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Nettle Soup

I was recently stung by les orties (or stinging nettles in English) while picking blackberries in the countryside. Ouch! Not only did it hurts like hell, I was rewarded with beautiful hives and I scratched myself like a monkey - as if the blackberries' thorns were not enough. This smart little plant hides itself among the blackberries for those unsuspecting souls like me to get stung. It's virtually everywhere in the French countryside and when we take a walk in the wild fields, we have to be extra careful and on the look out for it especially during summer - sleeveless and in shorts.

Stinging nettles are abundantly found in the countryside in northern Europe, much of Asia and in parts of North Africa and North America. The defensive hairs (the needles) on the stinging nettle are very sharp. Once they penetrated the skin, they break and injected a harmless toxin - a stinging burn sensation and itches afterwards. And much to my surprise, I learned from Patrick (my father-in-law) that this irritating plant (pun intended) can be made into delicious soup - apparently it is a favourite soup of his mother. Nettle soup is even supposed to be a good source of nutrients for people who lack meat or fruit in their diets.

Surprisingly this nasty nettle have also many other uses.:-) From what I could find out:

  • It is used by many different cultures as herbal medicine
  • It's stems is a popular raw material used in small-scale papermaking
  • Nettle fibre has been used in textiles but it is more experimental than mass-market
  • It is also used as a dye-stuff in the medieval period

What about those stinging hairs? you might ask. Well, it seems that cooking, crushing or chopping disables it. The stinging nettles are high in nutrients: calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, silica, iodine, silicon, sodium, and sulfur. They are also a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and B complex vitamins. Not bad for a weed! It is best to pick the first leaves of spring but it also can be picked during summer.

Here's my first entry for Weekend Herb Blogging #98 hosted by Kalyn.

Soup d'ortie Nettle soup
Soup d'ortie - Nettle Soup

(Patrick's recipe)

  • Freshly picked young nettle tips - a large amount of it (only the young leaves and before they flowers)
  • Butter or olive oil
  • 1 onion (oughly chopped, optional)
  • a few bacon (optional, just for flavours)
  • water
  • 1 or 2 potato (cut into pieces)
  • sour cream (crème fraïche)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Gather the young nettle tips with a pair of gloves (for example your garden or latex gloves) to avoid its stings.
  2. Wash them with your gloves on. They can still sting you.
  3. Fry the onion and the bacon with a bit of olive oil or butter for a few minutes then stir in the nettles (no need to chop or remove stalks) until they soften. Add a little bit of water to the pot if it is too dry to avoid it from burning.
  4. Add in the potatoes.
  5. Pour in the water, stir it and let it cook until the potatoes are soft.
  6. Season it with salt and pepper.
  7. Use a hand mixer or blender, blend it completely. Add a bit of sour cream and give it a final stir.
  8. Serve it hot.

There is no verdict this time as I didn't make the soup but according to Patrick, this is a very nutritious soup that costs you almost nothing as you can pick it for free from the nature.

In terms of taste, the nettles has a very raw green taste (a taste quite near to that of a French bean). Patrick compares it to the taste between spinach and sorrel. He made a pot for his mom during our vacation in Brittany, unfortunately I didn't think of checking it out just for the taste of it.:-(

Avoid gathering the nettles growing by the road side (polluted by traffic) or by a frequented walk path (might be polluted by humans or their pets). You should pick the tops of young plants only and not flowering.

Some soup recipes cook the nettles with spinach, carrots or celery and stock instead of water. Others chop it up and eat it like salad or cook it in quiche or in gratin. The fresh or dried leaves of nettle can be used to make a tea and commercial tea bags are commonly sold in natural food stores.

According to Michèle, if you get stung you can apply vinegar on the affected area and it will calm down the reactions.

#1, by Kalyn (08/30/2007)

Very interesting! I've heard of eating nettles, but haven't tasted them. I do like sorrel though, so if it's anything like that I bet it would make delicious soup.

