Nettle and wild garlic soup

There’s nothing like getting free food; even better when getting that freebie involves a walk outside in the fresh spring air. Foraging for seasonal goodies gives you just that – but you do need to know what you’re looking for, as there’s no labels on leaves!

I love the idea of going out and picking freshly foraged food, but also rather hesitant as I’m not sure what I’m looking for. I even went on a foraging course a couple of years and learnt loads, but never followed it up so forgot it all! So I tried again, and spent a fabulous few hours in the company of fellow foraging enthusiasts organised through The School of the Wild and guided by the super-knowledgable and passionate Alice Bettany, a herbalist practicing in East Sussex.

We wandered around an area at Stanmer Park and learnt about the benefits of plants which are generally viewed as weeds like dandelion, daisy and cleavers (sticky willies!), then learnt how to make nettle sauerkraut, medicinal balms and even made our own tonic.

I left fired up and enthusiastic, and more than a little sunburnt! As soon as I was home, I grabbed a bag and a pair of gardening gloves to protect my hands and disappeared off into my local countryside, literally two minutes away from my house. I’d been thinking about making nettle and wild garlic soup for ages – now was the time to do it!

New nettle growth is everywhere at the moment, so they’re not hard to find! I disappeared off the beaten track a bit to avoid potential dog pee and car pollution problems and found loads of lovely new patches sprouting up, just collecting the tip and top leaves as these are the freshest and easiest to digest. Nettles have some amazing nutritional properties: Alice had explained they were full of iron, so really good for anaemia or even if you’re a bit run down. They also have lots of vitamin C, so not only a great anti-oxidant by will help get the iron absorbed into the body – a great partnership! Despite the inflammatory reaction we get from the tiny hairs on the nettle stems (their natural protection against foragers!), nettles are really good at reducing hay fever and can help reduce joint pain in a similar way to NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen) but without the side effects. Pretty good for a weed!

If you want to know more about the marvellous properties of nettles, here are two good article to have a look at https://draxe.com/stinging-nettle/ or https://morningchores.com/stinging-nettle-benefits/

I had discovered a patch of wild garlic after my previous foraging session, and despite some initial difficulty eventually found it again. As it’s getting popular with chefs, these patches are being coveted in some areas! Wild garlic has long shapely leaves with noticeable lines going through it. When you rub or break the leaf, it smells just like garlic. It has beautiful little white flowers growing proud in the centre of the patch – these are really what tell me where the wild garlic is! They too can be eaten and have a strong, pungent flavour. Patches are often found by streams and running water in the shade. Be careful though and don’t get the leaves confused with something called Lords and Ladies; poisonous if eaten and can give you a very nasty allergic reaction. So if you’re not sure, don’t pick it!

Wild garlic can be a super healthy addition to your diet whilst it’s in season (Spring). It’s an antibacterial and has lots of vitamins A and C along with an array of minerals and phytonutrients. It’s particularly good at reducing blood pressure, so if you already have a really low blood pressure, be careful how much you consume!

This is super easy and surprisingly tasty, and so vibrantly green and packed full of wonderful nutrients, it makes you feel better just looking at it! Seasoning is definitely needed, so make sure you taste as you go along to get the best flavour for you. If you can’t find any wild garlic, just make it with nettles, it will still taste fabulous and give you a seasonal spring in your step!

Nettle and wild garlic soup

1 large onion diced
2 smallish medium potatoes, diced
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
4 handfuls of fresh nettle leaves
2 handfuls of fresh wild garlic leaves
750ml water
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Flaxseed oil, toasted pumpkin seeds, wild garlic flowers (optional garnish)

Heat a little oil or water in the bottom of a medium sized saucepan and sauté the onion and potato until they start to soften. Add the chopped garlic and sauté for another minute. Pour in enough water to cover the veggies, bring to the boil then pop on the lid and reduce the heat for 10 minutes or so until the potato is partially cooked. Add the fresh nettles (don’t forget to have rubber gloves on!) and the wild garlic leaves and enough water to cover. Pop the lid back on and simmer for another 10-15 minutes until everything is cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

Leave to cool slightly, then puree with a stick blender. Add the lemon juice and serve garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds, wild garlic flowers and flaxseed oil (if you so wish). Enjoy the fresh, green goodness.

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