Foraging in the Spring

Spring is upon us and the hedgerows and gardens are starting to burst forth with new shoots. An exciting time in any forager’s diary.

I am often asked which plant I would most recommend as an introduction to foraging. The answer is always nettles and Spring is the perfect time to pick this plant. Later as the season turns to summer and the plant goes to flower, the lower leaves develop a crystal which irritates both the Kidneys and the urinary tract.

On this point I should urgently point out, that one should always consult an expert before consuming any wild plants as there are some very dangerous species around, which can be fatal or extremely hazardous to your health. 

There is probably no other plant that excites me in the way the humble nettle does. Now, at the start of spring, these new shoots are at their best. It is with a big smile and a real sense of gratitude that I harvest the tips of the shoots. And once my foraging bag is full, I cannot help taking in the sweet aroma.

There is a real sweetness to them that is only revealed once the plant has been picked. The first thing I do when I get back home is pop the kettle on and throw a couple of nettle tops into a mug. Nettle tea has a crisp, earthy freshness to it.

Stinging nettles, Urtica dioica, are very difficult to mistake due to their ferocious stings and so make a great introduction into the world of foraging. Not only are they easy to identify, but they are incredibly nutritious and medicinal too. As an Acupuncturist and herbalist I would recommend nettle tea and nettle soup when the signs & symptoms are pointing in the direction of, thin hair, weak nails and dry skin. I am sure there are many ladies that recognise these symptoms.

Healthy super veg

Nettles are a potent source of minerals, amino acids and protein. They are high in calcium, vitamin C and a great source of iron. It’s like spinach or broccoli on steroids. If ever there was a super veg this would be it and it’s growing right on our doorsteps. No air miles involved in bringing this to you plate. Healthy and sustainable!

How to make nettle soup

Nettle Soup

Nettle Soup

So the best way to access this would be to make a simple tea infusion or even better to make a wonderful, tasty nettle soup.

Ingredients for nettle soup:

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 leek
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 1 handful of nettles
  • Smoked streaky bacon 

I start by sweating off the onion and leek in butter and a splash of olive oil. Once translucent and sweet I add the potatoes. These I prepare by washing and cutting into cubes. I don’t peel the potatoes as I feel there is too much flavour and goodness in the skin. I then add my chicken stock and additional water and bring the pot to the boil.

Once boiling I turn the heat down slightly and allow to simmer until the potatoes are cooked through. Then I add the nettles and simmer for a further 3-5 mins. I then take the pot off the heat source and blend the whole lot. Season with salt and pepper.

Whilst I am preparing the soup I fry some smoked streaky back bacon until crispy. I serve the soup with the bacon and garnish with Hairy bitter-cress. Cardimine hirsute.

Note: For any medical conditions, please consult a qualified health practitioner before administering any herbal remedies and always consult an expert when foraging. “Never munch on a hunch.”

By Andrew McFarlane,
Acupuncturist, Herbalist, Forager
Tel: 07841 209746

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