Nettle Soup – Good “Green Gloop”

Carol Pope discovers the fountain of youth, a.k.a. Good “Green Gloop." Find her easy-peasy recipe for turning prickly stinging nettles into a highly nutritious soup.

Credit: Carol Pope

A couple decades ago, weeding my first backyard garden, I wrapped my fingers tightly around one small green invader and gave it a good yank. This was my first introduction to stinging nettle and I have never forgotten the ensuing several hours of severe pinpricking pain. (As my memory of this incident is so old, I considered grabbing hold of it again to better describe the sensation to you, but then decided maybe not…)

A bare-handed gardener who distains wearing gloves, I am wary to this day of anything nettle-like. My strategy in the past has been to uproot it with my garden trowel and then grab the little devil by its roots, throwing it upside-down into the compost bin.

So why did I stop to purchase a large bag of nettles recently at the Sechelt Saturday-morning farmers market?

Nettles Over the years, the sting has gone out of nettle for me (metaphorically at least) as I’ve become increasingly impressed by stories of the amazing properties of this resilient and giving herb, reputed to be both nourishing for the body and biodynamic in the garden—boosting the growth of its fellow plant neighbours. In fact, I have now ordered seeds and will be growing my own patch of these marvels this fall (admittedly in a far-flung corner of my garden where no innocent passersby will be zapped).

Good Green Gloop

Back to the large bag of nettles purchased from an obliging organic farmer who told me they were the ultimate spring tonic. I promptly rinsed the leaves and pulled them off their stems (using protective rubber gloves), then steamed them for 10 minutes (the recommended time to remove the sting from the histamine-filled prickles) and set about to make a simple soup. To up the nutritional value, I also tossed in another purchase from this same farmer: a large bag of dandelion leaves.

Naturally, my children were less than impressed as they watched me toss “weeds” into a large pot of what they described as “green gloop.” Various efforts such as eating several steamed leaves in front of them and declaring them delicious—“just like spinach”—did not succeed in winning them over.

For my soup, I picked the simplest recipe I could find on the web and adapted it to my available ingredients, which included a couple pounds of potatoes, a pound of nettles and half that of dandelion leaves, about 14 cups of vegetable stock (boiled from leftover kale and parsley stems from the garden) and some butter, salt and pepper to taste—all of which were slowly simmered and finally pureed in the blender.

Despite my ravings about the nutritional value of this culinary marvel, I have yet to actually serve any to my three reluctant teenagers or my also-hesitant husband. Which left me, the ultimate waste-hater, with the task of eating the entire good-sized gallon of it. (I don’t believe in making small recipes—why turn on the oven for one cake when you can bake six at the same time?)

The first few helpings were a lovely thick soup, but over time, I found I was ingesting what might more accurately be described as a vat of green mashed potatoes. Any thought about this being a reasonable meal from a calorie perspective also went out the window when I discovered that a nice big glob of sour cream on top made this the ultimate comfort food.

As hearty and tasty as it was, 11 bowls later and I think a least a couple pounds heavier, I felt that I had had my fill for awhile of nettle soup. Happily, it freezes well and is now stacked and ready to go, as I have pointed out to each one of my kids, in frozen school-lunch-sized servings for whoever needs a fast and filling meal on the run.

Nettle Notes & Niceties

Fellow GardenWise blogger Carolyn Herriot is a nettle fan and will be sharing soon her favourite way to save it for winter. In the meantime, she cautions that we should not let this one go to seed in the garden, as the seeds blow everywhere and can germinate a very unpleasant surprise for anyone pulling up plants in the garden (as I learned long ago.)

Nettles have a long history of being used for “urtification.” Read more on this in this article by Bruce Burnett, GardenWise herb expert and author of HerbWise: growing cooking wellbeing.

Herb-hero Susun Weed has documented that because of her frequent handling of this plant, it no longer stings her. This rings true with another nettle lover—my own aunt, Violet Bruntlett. A great gatherer of herbs, both from the wild and from her own garden, she is in the habit of tossing a handful of their dried green goodness every night into her bath. Since adding nettle to this mixture, she has become sting-resistant.

Nettle is a good source of minerals and vitamin C, as is confirmed by Jekka McVicar in Jekka’s Complete Herb Book.

Nettle germinates easily in the garden in spring or early fall and is hardy to zone 3.

And just a few final farewell words of warning

  • Eat only well-cooked nettle – uncooked plants can cause kidney damage.
  • Nettle has a diuretic effect so use with some caution. 
  • Pregnant and lactating women should avoid it.