Sourdough Nettle Rye Bread recipe - or let's get Medieval on Your Nettles (2024)

Yesterday I made an adaptation of an adaptation of a medieval recipe for Nettle Bread. It's exceedingly delicious, with a sweet and moist rye bread crumb. I like it sliced thin, lightly toasted and smothered in butter (homemade is best) and a few drops of honey on top.

Sourdough Nettle Rye Bread recipe - or let's get Medieval on Your Nettles (1)
Rustic nettle bread

We have the perfect growing place for stinging nettles, it's moist year round, it's acidic, it's downhill from the neighbour's manure pile so the soil is overloaded with nutrients. There is not much else that will grow there, but the nettles thrive. So I harvested a large basket full of just the leaves. My nettles are getting a bit old and scraggly, but if you have young nettles, you can use the stem as well.

Although I made a huge batch of nettle bread this time, I'm going to scale down the recipe for you. Those of you without constant access to nettles might have to wait till they are available in the shops in the spring... Far too expensive for something available free in the wild, but when that's all you have... well, you make do. The bunches sold in the store are about a cup worth - but you can use more or less depending on what you have on hand.

Sourdough Nettle Rye Bread recipe - or let's get Medieval on Your Nettles (2)
blanching nettles
(in the water I used forbrewing small ale later that day.
This should be interesting)

The recipe I used for inspiration comes from the beautiful book The Medieval Kitchen, a social history with recipes by Hannele Klemettila (the final 'a' in the name has those two little dots on top). The author uses modern yeast and caraway seeds. I hate caraway seeds, possibly more than I hate mushrooms. They disgust me.

Last year I used Klemettila's recipe and it's quite nice (without the caraway seeds). It's written in a way that assumes you are very comfortable baking bread and the recipe uses modern ingredients and methods that were not available in the middle ages. Like most of the book, it is more an attempt to introduce the modern pallet to some of the medieval flavour combinations. Combine that with the layout and gorgeous pictures, I think it's a good introduction to medieval food.

For me, it's not enough. In the middle ages a person couldn't just drive down to the supermarket and pick up a packet of yeast. They had to capture their own yeast, very much like we do with sourdough today. In fact, in some parts of Europe, it was exactly like we do with sourdough today. To keep the bread as medieval as possible, I used sourdough instead of modern yeast.

Because the nettles have so many natural sugars, I figured a heavy rye bread would do the trick. And I was right.

This bread uses a sponge so start it the evening before you plan to bake. It is also a bit different than many bread recipes in that I only rise it once. It's a trick you can use for sourdough when you can't guarantee you'll be available to shape the loaves for the second rise. This creates a more rustic texture, sometimes creating those big air pockets in the loaf. I kind of like it.

Stinging Nettle Sourdough Rye Bread

About 1 cup of fresh nettles - or a lot more if you have it
1 tsp salt
Sourdough starter
Rye flour
Wheat flour
1/2 tsp Whole fennel seeds
1 tsp honey (optional - makes it no longer vegan)

The night before baking day, we make a sponge:

  • Put 2 Tbs sourdough starter (from the fridge or already active is fine), 1/2 cup water, and enough rye flour to make a thin batter. Cover with a cotton or linen towel and leave on the counter overnight. This is called the sponge.
  • Feed your starter as per normal - I'm assuming you are already slightly familiar with sourdough.