#2, by Truffle (08/30/2007)

What a fascinating post. Incredibly interesting and informative and a wonderful contribution to weekend herb blogging. I loved reading this.

#3, by Kelly Mahoney (08/30/2007)

I'm not sure if we have anything like that -- in the desert we have La Cholla, which we also call the jumping cactus. If you're unfortunate enough to brush up against it, it shoots out barbs at you. And they sink in deep,too. But there is absolutely no culinary use for La Cholla.

#4, by Andy (08/30/2007)

oh my.. I have had a lot of bad experiences with nettles as a kid out having fun in the woods. I just can't imagine eating them.:-)

#5, by eastmeetswestkitchen (08/30/2007)

I haven't seen this plant/herb before, and the soup sounds interesting. Great revenge to the stinging les orties!:-) Poor Cooking Ninja! Have you recovered from the hives yet?

#6, by tigerfish (08/30/2007)

I was pricked by the berries thorns too while picking them earlier this summer. I wonder if these nettles were there - I may have overlooked them. So did you pick berries or nettles? :P

#7, by Lori (08/30/2007)

I had a cheese recently that was made with stinging nettles in it and it was delicious. For some reason it didn't sting at all!

#8, by Katie (08/30/2007)

I have heard you can use nettles to make an organic pesticide for the potager. I know they are good for soup...maybe someday I'll get the nerve to try it. The thought of picking them makes me cringe. They just make me itch sooooo badly. And, yes, my bramble berries are full of them, too!

#9, by Judy (08/30/2007)

Over here, they have nettle eating competition. There is a trick of how to handle the nettle without being stung.:-)

No nettle soup for me, thank you.

#10, by IronEaters (08/31/2007)

hmm..interesting. hope da itchiness has gone down =) Never heard of this plant and didn't know they can be eaten. but I have heard that we can eat/cook any types of leaves as long as they are not poisonous. have u tried "nasi kerabu" before? I tried "wiki" it but no much info. its a v popular dish in Malaysia where the rice is either cooked with a type of blue flower *n hence the color of the rice is blue* or with herbs *heard tt u could use up to 100 types of leaves/herbs* and thus the rice will be green. This delicacy is influenced by Thai cuisine. If u have chance, u must try it! its healthy n v v v nice. haha.. =P i think i have started myself another topic.. neway, thanks for the info =)


#11, by Wandering Chopsticks (08/31/2007)

I've been stung before too and it itched like crazy! Oh I wish you had a photo of the soup and tasted it so you could describe it. I've heard of it before but haven't actually seen what it looks like. There's a fairy tail where 12 brothers were turned into swans so their sister had to weave 12 sweaters out of stinging nettles to change them back. I always think of that fairy tail whenever nettles comes up.:-)

#12, by johanna (08/31/2007)

stinging nettles do wonders for your blood and also are a popular diuretic and therefore used extensively for detoxing and weight-loss ... especially in its tea form. doesn't taste too bad, either, but i bet your soup is a much better way of shedding the pounds;-)

#13, by lynn (08/31/2007)

I've heard of stinging nettles as herbal remedies, but hadn't ever heard of culinary uses. I'm not brave enough to try to pick and eat them! Good picture of the nettles - useful if one wanted to try the soup.

#14, by Cynthia (08/31/2007)

I saw some of this soup on Charlotte's - A great big veg challenge blog too.

As kids when we would fidget, my mom would say: "do you have stining nettles?"

#15, by Sylvia (08/31/2007)

Very interesting post.I never seen before this herb ,but after your post I been curiously

#16, by Coffee & Vanilla (09/03/2007)

Wow, I did not know you can eat nettle, I have rather bad memories with this plant. I remember one holidays when I was a child, we were preparing them for ducks to eat and I burned my hands... I was 5 or 6 years old. But it looks very interesting:-)

#17, by Silvana Franco (09/04/2007)

Hi. I've linked this as our recipe of the week. Hope you don't mind!

