By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Programs Team Leader
This time of year, there are lots of wild plants that you can harvest and enjoy in recipes. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is one of them, and it is ripe for the picking right now. A favorite of a lot of people, especially in northern and eastern Europe, is stinging nettle soup. It is very easy to make and is highly nutritious with high amounts of vitamin A, C, D, iron, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
If you are going to harvest it in a wild area near where you live, there are a few things you should know. First, be sure that you know what it looks like. The leaves are egg-shaped, with a heart-shaped base, are coarsely-toothed, and are opposite one another on the stem. The stem and leaves are covered with stiff, bristly, stinging hairs. If you are in doubt, brush the plant on your wrist and see if it stings. Don’t worry, it isn’t too bad and it will go away fairly quickly.
If you are sure that you have found stinging nettle, snip off the tops of the plant and leaves that are not insect-eaten. Be sure to wear gloves! Also, make sure you are not snipping other plants growing among the nettle. You certainly don’t want to include bits of poison ivy or poison hemlock with your soup. Harvest stinging nettle before it flowers for a better-tasting and more nutritious meal.
Next, wash off the nettle in a colander. The soup is easy to make. You will need butter, 1 onion, a few garlic cloves, salt, a few potatoes, 6 cups of vegetable or chicken stock, about 1/2 pound of stinging nettles, pepper, and sour cream or plain yogurt.
In a soup pot, heat up a Tbsp. of butter and add the chopped onion and garlic and 1 tsp. of salt. Cook for about 3 minutes until the onions are tender. Next, add the chopped potatoes and stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the nettles, and cook for another 10 minutes until the nettles are very tender. The nettles will lose their stinging quality in the cooking process. Stir in another Tbsp. of butter and some pepper. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. Season with more salt and pepper if you wish. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt. Enjoy!
If you are interested in harvesting wild foods…or just eating them, there are two opportunities through the Delaware Nature Society you might enjoy. The Native Plant Sale is featuring many kinds of wild edible plants this year. The sale takes place April 29-May 2. Also, we are featuring a Wild Food Dinner at the Backburner Restaurant along with wild edible plant walks with Lee Peterson, author of the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern/Central North America on Tuesday, May 11.