Now it's baking day, let's get's medieval on your nettles

  • Toast the fennel seeds in a dry fry pan until they smell amazing then put to one side to cool. While it's toasting, you will want to shake or stir the seeds quite frequently to ensure nothing burns. When cool enough to handle, coarsely grind it with a mortar and pestle or a spice mill.
  • Bring a fairly large pot of water to the boil and dunk the nettles in the boiling water for about 3 minutes. Take the nettles out and put them in a bowl, add about a cup of cold water to the nettles. When the nettles are cool enough to touch comfortably, take them out of the cold water and strain them - keep the cold water, we're about to use it. Let's call it nettle rinse water.
  • Combine the nettle rinse water, sponge, 1 tsp salt, toasted fennel seeds, a handful of flour, and a handful of rye flour. If you are using honey, add it now too. Mix it up well and put it to one side.
  • Take the nettles that have drained, chop them up as finely or as coarsely as you like. The cooking should have neutralized the sting. Add this to the flour/sponge/fennel/water mix above. Stir vigorously, almost whisking it in as this will help to activate the gluten in the flour and ensure the nettles are well incorporated into the dough.
  • Add another three or four handfuls of rye flour, or about 1/2 a cup, and mix well.
  • Add regular flour by the handfuls, mixing between each addition, until you have a shaggy mess.
  • Put the shaggy mess onto a well floured board or counter, kneed it until no longer shaggy, but instead a lovely smooth.
  • Shape into one or two loaves, then put on a baking sheet. Cover with a towel and leave it alone until double in size. This may take an hour or it might take 8, depends on your yeast and many other factors... most of which are beyond your control. A lot of people like to leave it somewhere warm, which is okay, but for me doesn't make as nice a texture or as long keeping loaf. Just put it somewhere where it isn't in a draft.
  • When it's double in size, preheat the oven to 400 F.
  • While the oven is heating up, use a very sharp knife to carefully cut some lines in the top of the bread.
  • Bake at 400 for 35 min for the small loaves, or 40 min for one large loaf. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom.
  • Take out of the oven, wrap the loaves in a cotton or linen towel and leave at least 12 hours to cool before storing in plastic. Or if you are hungry now, wait at least 10 min before cutting into it.
Sourdough Nettle Rye Bread recipe - or let's get Medieval on Your Nettles (3)
So beautiful, ready to rise

Affordable: Yes, if you're harvesting your own nettles and not paying grocery store prices. The nettles add a lot of nutrition and a little bit of bulk to the bread which is pretty awesome. Nettles are very healthy - just google stinging nettles to find out all the good things they do.

If you omit the honey, this is a vegan friendly bread.

Tradition and transition? It seems to have been quite common in medieval times, but the tradition has died out. As a Transition bread, however, this is going to be a good recipe to keep around. A dense nettle bread is very common during starvation times, like during World War 2 for example. Usually wheat flour is one of the first things to be rationed, so breads were made with whatever grains were on hand, and often augmented with nettles and other nutritional weeds that are usually ignored in times of plenty.

We would be foolish to think that we won't ever have a starvation time again in The West, but for now, it's actually quite a yummy bread, the nettles adding a little bit of tang, sweetness, and even help prevent the bread from going moldy.

Sourdough Nettle Rye Bread recipe - or let's get Medieval on Your Nettles (4)
nettle toast and honey, delicious.
Sourdough Nettle Rye Bread recipe - or let's get Medieval on Your Nettles (2024)


What is the difference between sourdough and rye sourdough? ›

Wheat sourdough possesses creamy coconut notes from lactones, while rye is less creamy and more tropical banana and pineapple-like with an additional citrusy / orange aftertaste. Rye sourdough produces an extra buttery taste and roasted malty popcorn flavor, though t is poorer in spiciness notes in comparison to wheat.

What does rye flour do to sourdough? ›

Rye flour is a popular choice in sourdough bread because of its unique properties, which can speed up fermentation, add a complex flavor profile, reduce density, retain moisture, and offer more nutrition than wheat flour.

Did Vikings have sourdough bread? ›

During the Middle Ages, sourdough bread was a common food in Europe, especially in the northern regions. The Vikings, in particular, were known for their sourdough bread, which they made using a mixture of rye flour and wild yeast. This bread was an important source of nutrition for the Vikings on their long voyages.

Is rye bread healthier than white bread? ›

While multigrain bread is white bread with grains mixed in, wholegrain has grains (and often seeds) added to wholemeal flour for extra nutritional value. Wholegrain breads (including rye and sourdough varieties) have up to four times the fibre of white breads, making them one of the healthiest options.

