Wild Garlic, Stinging Nettle & Cleavers Soup

Wild Garlic, Stinging Nettle & Cleavers Soup (serves 8 to 10)

You will need:

3 big handfuls of fresh wild garlic (Allium ursinum) leaves – be careful that you do not pick any Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) or lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) by mistake. Look for the parallel veins running the whole length of the leaf and the unmissable garlic smell!

1/4 bucket of fresh stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) tops – just pinch the tops out with about 4 to 6 leaves on each. You might want to wear gloves for this although I teach everyone who comes on my courses how to pick them without being stung.

Two large handfuls of young cleavers (Galium aparine) plants – you might know this as ‘sticky weed’, ‘goosegrass’ or ‘sticky willie’ in some parts of the UK… make sure they are still soft and pliable as in a few weeks they will stiffen up and after that you use only the softer tip of the plant.

Add a large knob of butter or 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive to a saucepan, together with a few twists of black pepper and sea salt. Slowly raise the temperature to cook the seasoning a little but do not let the oil bubble ferociously – a sign that it is too hot. After about 1.5 minutes add a good splash of balsamic vinegar and 600ml of hot water straight from the kettle. Add all of the leaves that you have picked (ideally) chopped into little pieces first.

At this point it should look like this…

Put on a lid, watching the temperature carefully and stirring periodically. You don’t want the soup to get so hot that it boils as this will seriously affect the flavour, but you do want it to reach a slow simmer for a short period to assist in extracting the flavour from the leaves (this will also kill off bugs as it will cook above 74 degrees centigrade, but in practice this is not really a problem when freshly picked leaves are used taken from a clean spot).

Keep an eye on the soup, allowing it to simmer gently for 6 to 8 minutes, then remove it from the heat and transfer it to a blender. Give it a good ‘whizz’ until a thick creamy soup consistency is achieved, then transfer it back onto the heat and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, this time stirring continuously. Some people like to cook a few potatoes, blending them into the soup at this stage as a thickening agent. Whilst I do not think this is necessary it is a matter for personal taste.

That’s it! It is a good idea to keep a little of the garlic back and chop it into shreds to use as a garnish on top of the soup. A little finely grated manchego or parmesan cheese will also work well on top and a couple of tablespoons of live natural yoghurt swirled in to each bowl completes the picture properly… and by the way, every portion combines the effects of these herbs to great effect. 

Serving suggestions…

Wild garlic has a natural antibiotic action and is a circulatory tonic that thins the blood a little and warms up the extremities by opening up capillary circulation.

Lightly cooked nettles provide us with lots of vitamin C and iron, as well as a surprising amount of vegetable protein, not to mention huge amounts of the anti-oxidant chlorophyll.

Cleavers is well known to medical herbalists for supporting and clearing the lymphatic system. In short, this lovely soup is also a good medicine for driving away the last of the winter ailments that we tend to suffer from in our temperate British climate, and giving the whole system a kick-starting detox ready for the year ahead!


You can learn much more about simple wholesome wild food cookery at the Secret Sunday Spring Forager’s Club

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