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Impress Any Guest with 18th-Century Stinging Nettle Soup

stinging nettle

The stinging nettle was a staple food that was also used medicinally in the 18th century. Here, John Townsend takes us back in time with a recipe for stinging nettle soup.

It’s springtime at James Townsend & Son, and John Townsend has a great early American recipe for stinging nettle soup for us to try.

Since it’s now mid-autumn as I write this, you may have to file this one away until spring rolls around in a few months, when you can again pick young sprouting nettles. Ideally, you want the nettles when they’re young, but really, you can use them anytime of year that they’re growing, big or small. It’s just that as the season progresses, the leaves can get a little tough. If that’s the case, simply chop them finer when preparing them.

This is an exceedingly simple recipe, and offers plenty of opportunity for you to fiddle with it by adding other ingredients. Stinging nettles are one of my favorite spring, summer and even autumn wild edibles. We pick them three seasons of the year and use them extensively in our home cooking.


  • water, 1.5 quarts
  • butter, 4 oz.
  • onions, 3 medium, chopped or sliced
  • stinging nettles, around 3 or 4 cups, leaves only, chopped finely
  • flour, 1/4 cup
  • salt and pepper
  • bread crust or small chunk of stale bread, chopped roughly
  1. Heat the water to boil in a kettle.
  2. In a wide pan saute onions in butter until they become translucent.
  3. Add chopped nettles to the onions.
  4. Once they’ve shrunken and reduced sprinkle the flour over the nettle/onion mixture. Stir contents of pan.
  5. Add nettle/onion mixture to boiling water.
  6. Add the chopped stale bread to the soup.

I told you it was simple!

Now, you can tweak this and add other ingredients should you choose to do so, but this is the basic recipe that folks like missionary John Hecklewelder said that they consumed twice a day back in 1756.

Stinging nettles are rich in healthy properties and you can add them to so many dishes throughout the year. But give this basic recipe a try before you start to get creative. It will give you a good idea of the basic flavor of nettles.

Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.

NEXT: Pemmican: The Ultimate Survival Food You Can Make Yourself

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Impress Any Guest with 18th-Century Stinging Nettle Soup