Nettles – Urtica dioica

Well they do to Herbalists Anyway!

‘Nettle’ comes from the Scandinavian word ‘noedl’ (needle) What comes to mind? Pesky weed, prolific, painful… yes all fair descriptions being the nations most maligned weed! BUT they are also so much more and I’m on a mission to get more people to love them.

OK the most glamorous or exotic of herbs it may not be – perhaps why I’ve overcompensated a tad in the pic! However, let this not hide the fact that Nettle is an incredible ‘weed’ in so many ways.… from food to Medicine to fertilizer to textiles, it’s a truly versatile plant. As with many herbs, the different parts of the plant have different benefits (they contain slightly different phytochemicals/nutrients). Most modern herbalists will list this plant in their top 10 and nutritionists are now catching onto the health.

It grows everywhere from fields to gardens to wastegrounds – from city centres to countryside. Obviously when it comes to plants you need to be sure you know what you are collecting but thankfully with Nettle there is no mistaking it for anything else! This makes it a good starter herb for novice herb foragers.

Nettles embedded in our History

Historically, the Anglo Saxons knew it’s worth and they valued it so much it was one of their 9 Sacred herbs, as did the American Indians, who used it widely. In European, Russian and Scandinavian Folk Medicine it has long been a good ‘tonic’ herb – meaning that it promotes good health in general, especially in conditions of weakness or debility. More recently, during the First and Second World War many people in Europe and Russia relied on them as a vegetable. In fact, Mrs Grieve in her famous book (A Modern Herbal 1931) has recipes for Nettle Beer and Steamed Nettle ‘Pudding’ – nutritious wartime fare!

Nettles as Food

Nettle is a survival food– used throughout history when times were tough- but we would all benefit from eating it on a regular basis. Try it before you knock it! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised- if you like spinach you will like Nettle (just don’t eat it without cooking/juicing/drying or you may not be so pleasantly surprised!)

Nutritional Benefits

Healthy and Environmentally Friendly. Naturally widespread so needs no cultivation/pesticides/herbicides – and FREE!

Source of Minerals. Nettles are Incredibly Rich in Minerals– 1-3 cups of this tea a day is the equivalent to many multi-mineral supplements. American Indian woman drank nettle tea throughout pregnancy and after birth for good health. They contain Iron for healthy blood- great if you are anaemic, Silica for lustrous skin, hair and nails (Silica is known as the ‘youth’ mineral for good reason- helping to keep tissues strong yet supple) and Magnesium for steady nerves and muscle function.  If you have Nettle as a tea or vegetable every day you will benefit from a regular intake of essential minerals. Really important considering most of our commercial vegetable crops are grown in mineral depleted soils. Food is not what it used to be and many of us are living with chronic mineral deficiencies.

Plant Protein. High in protein (for a vegetable) – good if you are vegan or as a survival food if out in the wild!

How to use Nettles as Food

Cook, brew, blend into soups, juice or dry them and use as a garnish. See below for some ideas…
* Note* Wear rubber gloves/gardening gloves to pick or handle them & wash before using! Preferably don’t pick the ones right on the dog walking route.. but even so it’s nothing that a quick rinse in salt water won’t solve!

  • Tea: Infuse 1 tablespoon of dry nettles (or 2 tablespoons of fresh)- or more per 200mls of water. Drink 1-3 cups of tea a day- as a nutrient boost. Add a bit of ginger, lemon or orange zest for flavour if you like or a little stevia.
  • Vegetable: Cooking nettles deactivates the stings! For any recipe that uses spinach or other dark greens- you can use nettle as a substitute. Best use young nettle tops in spring/early summer: boil briefly for a minute then sautee in a little butter or olive oil (save the water and drink later or use as a base for soups/stock). I lik to mix it with other greens such as spinach or chard. Think Nettle Omelette, Greek spinach pie – using nettle instead! Nettle aranchini (risotto balls)…or soup.
  • Nettle Soup: Add a couple of handfuls of nettles or more to any soup for the last 10 minutes of cooking then blend before serving. Goes really well with potato or any vegetable soup. I have made this for family and they loved it! No one had the faintest idea it was nettle – it was just presumed to be spinach!
  • Nettle Juice: If you have a wheatgrass juicer then juice nettles for a nutrient shot- green drink. Great if you are on a cleanse. Unlike shop bought wheatgrass which can be pricey- this is FREE just pick some near to where you live (preferably not near a busy road). If you don’t have a specialized juicer you can just blitz with a hand blender then squeeze through a muslin bag (or stocking!) to collect the juice. You can also buy dried nettle powder to add to smoothies or juices.
  • Add Dried Nettle Leaves to soups/stews for a nutrient boost throughout the winter when there are no fresh nettles. Or dry the leaves then crumble them in with other herbs/spices as a seasoning or herb salt– I like lemon zest, oregano, garlic powder, cayenne, sea salt and nettle powder.

Medicinal Uses For Nettles

All Parts of the Nettle Plant have Medicinal Benefits!

