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A simple soup of spinach sautéed in butter, with milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg, served with a hard boiled egg (the yolk thickens the soup when it gets chopped and mixed in).

My preferred version is made from tender, about 6 inch tall stinging nettles, is more nutritious (higher iron and vitamin C content), and a fairly common example of cheap country fair during hard times.

One serving of spinach soup, with the egg, is about 220 calories. My portion size is huge, though, since I'm trying to eat less carbohydrates, so the portion pictured is probably more in the vein of 450 calories.

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Comment by Jennifer on February 22, 2013 at 3:06pm

YUM. When you make it with nettles, do you grow or forage them? Or do you have a good local source?

Comment by Penny V. on February 22, 2013 at 5:49pm

Jennifer; Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are one of my favorite plants. I wrote a little more at length about its uses in a comment on a blog post just yesterday, that I suspect inspired me to make the soup for dinner.

Nettles are one of the most versatile plants I know of! They can be dehydrated and used for teas, hair rinses, added to bread dough… the fibers in older, mature plants are strong, and can be woven into fabric that was considered so luxurious in medieval times, that there were laws in some European countries, banning peasants from making and wearing nettle fabrics.

I can’t find the link right now, but there are blogs out there with “urban foraging” in their keywords, who specialize in densely populated area foraging. If you’re curious, you might even be able to find a group in your area.

My references list uses for leaves and seeds in stews, pancakes (green pancakes sound icky, but are really good), bread and soups, and can be used for making juice, tea, tinctures, hair rinse, nettle syrup, mead and ale. Dried nettle powder can be sprinkled into foods like any other herbs. You can add nettles to water for an oral rinse, mix with shampoo, use in poultices and topical treatments for arthritic joint pain. Nettles are also said to have an allergy relieving effect, as well as a generally strengthening effect on the immune system, just to mention a few uses. It’s been used in a comprehensive list of medicinal uses, too, and historically, stinging nettles (devil’s leaf) have been used to ward off evil and break spells. In some places, witches were burned with a shirt made out of stinging nettles on her, to ward off any last ditch spells she might attempt to rescue herself with.

Okay, I need to stop geeking out about my favorite plant! :D

Just don’t pick nettles next to compost bins or animal pens/shelters, as the nitrogen rich soil will create nitrates within the plant. And if you have kidney or heart issues, or diabetes, it may be wise to consult with a doctor before trying nettles in excess for medicinal purposes. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t claim I’m an expert.

To answer your question, I don't grow my own nettles, they're easy enough to forage, just don't pick near compost bins or animal pens/shelters, as the plants absorb nitrogen from the soil and build up excess nitrates. Most nettles could be called a perennial plant, so if you have a patch in your garden that isn't bothering you, you can leave it there for easy harvesting. If I were more inclined to spin my own yarns and weave fabrics, nettle fibres have a long history of use for those kind of applications. There are people who make a living in Finland crafting nettle products.

For a little trivia, nettles are the first herb I remember my grandmother teaching me to use. I was picking them by age 3, asking her to make soup out of them. :)

Comment by Jennifer on February 25, 2013 at 10:24am

Penny: Thanks for the good info! There was a cafe in my old neighborhood that made a delicious nettle pasta, but it's been ages now since I've had it, and I've never foraged for them myself. Thanks to your encouragement, I'm feeling pretty committed to trying it once we lose some of this snow and things start greening up. (Which should happen. Some day.)

Comment by Penny V. on February 25, 2013 at 3:38pm

Jennifer, was the nettle pasta a pasta in nettle sauce, or a pasta with nettles in the dough? I'm getting ideas here. :D

Comment by Jennifer on February 25, 2013 at 3:43pm

Hi, Penny: I think the nettles were usually tossed with the pasta a la other fresh herbs—not in the dough itself and not even really a sauce. Here's a photo of the dish that I found on Twitter (although I should mention that this cafe changed its menu daily, so this was just one variation on the pasta-with-nettles theme): http://twitpic.com/4cl1p7

Comment by Penny V. on February 25, 2013 at 4:28pm

Jennifer, what I was thinking of, is that if I manage to collect a couple of jarfuls of dried nettles this spring (we're already getting green shoots and flower buds in sunny spots around Seattle), I just might add roughly chopped dried nettles to the flour, if I get into making pasta dough, even throughout the winter. Sort of like the green spinach pasta I love.

Comment by Jennifer on February 25, 2013 at 4:49pm

I love this idea so much that you should start watching for me on your doorstep now, even if you're not planning on making nettle pasta until next winter. I'll come hungry and I'll stay hungry. (Only kidding. Mostly.)

Comment by Penny V. on February 25, 2013 at 5:23pm

Well,  once I have that farm we dream of, I might set up a bed and breakfast type of business, which will make feeding spontaneous guests easier. ;)

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