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Spring is the season of rebirth, and yellowbell flowers are a colorful sign of a new year’s growth. While these flowers warm my heart, I have been on the look out for something entirely different — stinging nettles (Urtica dioica). Their stinging hairs of histamine are a nuisance for hikers and animals alike. Nettles have a long history as a food source for humans — they are rich in iron and vitamins, and can contain 10 times as much protein as spinach. Nettles also have medicinal value, and have been used to treat ailments from dandruff to rheumatism. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stinging_nettle).

stinging nettles

Stinging Nettles by Jeff Clarke

In my native Sweden, we relish the soup of nettles as a spring delicacy. In the US, nettle soup on a menu draws suspicious looks. The first nettles to emerge on the ranch grow up the creek in Partridge Alley, and last week I went armed with a plastic bag and gloves. The plants were two inches high already, so I carefully picked their tender leaves. A quick rinse and a hearty boil removed the stinging chemicals.

This soup is easy, nutritious, and quick to make. Saute onions and garlic in butter until golden, then add an equal amount of white wine and nettle water and simmer for 5-10 minutes. A little seafood bullion enhances the already rich and slightly marine flavor of the nettles. Add the nettles to the broth and blend until smooth, finishing off with the addition of some anise-infused cream.

For myself and many Swedes, spring begins with a bowl of nettle soup. Enjoy the riches of the land, and a Happy New Growing Year to all locavores!

About the Author

Ylva Lekberg

Ylva graduated from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences with a M.Sc. in Biology and Horticulture in 1996 and a Ph.D. in Ecology from Penn State University in 2004. She received the Alumni Association Dissertation Award for her work in agroecology and subsistence farming in Sub-Saharan Africa. Post-doctoral positions at Montana State University and later at Copenhagen University as a Marie Curie Fellow have allowed her to explore the role of mycorrhiza, a root-fungus symbiosis, for geothermal plants in Yellowstone National Park and coastal grasslands in Denmark. Her research has been published in journals such as Ecology, Journal of Ecology and New Phytologist.

Ylva currently works at MPG Ranch as a soil ecologist. She explores the role of mycorrhiza in the success of exotic plants and examines the use of specific pathogens to combat invasions. In her spare time Ylva mountain-bikes, plays soccer, and maintains a large vegetable garden.