Leaf

Alkalizing Minerals. Useful for gout, arthritis and post exercise muscle soreness– thanks to it’s alkalizing effect in the body (can reduce excess acid due to presence of magnesium and other minerals). All these expensive trendy ‘green drink’ powders and you can get something similar for free in the back yard..

Anti-inflammatory/Anti-arthritic. Research shows that Nettles may slow the progression of joint disease if consumed over the long term. Also- whenever there is inflammation, there is acidity in the local area- which is linked to accelerated bone/joint damage. Nettle has lots of alkalizing minerals and substances (such as phenols) which helps to counter excess acidity and inflammation- for a long term protective effect. Drink Nettle tea or eat Nettles every day if you have arthritis (osteo or rheumatoid). One study showed that eating just 50g of simmered nettle as a vegetable allowed people with RA to reduce their dose of anti-inflammatory medication by half- sometimes more! This is after just 2 weeks of daily intake. (drink the cooking liquid too- it tastes neutral)

Bone, Teeth and Joint Health. Not only does it contain minerals- but it contains Vitamin K which helps the body to actually use those minerals. So if anyone has osteoporosis- recommend nettle tea! Many people take high doses of calcium without Vitamin K- which can actually do more harm than good.

Repair of Injuries. Nettles may help with any any musculoskeletal injury due to the mineral content. Calcium and silica are especially important for the repair of bones and tendons.

Diuretic. Helps to reduce fluid retention without affecting mineral balance (as it is a good source of minerals too).

Anti-allergy. Thanks to the histamine, phenols and minerals it contains: it is often used for conditions such as asthma, dermatitis, hayfever and other allergies. Source of Vitamins A, C and E: antioxidant boost. Antioxidants offer protection against many degenerative diseases. Rich source of chlorophyll- that expensive supplement you find in health food stores. Chlorophyll is a great cleanser and rich in magnesium. This is one reason why nettle is so often a feature of old ‘cleanses’ and modern day detox programs.

Pain Relief … topically (er yes… this one I’ve never personally tried!) In the past, as a common part of European folk medicine- painful joints, sprains or other painful injuries were whipped with nettle leaves. Now there is a reason to this madness, it is a form of counter-irritation where the immediate pain gives way to a longer period of pain relief and improved circulation to the area. The formic acid (the same substances that ants use when they bite!) and histamine in nettle stings stimulate the release of our natural pain relieving chemicals! Roman Soldiers and Ancient Olympic Athletes also used Nettles in this way to stimulate circulation and reduce pain! If you’re brave enough and in pain I suppose it’s worth a try!

Wound Herb. May help to quench mild bleeding when applied as a poultice or taken internally (according to traditional uses- they were used for heavy menstrual bleeding or battle wounds). Also contains lots of iron to replace what is lost in blood and minerals required for healing. Though I probably would not rely solely on nettles in cases of severe life threatening bleeding- head to emergency!

Root

BPH and Prostatitis. It is the root of nettle here that has benefits- rather than the leaves. And so promising are the effects, that it is the focus of increasing Scientific Research. Studies show that it can benefit these conditions- effectively reducing some of the symptoms such as frequent urination. Herbalists often use it in combination with Saw Palmetto or Pygeum africanum.

Seeds

Seeds for Stress. Nettle Seeds during times of stress or as a restorative when fatigued. May have adaptogenic properties (adaptogens are plants which promote a healthy stress response and support the adrenal glands- also known as ‘stress glands’) You can collect the seeds and dry them- they can be ground and mixed with other spices as a seasoning (sprinkled over food)

More Interesting Uses..

  • Beauty. Externally Nettle is fantastic for hair, skin and nails. Because it is rich in minerals, the infusion makes a great hair rinse or facial toner/lotion. Good for dandruff as a final rinse.
  • Textiles. It can also be used to make Fabrics– in fact the stalks were used to make uniforms in world war 2 when cotton was not readily available. This use goes as far back as the Bronze age- where it’s fibres have been found in ancient burial grounds. The end product is similar to regular canvas.
  • Agriculture and Farming. Can be made into a natural fertilizer for other plants See below. Great for Domestic and Farm Animals too – as a nutrient boost to add to foods/water (nettle tea- not fresh or it will sting!). It is often fed to poultry (young chopped nettle leaves or finely powdered dry leaf is added to their food- as it helps to improve egg production and quality- as well as supposedly improving the taste of chicken meat.
  • Gardens. You can stew a wicked fertilizer from nettles (smells wicked too unfortunately!) But a small price to pay as it is full of minerals and goodness – plants love it and it will greatly enrich any soil. For this reason, Biodynamic farms and Permaculture plots use it a LOT, along with Comfrey fertilizer.
  • Vegetarian Cheese Making. Nettle juice has been used in Cheese Making as an alternative to animal rennet- helps to curdle the dairy.
  • Natural Dye. Was used as a Permanent Green Dye for fabric in Russia. Non-toxic vegetable dyes are making a comeback today…

So next time you dig up this so called ‘weed’ – please do it more justice than the bin!

(Note this is for general information only and not meant as an alternative to professional medical diagnosis or a consultation with a professional herbalist- always be sure to seek advice if you have a health condition or are taking any medications).

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