Making something out of nothing has been the modus operandi of the Irish people for hundreds of years. This is exemplified by the Irish stinging nettle soup. Ireland doesn’t possess the richest soil for agriculture, so any wild edibles are a welcome discovery. The same can be said for a long backpacking trek: Any food that can be found on the trail is less weight for you to carry. Of course, no hearty Irish meal is complete without a strong drink to accompany it, and a truly original Irish coffee is enough to relieve the aches and pains of any strenuous backcountry day.
Now, you might be asking yourself: Why would I want to purposefully ingest a painful stinging nettle? But in reality, the tips of the stinging nettle are quite delicate tasting, healthful, and an excellent source of iron and fiber. Harvesting them can be dicey and requires attention, but it’s well-worth it for the delicious soup that results
1) Only pick nettles in the spring since eating mature nettles can be harmful and damage the kidneys. If the plant is in flower, that’s usually a good indication that it’s too late to harvest.
2) Wear gloves, or use a piece of fabric or plastic bag, to protect your hands and arms from the stingers. If you are stung, use a topical antihistamine or aloe to sooth the area. Saliva can be used in a pinch.
Irish Nettle Soup
Begin by sautéing 2 ounces of oatmeal in butter or oil (use enough butter or oil to cover the bottom of the pot); sauté until the oatmeal is golden brown. Next, add 2 pints (32 ounces) of vegetable stock; chicken or beef bouillon works great too. Bring to a boil, and then add at least 1 pint (16 ounces) of fresh nettles (they’ll shrink as they cook) and salt/pepper to taste. Reduce heat and simmer until soup is well-blended (about 20 to 30 minutes). Add potatoes for an extra hearty meal, and garnish with the topping of your choice (scallions, parsley, corned beef).
Traditional Irish Coffee
1½ ounce Irish whiskey (like Jameson)
1 teaspoon sugar, brown or white
6 ounces hot black coffee
Pour whiskey into a glass with sugar. Add hot black coffee. Top with cream poured over a spoon, to add an airy texture. Enjoy!
—Mike Donley, Trail Chef