#18, by The Cooking Ninja (09/04/2007)

@Kalyn: I didn't even know it is edible till Patrick told me so.:-)

@Andy: Michèle has the same reaction as you when I asked if she has ever tasted it.:-p

@eastmeetswestkitchen: yes but the effects lasted a long time.:-(

@tigerfish: we picked blackberries:-) But sometimes it is very challenging to pick them when the nettles are growing everywhere around them.

@Lori: What an interesting cheese. Wish I could have a taste of it.

@Judy: Yes, I read that if you pick them quickly, it squashed the needles and your palm is made of tougher skin so it won't sting. I didn't dare to try it out.

@IronEaters: Yes I just read about it the other day. Have never seen that plant before.

@Wandering chopsticks: I will make the soup next spring and write about it on my blog. I'm so tempted to try it out but summer is almost over so I'll wait for spring.

@Johanna: If only I knew of this benefit earlier.

@Coffee&Vanilla: The same thing happened to my better half when he was a wee little boy. His mom was carrying him on her shoulder walking in the woods when she lost a footing and fell. Unfortunately for him, he fell right into the nettle bush. ouch!

@Silvana Franco: Not at all:-)

#19, by Olivier (09/07/2007)

La soupe d'ortie, cela me rappelle ma jeunesse en Dordogne. Delicieux, et à la fin on faisait Chabrot. (Faire Chabrot: c'est à dire après avoir déguster la soupe, rajouter dans le fond de l'assiette un verre de vin rouge et le boire directement à l'assiette même.)

The soup of nettle, that points out my youth in the Dordogne to me. Delicious, and at the end one made Chabrot. (To make Chabrot: after having to taste soup, to add in the content of the plate red wine glass and drinking directly with the plate even.)

#20, by Karin (09/08/2007)

My mother used to make nettle soup only in spring. She picked the tiny nettle heads with a pair of scissors. This soup tasted like spinach soup.

I have another terrible memory of nettles. We had a large and angry rooster at home, when I was a child. Once I got chased by the rooster and fell into a large bunch of stinging nettles. That caused me much pain, but it was my own fault. I started the chasing.

#21, by wokandspoon (09/17/2007)

I've never tried nettle soup but I've had nettle juice before and it just tasted sweet from all the sugar in it!

#22, by Kate (05/14/2008)

I just had some nettle soup at our local bakery. It was Potato Sorrel Nettle. It was amazing. The best soup I have ever had in my life. I wanted to lick the bowl. The soup tasted like artichoke hearts. Very delicious.

#23, by Natalie&Paul (07/30/2008)

Me and my boyfriend have just been out and started picking nettles for a nettle home made beer... Just put the yeast in and now its starting to smell great!!! Cant wait to make nettle soup!!!!

#24, by Frank (04/10/2009)

I've just followed this easy recipeto make the soup with a stock includung potatoes and carrots. The first taste is slghtly sweet but that turns to a more bitter after taste. Very pleasant.

#25, by Tony Luckhurst (06/12/2009)

I have just consumed a delicious nettle soup from a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe.


I am a bit concerned that I needed to rush to the bathroom an hour later, especially since I am serving it to about twenty guests next week so would be interested if this is a side effect.

#26, by The Cooking Ninja (06/13/2009)

@Tony Luckhurst: My in laws confirmed that there is no side effect. This soup is much like spinach soup. That said, like all food, each individual reacts differently to it.

#27, by Tom (04/13/2011)

Sour cream isn't creme fraiche!

#28, by The Cooking Ninja (08/01/2011)

@Tom: No, sour cream isn't creme fraiche. But we use it as an alternative since in France, we use creme fraiche in our cooking instead of sour cream.

#29, by Anna (04/12/2012)

I made some the nettles in my garden. It's got a bit of a required taste and it doesn't appeal to me. I tasted it and it made me gag, I don't like spinach either though.

#30, by Anna (04/12/2012)

It doesn't look very pleasant either. It's dark green. However once you've put the put the cream in it looks a bit better.