A Recipe for Ancestral Connection
Oh the abundance of Spring! The bees are buzzin', gardens are beginning to fill with lush greenery, the first stone fruits are changing colors, and the forest is rich with wild edible foods. Foraging for edibles and medicinals is a seasonal practice for me; one that ebbs and flows with the turning of the wheel and reflects the nature of the season itself.
In Springtime I am outside nearly every day, inspired by the verdant greenery that seems to explode before my eyes with every blink. This practice of foraging and feasting is something that I have done all my life – a tradition passed on indirectly to me by my mother who used to go to the forests in Moldova, lay her belly down on the earthen floor to find secret treasures, and who always returned with buckets full of mushrooms and other delights. And I’m sure her mother did the same, and her mother before that, on and on through the ages.
I know very little about my ancestors long gone from this Earth, besides the basics of where they may have resided for some spans of time. One thing I know for certain though is that when I eat some foods I feel such a sense of deep resonance...like I have eaten this meal countless times in many eras. As if it is part of the makeup of my very bones. The first spring Nettles are one of these foods for me. As I taste them in my evening stew, I know that these prickly greens once nourished my ancestors long ago. Eating them becomes an experience of communion. Though history has erased many of the memories of my people, their whispers echo in the land, magical fairytales, herbs and foods that have survived the spiral dance of time.
A note on Nettles
Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) grow in temperate regions throughout the world. You can find them in sunny areas along lakes and streams, at the edge of forests, gardens, barnyards, and creeping through abandoned land. Nettles have been used as food, medicine, and fiber for thousands of years – pretty much anywhere people have settled, Nettles have put down roots there too.
Like the name suggests, nettles are known for their sting and should be handled with care. The stinging sensation we experience when touching nettle's hairs without a barrier is caused by formic acid and histamine in the tiny hairs along the stem and leaves. But when the plant is dried, cooked, or left to wilt, the sting completely disappears. The sting of a Nettle is not the worst pain you will experience and can easily be soothed with a bit of chewed Plantain leaf. This sting alerts us of Nettles energetic medicine as a plant that helps us respect the boundaries of the Earth, so often trodden on, teaching us to always be wary, always be in reverence.
Whenever I stumble upon a patch of Nettles in the forest and in our garden, my heart immediately fills with joy. I feel a sense of exhilaration, perhaps because of the potential of feeling its intense sting? Like danger is near, but wow, I’m excited about it. A true nutritional powerhouse, Nettles are full of vitamins A, C, E, and K, riboflavin, thiamine, and minerals (calcium, chromium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, silica, iron, zinc), protein, formic acid and histamine, and chlorophyll.
Since they are essentially a food, they can be enjoyed every day (and they should be!) by most people. This herbal ally is incredibly nourishing, especially for the blood, supports the body through its alterative action, makes for a wonderful pick-me-up on a low-energy day, and can support us during allergy season. There is so much more to our friend Nettle – this truly is a short and sweet overview of some of its properties.
I enjoy the benefits of nettles in three different ways: as a daily infusion, in foods, and in tincture form. Nettles may also be applied externally to help alleviate some types of pain. How interesting is it that for some the medicine is in the sting itself?!
If you’re not looking for an intense sensory experience, the best way to enjoy Nettles are though long-steep herbal infusions with up to 1 ounce of herb per quart of water, left to brew for 4+ hours. Now, I'm not going to lie to you, this isn't like drinking a cup of lemon balm tea. Because of its rich mineral content, Nettle infusions have a very mineral-y taste and a strong tea like this one takes some getting used to. I tend to add other herbs to improve the flavor but since I've been finding nettles in abundance at the local market, I've decided to cook with it in savory ways to enjoy the benefits in a more consumable way. After all, what good is an herbal medicine if we struggle to commit to taking it regularly?
Spring Stinging Nettle Soup
I’ve been making this recipe every week during springtime for years and I know I’ll never tire of it. It’s truly incredible, full of nutrients, and reminds of the feeling of sitting up at my babushka’s kitchen table in the late afternoon sun for a bowl of soup followed by dried fruit and Russian candies.
This recipe is AIP compliant and super easy to modify. Feel free to make substitutions if necessary. Don't have spring onions? Use a leek. Vegan? Use veggie broth instead of bone broth. Not AIP and want a creamier take? Use a large potato instead of parsnips. Add a dollop of sour cream. Make it your own!
1-2 Cloves of Garlic
Spring Onion (not green onions y'all)
1 quart of Homemade Bone Broth (can sub this which vegetable broth)
A few big handfuls of fresh Stinging Nettles
Juice of a Whole Lemon
1/2 cup of Chopped Parsley
1 Bay Leaf
Salt & Pepper to taste
Chives (for garnish)
In a medium sized pot heat 1 tbsp of olive oil, add chopped garlic and onionss and cook for about 5-7 minutes while stirring frequently.
Next add chopped parsnips, parsley, turmeric, the bay leaf, and your choice of liquid. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer and cover for about 15 minutes until the parsnips soften.
As the soup is cooking, begin prepping your Nettles. For starters, put on some gloves – don’t skip this step! Carefully pick the nettle leaves from the stems and wash them thoroughly. Once the parsnips are soft add nettles to the pot and cook for 2 more minutes.
Remove from the heat. Fish out your bay leaf and add lemon juice and salt + pepper to taste. Add soup contents to your blender or use an immersion blender and blend until smooth.
Serve garnished with freshly chopped chives.
This recipe makes about four servings and can be kept in the fridge for a few days. It is definitely best served fresh. After sitting in the fridge it will begin to lose its verdant green color. It will, however, not lose its impeccable flavor.
If you enjoyed this recipe, let us know in the comments below! And if you are a lover of Nettles, share your stories and recipes here too. I would love to hear about your connection to this dear ally.
May we all eat nourishing green things this season!
With love and no nettle stings,