaves that hurt like the dickens. I fell in a thicket of nettles once as a kid and I did not soon forget it. The pain is rather like a bee sting, though it wears off in less than an hour.
Bring a clipper, and cut off the first four inches, top-down, and put them in your basket. Back in the kitchen, weigh out the amount you need, then soak them in water a few minutes. Drain. Toss the whole stems and leaves in the soup, no need to separate them.
Nettles will reward you with a fantastic dark green color, and they are very nutritious – high in Vitamin A, and minerals such as calcium, and are high in anti-oxidants. You will probably not see them in a supermarket, but farmer’s markets carry them in the spring.
Italians like to make a puree of wild nettles to stuff inside raviolis!
If you can’t find nettles, you could substitute spinach.
1 ½ Tbs. olive oil
1 ½ Tbs. ghee
1 large leek, sliced
2 small yellow potatoes, halved and sliced
4 oz. fresh nettle tops and stems (optional: substitute spinach)
2 c. fresh spinach leaves
2 small zucchini
6 c. chicken or beef broth
Salt, white pepper, and grated nutmeg, to taste
In a heavy 5 qt. stock pot, heat oil and ghee over low heat. Add leek, and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Add nettles, spinach, and zucchini, and lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes and zucchini are tender. The greens will be very soft and well-cooked.
Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth. Reheat slightly, stirring; add salt, ground white pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg, to taste. Serve hot.