Thursday, April 28, 2011

Healing Nettle Chicken Stock

Stocks or broths can be used in many different ways, well beyond soups. Homemade stock is far more nutritious than store-bought stock, even the organic brands. For one, commercial stocks, whether chicken or vegetable, use many different "natural" flavorings. What is a natural flavoring anyway? It can be anything, but most often it is a man-made chemical, often containing MSG (free glutamic acid). Did you know that the FDA classifies MSG as "natural" and by using other terms such as "natural flavoring" or "yeast extract," manufacturers can somewhat deceive label-reading consumers into buying their products? The flavoring industry is a billion dollar industry. Most of us won't buy a product that doesn't taste good. Humans have receptors on their tongues for glutamate, the amino acid we recognize as the common "meat" flavor in foods. Using MSG in foods such as chicken stock is a way to cut corners and create a cheap food for a profit. And unfortunately, MSG is a neurotoxic substance causing headaches and in large amounts, possible damage to the brain (in B6 and magnesium deficient people). By making your own stocks using high-quality ingredients, you create so much flavor you would never need to add anything else to them.

Here is an ingredient list for an organic chicken stock made by a well-known company: Organic chicken broth (filtered water, organic chicken), Organic chicken flavor (organic chicken flavor, sea salt), Natural chicken flavor (chicken stock, salt), Sea salt, Organic evaporated cane juice, Organic onion powder, Turmeric, Organic flavor.

Now let's look at the ingredient list for a homemade stock: Organic chicken carcass, onions, garlic, leeks, celery, carrots, parsley, rosemary, thyme, black peppercorns, Herbamare, and fresh nettles.

I know we are all very busy and for some of us, just the thought of making your own stock seems overwhelming. But it doesn't need to be. Stocks can be simmered slowly for hours on the stove with very little attention needed. When you roast a whole chicken and have pulled all the meat from the bones, simply toss it in a stockpot (8-quart), add your vegetables, water, vinegar, and salt then cover and simmer for 6 hours or more. If you don't have time to make stock within a few days of roasting the chicken then put the chicken carcass in the freezer and take it out when you are ready.

Nutritional benefits of consuming homemade chicken stock:
  • contains nutrients that can strengthen digestion
  • adds gelatin which is rich in gut and joint supporting components
  • contains many minerals in an easily absorbable form, including calcium
  • adds small amounts of easily digested proteins to the diet

Because it is spring, I've been adding fresh nettles to our stock these days. Fresh nettles can be seen in just about every forest around us this time of year. We've harvested some ourselves but need to get out soon and stock up before they get too big. Nettles are best harvested when only a few inches high. If you are interested in learning more on nettle harvesting please read a post I did last year on Harvesting Nettles with Children

Nutritional benefits of nettles: 
  • rich source of minerals, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc 
  • high in carotenoids, potassium, and Vitamin K
  • may assist in reversing anemia
  • contains anti-inflammatory compounds
  • is a mild diuretic that can decrease water retention problems 
  • can assist in boosting fertility in women

How to Make Chicken Stock with Nettles

Every time we roast a chicken I make stock, not on the same day, but a day or two later. The stock in these photos was made from a locally raised, pastured organic chicken that was rubbed with chipotle chili powder and salt, then roasted. The resulting stock was rich and full-bodied with a hint of spice. I pour my stock into glass mason jars and freeze the majority of it right away. This way my freezer is continually stocked with fresh, homemade, organic stock. Use stock to make soups and stews, or to cook whole grains. You can add it to mashed potatoes, sauces, or basically anywhere a liquid is needed for a savory dish. If I am making a soup and need stock (and I have not thought about thawing it out) I will take a jar out of the freezer and put it into a pot of hot water. By the time my vegetables are chopped and I am ready to add some liquid, enough of it will be thawed out to use in my soup. For this reason I always use wide-mouthed glass pint or quart jars. The vinegar in the stock is needed to help extract the minerals from the chicken bones. The stock won't have a vinegary taste as long as you don't add too much. 

1 chicken carcass (from a 3 to 4 pound organic chicken)
1 large onion, chopped
1 head garlic, cut in half cross-wise
1 to 2 leeks, rinsed well and chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley
2 cups fresh nettle leaves
few sprigs fresh rosemary and thyme
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 to 3 teaspoons Herbamare or sea salt
1 to 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
12 cups filtered water

Add all ingredients to an 8-quart stockpot. Gently bring to a simmer. Make sure that it is a gentle simmer, on low or medium-low heat. Cook, covered, for 3 to 12 hours. The longer cooking times will extract more nutrients and produce a richer flavored stock. 

Place a large colander over another large pot or bowl. I use an 8-cup pyrex liquid glass measure because it is easy to pour from. I only pour half of the stock through at once to make pouring into the jars easier. If using a bowl or another pot, use a ladle to put the stock into jars. Once all of the jars are filled, let them cool for about 30 minutes, then cover them and freeze (label with date if needed) or refrigerate until ready to use.