Which is healthier, rye or sourdough bread? ›

As long as they're made with whole grains and have limited or no added sugar, both rye bread and sourdough bread are healthy bread options. Sourdough bread may be even healthier than regular bread because the fermentation makes certain vitamins and minerals easier for our bodies to absorb.

Is sourdough rye bread healthier? ›

Look for sourdough or sprouted grain ryes.

Though not as common, loaves made through fermentation (i.e. sourdough rye) and/or with sprouted grains will really up the nutritional power, resulting in an even more digestible loaf with greater nutrient bioavailability.

What is the healthiest flour for sourdough bread? ›

Compared to whole wheat flour, rye flour is said to be the most nutrient- and amylase-dense option for a sourdough starter. Overall, it has a lower gluten protein content than wheat flour, which means it produces slack, sticky, and dense doughs.

Is rye sourdough anti inflammatory? ›

Rye bread has been linked to many potential health benefits, including weight loss, reduced inflammation, better blood sugar control, and improved heart and digestive health.

Which rye flour is best for sourdough? ›

Whole wheat's counterpart: Pumpernickel flour

This is also the kind of rye flour you'll usually find in sourdough recipes, as it's best for fermentation. Because the whole kernel is present in this whole grain rye, pumpernickel flour is coarser than white or medium rye and makes heavier baked goods.

Is sourdough the same as Ezekiel bread? ›

Additionally, sourdough fermentation increases the availability of essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Ezekiel bread, on the other hand, stands out for its use of sprouted whole grains and legumes, which provide a rich source of nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, and protein.

Did Cowboys eat sourdough bread? ›

Sourdough in Cowboy Culture:

Chuckwagon cooks, or “cookies,” provided nourishing meals for cowboys during long cattle drives, including staples like beans, biscuits, dried fruit, coffee, beef, and sourdough bread. The sourdough bread, made using a starter, was an essential part of this diet.

Is sourdough medieval? ›

Sourdough remained the usual form of leavening down into the European Middle Ages until being replaced by barm from the beer brewing process, and after 1871 by purpose-cultured yeast. Bread made from 100% rye flour, popular in the northern half of Europe, is usually leavened with sourdough.

What brand is the healthiest sourdough bread? ›

10 Healthiest Sourdough Breads on Grocery Shelves, According to Dietitians
  • Photos: The brands. Design: Eat This, Not That!
  • Izzio.
  • Inked Bread Co.
  • Pepperidge Farm.
  • Trader Joe's.
  • La Brea Bakery.
  • Whole Foods Market.
  • Amazon.
Mar 6, 2024

What is the healthiest rye bread to buy? ›

The healthiest rye breads are made from 100% whole-grain sprouted rye flour, in addition to other sprouted grain flours. Since sprouting increases grains' fiber content, sprouted rye is higher in fiber and healthier than non-sprouted rye. One slice (28 grams) of sprouted rye bread provides : Calories: 60.

What is the number one healthiest bread? ›

The healthiest bread money can buy is 100% whole grain bread, but truthfully, any bread can be part of a healthy diet. “It comes down to just looking at how it fits into what you're eating on a regular basis and what you're eating at that meal or snack,” says Jill Weisenberger, a registered dietitian nutritionist.

What are the healthiest types of sourdough? ›

“The whole-grain sourdoughs have more fiber, protein and micronutrients, making them more filling and healthier for you overall,” says Natalie Rizzo, registered dietitian and nutrition editor at

Is rye sourdough starter better? ›

Whole wheat and rye flours provide more nutrients for your starter and ferment more actively, but working with rye flour makes starter maintenance easier than whole wheat. Rye provides increased fiber and nutrients similar to whole wheat flour, but because of its lower gluten amount it's much easier to stir.

Is rye sourdough better than wheat sourdough? ›

Compared to whole wheat flour, rye flour is said to be the most nutrient- and amylase-dense option for a sourdough starter. Overall, it has a lower gluten protein content than wheat flour, which means it produces slack, sticky, and dense doughs.

What type of sourdough is best for you? ›

Look for sourdough bread made with whole grains, which are higher in fiber than processed grains, giving your bread additional gut-friendly benefits.

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