Nettles for soup… and textiles! 🌿🥣🧶

“Nettles are the fibre of the landless. Whenever other fibres were available, it appears they were usually utilised first, with nettles being left for times of scarcity, landlessness and poverty. However, this is not to diminish the quality of the fibre that can be extracted from nettles. It has been called ‘the Silk of the North’ and once fully processed is astonishingly soft, silky and strong.” – Nettles for Textiles

I recently started reading a little about the history of herbal apothecary and survivalism, which led me to learning about wonderful properties and utility of the common stinging nettle as not only a rich source of nutrition, but also as a source of strong plant fibre for use in textiles. As I love to crochet, I thought that perhaps I could challenge myself to crochet something from yarn that I have sourced myself. I strongly recommend Nettles for Textiles as a brilliant resource for any beginner.

The beautiful weather we’ve been having recently has provided the perfect opportunity to indulge in taking in the forest air while on the hunt for nettles. I enlisted the help of my brother, and of course, our little cat couldn’t help but to get involved as well!

We went for mostly the tall nettles, which were then stripped (the soft and clean nettle leaves were kept and used to make the soup), and then bashed a little between rocks. I attempted to scrape the nettles with a pair of scissors, but I didn’t really get what I was doing. I think, because it was my first time, I didn’t know what I was supposed to keep and what I was trying to get rid. I stopped after some time, with most of the nettles still intact (other than being bashed!), and left in the garage for a couple of weeks.

Most of the nettle stems were quite dry after being left in the garage for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t sure if I was doing it ‘correctly’ but decided to strip the ribbons of fibre away from the bark or woody inside. I should have kept the bark, because from this one can make paper, but that’s a project for next time.

I then combed the dried out ribbons using a carder (as you can see, you can’t do this without a nearby cat getting involved!), and a lot of the remaining bark and dried woody bits stuck to the fibres did fall away. I don’t think I did anything wrong at all. After reading and watching a lot of the resources on the Nettles for Textiles website, I think that the process of extracting fibres from nettles is extremely varied and is something to be explored.

Having said that, I am struggling to get rid of all of the harsh bits off of the fibres, and the fibres do feel like some kind of fine straw. I wonder if there is a way to soften the fibres before spinning, if this is done after spinning, or if spinning will soften them up. I’ll make sure I read about this, if possible, before spinning!

There’s something very therapeutic, grounding, and satisfying in extracting plant fibres from what is often considered a weed, as well as putting it to nutritional use, too. It can be quite painstaking and time-consuming, but the process demands your time and attention. It’s a useful meditative exercise; I find that our average day in modern society can often be quite demanding in terms how you make use of your time in the most efficient manner (i.e., the mass production of items, constant clock watching for meetings, labour/time bookings, commuting to and from work, appointments, etc.), but there’s something about this process that demands as much time as it will take to get the job done. Nature teaches us the lesson of slowing down, making the most of the present, and that the desired results will take as much time as they need.

I hope you enjoy this soup as much as I did; next time, a slightly thinner consistency would be preferred, but I don’t have the equipment for that! Either way, the smells are delicious and it had a taste to match.

Simple nettle soup
Adapted from: Ramona’s Cuisine.

• Olive oil
• Butter
• 2x medium onions, diced
• 2x medium carrots, peeled and diced
• 2x medium potatoes, scrubbed and roughly chopped
• 2x large leeks, dice roughly
• 2 sticks of celery, roughly sliced
• 75g chopped garlic
• 1.5 L vegetable stock
• 2 tsp dried thyme
• 200 g fresh nettle leaves
• Salt, pepper, and double cream to serve

Clean and wash the nettle leaves. I left them soaking overnight in lightly salted water before cleaning and washing them again.

Cook the onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, leeks, and celery in a saucepan, simmering in olive oil and butter for 20 minutes. Add in the vegetable stock and thyme. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the nettle leaves, boil for a few minutes while mixing periodically. Blend the soup to the desired consistency.
Season and enjoy with double cream.

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