We had our first taste of spring nettles last night cooked into a simple nettle soup. I love nettles, they are so rich in nutrients and goodness, so versatile and so prolific. They are found everywhere, especially favouring wasteland,disturbed soil, and my own not so tidy garden. Around now they are at their best; the leaves are young and tender, a fresh vital green before the mature darker (and more stingy) leaves of the summer.
The kids would probably spurn spinach soup or any other green sludgy liquid but nettles hold a kind of magic to them, and they’ve happily slurped tasty nettle soup since being babies. Darcy is particularly proud of her trick of picking and folding nettle leaves in such a way that she can eat them as little raw non stinging parcels.
I encourage them to help me with the picking if possible and try to teach them that the resulting tingling can be an odd but not altogether unpleasant sensation. (Not always with success!) Native American Indians actively sought to get stung regularly as a way to beat arthritis, North pacific coastal tribes used the sensation to concentrate their minds in religious rituals, and medieval European monks whipped their bare backs with bundles of fresh nettles to strengthen their spiritual discipline. (R. Henderson) Ok so we are not going to such extremes with our picking, and we are not looking for enlightenment in our nettle soup, but I do like to look at that old phrase ‘ grasp the nettle’ at this time of year. Its a fairly good idiom on dealing with problems that crop up on lifes path. A quick google search brings up meanings such as:
“To act boldy especially when there are short-term adverse consequences” Wiki dictionary
to “take action immediately in order to deal with an unpleasant situation” -The phrase finder – as in I’ve been putting off tackling the problem for too long and I think it’s time to ‘grasp the nettle’.
The figurative advice to be bold and ‘grasp the nettle’ derives from the property of the plant to inject toxins into the skin of any unsuspecting person who brushes against its stiff, hollow hairs. If the plant is grasped firmly, especially if that is done in the direction the hairs are growing, the hairs tend to be pushed flat and avoid penetrating the skin, thus reducing the sting significantly. As we all know brushing past a stinging nettle can be a nasty burning shock and will usually result in sore raised bumps and tears. Purposefully picking the nettles for our soup is like bravely facing our problems.
I live up a little lane, in what could be an idyllic hamlet. Its not, its really not. The 8 houses here have always lacked a sense of community and a sense of kindness. Despite many years of trying the neighbours rarely talk to us. Now my ‘alternative’ lifestyle seems to have really aggrivated them though we make no impact on them whatsoever. It seems to be a ‘why should you get away with it’ attitude rather than as a consequnce of any of our specific actions. Tedious letters are bouncing too and fro to the council. (Its too dull to go into here, but if it gets any more interesting perhaps it’ll make the blog.) Last week, just as nature was springing forth with the fresh green promise of Spring, our neighbours opposite poisoned ‘their’ patch of lane! There is now a withered brown stretch of grass in the lane opposite their house; green grass literally stops in a straight line and turns to a sickly yellow. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so utterly weird. Can anyone explain why the grass in the middle of a lane needs to be poisoned? It might help me understand. They are like Roald Dahl’s Twits -nonsensical baddies. They’ll be putting glue on the branches next. I don’t really need to comment or reproach them about this odd poisoning, its just a symbol of how they are, but I do need to find a way to ‘grasp the nettle’ with them. I am not going to attempt to win any kind of moral battle, or to preach a live and let live message, I simply need to find a way of explaining to them that we’re not here for long. Could they just ‘tolerate’ us another 4 months…Friends and I regularly get stung as we brush past them (usually unnecessary parking complaints) so I must find a way to boldly stand on the doorstep and communicate. Ha! I’ll keep you posted and stop this tenuous nettle grasping right now!
Back to the real rather than metaphorical nettle. They really are a wonder weed with repute to be good for so many things, but especially for our blood. They are high in iron and vitamin C and, surprisingly, protein. I find nettle soup a real comfort to eat if feeling at all run down, a vegetarians ‘chicken soup for all ills’ equivalent. The medieval monastic diet relied heavily on nettle broth and tea and they were of stout good health. They also used nettles for making the cloth for their habits and for producing a liquid fertiliser for the gardens. I use nettles in tea and in omlettes, curries and pancakes just like spinach.
For my soup recipe see the link at the bottom of the page.
It’s so good. Perhaps I should offer the neighbours some. xx
“Tender-handed stroke a nettle, And it stings you, for your pains: Grasp it like a man of mettle, And it soft as silk remains.” Aaron Hill circa 1750