Irish spring foraging makes good-for-you cooking

Stinging Nettle

Spring finally has the sun splitting the sky here in Ireland. The winter aconite was very much later this year, as were the wild primroses and my planted daffodils. Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day the weather turned discernibly softer during the days, although the nights can still leave a ground frost.

What really alerted me to how late spring was this year was the non-appearance of the stinging nettles. The upside of stinging nettles is that they are a harbinger of good soil fertility. The downside is that they are rampant and will choke the life out of any vegetables you plant.

Another point on the plus side for stinging nettle is that it is very good for you.  Folk medicine claims it is a ‘blood purifier’ (whatever that benefit really means). However, it is nature’s first green and leafy vegetable of spring. When people were dependent on living completely off their land, the larder was fairly empty by February of anything but root vegetables, and maybe a few cabbages or Brussels sprouts might be left in the vegetable patch if the weather had been clement. The vitamins and minerals in stinging nettle were probably really what benefited folk more than any reputation for blood purification.

In very mild winters the stinging nettles will appear by late January.
They are only just emerging now.

Given the lateness I am casting my beady eye on the wild garlic that grows in a glen less than ten miles from us.

Stinging nettle and wild garlic are a very agreeable medley for a springtime soup. Nettles have joined the ranks of the ‘detox’ herbs so this soup is a nod and wink at the detox trend.

Harvest the young tops of the stinging nettle. To ‘grasp the nettle’
you need thick rubber or leather gloves because they do sting. A brush with the nettles will give you a good case of urtica or nettle rash.

You need a good supply for soup. Treat it as you would spinach. Wash the leaves and remove from the stems unless the stems are very tender indeed.

Nettle & Wild Garlic Soup: A Spring Detox Meal

In your soup kettle put a knob of butter or oil (if you really want to go the detox route). Sauté a couple of onions and a few ribs of celery if you have some on hand.

White Stock Pots from Lehmans
White Stock Pots from Lehman's

Add the washed nettles and a good handful of wild garlic. Watch them wilt down. Add three medium potatoes chopped into bite-sized pieces.
Season with salt, pepper and a teaspoon of grated nutmeg.  Now add a litre and a half (about 6 1/3 cups) of vegetable stock. Simmer for about forty-five minutes.

All soups taste better if you leave them for a day.

You now have two choices. You may blend the soup to a puree and add soy cream to the soup.  This would be the more detox route.

Or, you could add cream, and stuff the detox routine!

Bon appetit!

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