Use your homemade stock in these recipes:

About the Author

Alissa Segersten holds a Bachelor's of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University. She is the founder of Whole Life Nutrition, the mother of five children, a whole foods cooking instructor, professional recipe developer, and cookbook author. She is passionate about helping others find a diet that will truly nourish them, and offers elimination diet recipes, healthy gluten-free recipes, paleo and vegan recipes, as well as tips for feeding your family a nourishing, whole foods diet. Alissa is the author of two very popular gluten-free, whole foods cookbooks and guidebooks: The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook and Nourishing Meals. She is also the co-author of The Elimination Diet book. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram!


  1. Do you ever get a little chickened-out? It's a funny phrase, but I feel like the only animal products we consume sometimes are chicken and wild Alaskan Salmon. We don't eat much in the way of animal products in general, but I am starting to feel it's a little unfair towards to the poultry population. We do get our chickens from a nearby farm, but still.

    Thanks for your stock ideas! We made the veggie stock every week and I was just thinking that it might be good to have chicken stock on hand sometimes too.

  2. Love the addition of the fresh nettles. Great idea. I often add a bit of turmeric if I want a more yellow stock. It is also anti-inflammatory.

  3. I just made stock today! I thought that I put too much water in it but I think the real problem is that I didn't let it simmer long enough because it only tastes like flavored water :( Now I know for next time I guess. I love the addition of Nettles! Yum!

  4. Ali ... thanks for this great post. I just made some bone broth yesterday for the little man in the family. He's recovering from a stomach bug and he sipped it up. I am intrigued by the nettles. Will have to read up on those and source them locally.

    And adoring reader,

  5. Where did you find the white lids for wide mouth jars? I too live in B'ham.

  6. You can get white lids for mason jars from many stores in Bellingham, including Fred Meyers, look in canning supply area.
    I like them because they are not metal, so they do not contanimate any jar contents they come into contact with and they are easy to write on.

  7. I'm excited to try this and I've got everything to make stock (after I roast a chicken and eat it) except nettles... I think nettle season is over in the Midwest anyway and I live in a well-built-up area, so I don't trust myself to pick nettles in the backyard. And there aren't any fresh nettles at the only store in town. Is there another green that makes a good substitute?

  8. lippian84 - Nettle season in the Midwest occurs later than here in the Pacific Northwest and I know it has been a late spring out there so you might still be in luck! But for an alternative to fresh nettles, you can use dried nettles and/or dried sea vegetables such as dulse and kelp. :)

  9. Thank you for this beautiful recipe. I have just made this with dulse & ginger instead of nettles. You are right...I will never go back to store bought soup stock!! Homemade stock is a wonderful thing to make time for. I am 8 weeks pregnant & suffering from morning sickness. Sipping this as a broth is helping me so much...

  10. I am having some issues with my glass jars cracking in the freezer. I have them at fridge temp before I freeze them, so I am thinking maybe I filled the jars up too much? How much space do you leave at the top of your jars Ali? Thanks.

  11. Megan - Make sure you leave about 2 inches and freeze them uncovered and upright. Then cap them once the stock is completely frozen.

  12. This is the one and only recipe I use for making stock. I thank you over and over again. ♥

  13. I grew up on a farm where we butchered our own chicken and sold the extras to earn a bit of extra cash when money was tight. So I have never bought chicken stock. It is too easy and cheap to make your own.
    Recently I have started freezing my vegetable peelings in a container in the freezer. When it gets full, it's time to make veggie stock! Now I have 2 containers going.. one with lighly flavoured veggies that can go with chicken or fish. And another for darker, strongly flavoured veggies that can go with beef or dark stocks. It feel so go to be able to make something fabulous out of 'nothing'.
    But nettles are new to me. I wanted to ask, have you ever frozen nettles to use later? We don't have a dehydrator, and freezing is my current way to preserve. Would you freeze the entire plant or just the leaves? Could I maybe just hang a bunch upside-down and let them air dry them?
    Thanks in advance for any advice.

    1. Hi Leta,

      Yes you can hang bunches from your ceiling upside down and let them air dry (this works really well if you live in a dry climate). You can also freeze the leaves and stems to use in stock later on. :)

  14. Thanks so much for these wonderful recipes, I was receiving recipes from Kraft but now I will cancel the Kraft ones and keep yours.

    Thanks so much


  15. Does the "carcass" include the skin or just the bones? Obviously I don't know what I'm doing!


    1. Yes...the carcass includes all of it! Skin and bones. :)

  16. Do I have to use a stockpot or can i use my slow cooker?

    1. You can certainly use a slow cooker. I slow cook mine for about 24 hours on low. :)

  17. Can you pressure-cook/can the stock instead of freezing using Ball canning methods? I am not always good about planning ahead, so defrosting frozen stock makes me worry jars will crack if I put them in a hot bath. Being able to keep some stock in the pantry would be easy and I know we would use more of it.

    Thanks! Love nettles. They cured my kiddos dust & pet allergy.

    1. Hi there,

      I don't use a pressure canner but I would assume this would be fine since one would use this same method for canning meats and fish.

      If you do freeze them, they are best left at room temp to thaw or placed in the fridge to thaw (usually takes about 2 days for this). Mine will crack too if I place them into hot water.

  18. Hello Ali! I wanted to make this stock, but I missed nettle season! Is it possible to use dried nettles instead?

    Thank you!


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