Sometimes I wish I was a witch. I often think of these ladies in the middle ages, just trying to be a little different, a little freer, occasionally adding a foraged herb or two to their cauldrons.
Do you ever ponder how we came to know which forest offerings are edible and which aren’t? Who was the first to try chanterelle, for example? Was it the same person who took the wild leap of trying a “destroying angel” before discovering a few hours later that maybe it wasn’t a good idea?
Anyway, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the brave woman (because of course, only a woman could be that brave) who once had the idea that maybe stinging nettles were good to eat. That wonderful witch gave us one of the best soups ever, La soupe aux orties.
My grandfather was the first to tell me about stinging nettle soup. He loved telling stories about WWII in his very own way. A peasant like his father and grand-father and hundreds of men before him, he basically left his village and his fields only once in his life: to go to war.
Years and years after that, the only souvenirs he would share were not about fights or epic battles (or, in his case, and as for most of the French soldiers then, epic and ultra quick defeat), but about his time as a war prisoner in Germany. To listen to him, “those were the days.” There was the day it had snowed so much that they had to dig a tunnel to get out of their room, the friend who received letters that had different meanings whether you read them straight, or every other line. And then, there was the soupe d’orties.
“Of course you can eat stinging nettles“, he would say, “we would pick some and add it to the soup in Germany, and it changed everything!” There they were, the real Frenchmen, trying to change their watery broth it into some kind of a magic potion. That’s my grandfather: unafraid of eating this terrible weed that stung my legs and left pimples all over my calves — all while being imprisoned by Nazis!
Now that I also know how good for health and full of great nutrients stinging nettles are, I just can’t help associating my grandfather with Panoramix, the druid who makes magic soup for the Gauls resisting the Roman invasion in the beloved French Comic, Asterix.
Singing nettle is now one of my favorite ingredients for soup. I try to cook it whenever I find some, but never dared to make it here in the US because I did not know if the one that can be found here was edible.
That is, until I saw this beautiful bunch at the Farmers Market! Now my father laughs at me because he and his wife pick their stinging nettles themselves for free in the French forest, but what can I say, I’m more of a city girl, and what I eat I mostly bought.
Stinging nettle is awfully good, and non non, it doesn’t sting at all. At least not once you cook it. And it’s also wonderfully rich in iron, magnesium and calcium. It’s great to fight gout, to protect your kidneys, to clear your acne and, yes, it makes for a great DETOX.
There you have it, a French detox soup only a (French and perfect) witch could have invented.
(and yes, it really is THAT green!)
1 bunch fresh stinging nettles
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion
1 pound potatoes
salt and pepper
Bon appétit, les amis!