Stinging nettles provide us with a wealth of nutrition. March / April is the perfect time of year for picking nettles (wearing appropriate protective equipment!). Everyone has memories of being stung by pesky nettles, well now it is time to grow to love and appreciate them!
You need to pick stinging nettles before they start to flower, so in the UK I would look at picking in March / April.
Nettles are rich in vitamins and minerals. They contain both fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and also significant amounts of water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B9). This richness in nutrients gives the nettle valuable nutritional and also pharmacological properties. Trace elements and vitamins strengthen the immune system and allow the body to better resist bacterial and viral infections. The simultaneous presence in nettle of vitamins B1, C, E, iron, zinc, selenium and manganese contributes to its anti-oxidant qualities. Nettle has also a remineralizing action, thanks to the presence of calcium, potassium, silicon and iron. It would be beneficial in osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. The high potassium content is another indicator of the protective power of nettle leaves against cardiovascular disease. The iron content and also the presence of vitamin C, which increases the bioavailability of iron makes that nettle is indicated for the treatment of anaemia. Additionally, the magnesium intake it provides reduces the incidence of all forms of stress while zinc has an anti-inflammatory action. Another asset of the nettle is chlorophyll. The nettles leaves contain a significant amount of chlorophyll. This chlorophyll promotes cleansing and detoxification, it cleanses the digestive system and fights bloating and bad breath. In addition, chlorophyll promotes regeneration of cells and activates wounds healing.
Tips for foraging
Wear protective clothing. Long trousers, closed shoes, long sleeves and a good thick pair of gardening gloves
Be mindful of where you pick your stinging nettles. You don't want the ones right next to the pavement where dog walkers go! Go a bit off road in the forest if you can.
Pick at the right time of year (March / April) before the nettles start to flower.
Pick from the top third of the plant.
Preparation of the nettles ready for cooking
Wash the nettles thoroughly in the sink whilst wearing rubber gloves for protection against the sting
Pick the leaves to keep and discard the stalks.
Blanch the leaves by simmering in boiling salted water for 5 mins, then strain and dip in iced water to preserve colour and cool down. The leaves are now safe to handle because this process has removed the sting.
Drain the excess water from the leaves. You can now cover and store the blanched leaves in the fridge until you are ready to use them. Ideally make the soup the same day, or the day after. Or you can freeze the prepared leaves until you are ready to use them.
Nettle and lentil soup ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 sticks of celery
Approximately 1/2 litre chicken stock (you can use vegetable stock if you want to keep the dish vegetarian)
1 bag of stinging nettles prepared as above (I filled one shopping bag when collecting)
Fennel seeds (ground)
1 cup of cooked lentils
Saute the onions in olive oil for 2 mins
Add the chopped carrots and celery and gently saute for another two minutes
Add the chicken stock and nettles and seasoning then simmer the soup for 5 - 10 mins
The seasoning I used was approximately 1/4 teaspoon each of salt, pepper, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and sweet paprika.
After simmering taste and adjust for seasoning adding more if it is required.
Blend the soup into a puree, then add the cooked lentils at the end, heating through for one minute.
Serve the soup with bread of your choice. I had mine with a nice gluten free sourdough.