By Marjorie Tietjen
The stinging nettle plant has many different uses but is most well known for its nutritive value and pain relieving properties. This potherb which emerges in the spring, is native to Europe, Asia, North America and South America. It has been used through the centuries as an overall tonic and also as a remedy for numerous specific ailments. Susun S Weed, in her book Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise, tells us that the “stinging nettle leaves and stalks are gentle enough for an everyday nourishing brew and powerful enough to heal damaged tissues.”
The leaves and stalks of the nettle plant are studded with many fine needle like hairs which when brushed against, inject the offending passerby with histamine, acetycholine, serotonin and formic acid. This creates a temporary sting or irritation which lessens and can even temporarily eliminate the pain of arthritis. Flagellation, which is the intentional flogging of the nettle plant against arthritic or paralyzed limbs, has been used for centuries to bring about relief and healing.
In recent times it has been discovered that consuming the plant as an extract, infusion (very potent tea) or as a steamed vegetable, has similar beneficial results. One study showed that “Plant extract from stinging nettle (urtica dioica), an antirheumatic remedy, inhibits the proinflammatory transcription factor NF – kappaB.(1) Once the nettle plant is dried or cooked, it loses its stinging properties and becomes completely friendly. Nettles are delicious when steamed or boiled and served with butter, salt and pepper. Nettles can be used in any recipe to replace spinach. This magical plant grows wild near streams, old barnyards and other waste places. When collecting nettles, one must be careful to harvest them from an unpolluted area….and be sure to wear gloves!
Nettles are considered to be a nutritional pot of gold. They are very rich in chlorophyll and contain high amounts of vitamins A, C,E, K, and even vitamin D….which is very rare in plants. Due to its high vitamin K content, strong infusions of nettle can be hemostatic and many midwives use it to staunch postpartum bleeding. Heavy menstrual bleeding can also be helped with nettle products. Nettles are also an abundant source of minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, silicon,sulpher, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, cobalt and copper. The plant can be used to treat anemia as it is an excellent source of iron.
Nettles are a mild diuretic, an anti-inflammatory, blood purifier (rids the body of toxins), a tonic, and a digestive restorative. Stinging nettles can give support to tired adrenal glands and has antihistamine properties. It is one of the most effective natural treatments for hayfever,asthma, rhinitis , sinusitis and excema. A study from Phytotherapy Research found that “Nettle extract (urtica dioica) affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis.(2)
The constituents of the nettle plant have been found to be helpful in balancing the blood sugar. Consequently frequent use of the nettle plant has been shown to be useful in diabetes. I was interested to find a study from the Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences which determined the following…”This study shows that the protective administration of hydroacholic extract of Urtica dioica has a hyperglycemic effect and protective activity of beta –cells of langerhans in hyperglycemic rats.
I was first introduced to nettles by a local herbalist friend. She asked if I would like to help her harvest and dry the first cuttings of the year from her nettle patch. When picked properly, one can gather nettles two or three times during the growing season. After we donned our long pants, gloves and hats, we waded into the tall nettles and my friend showed me how to clip off the young tops, tie them in bunches of 6, and then demonstrated how to hang them up to dry. She invited me back a couple of weeks later to finish the processing. We sat on the front porch of her rustic outbuilding ,which overlooks her country herb garden, and began stripping the almost dried nettle leaves off of their stems and placed them into paper bags where, if the humidity level cooperates, they will become crisp and crumbly. I like to clip the leaves off the stems and place them in dehydrator trays. I have found that for me this method of drying is more reliable.
When you wake up in the morning it will be ready to strain and drink. It can be consumed hot, at room temperature or cold from the fridge …where it needs to be stored for not more than three days. One to two cups a day is the usual quantity for tonic or medicinal use. If you want a lighter tea, you only need to steep the leaves for 15 to 20 minutes and then drink it on the spot. When it’s warm I like to treat it as a broth and add a bit of sea salt. When I drink it cold, I don’t add a thing. When you are cooking up fresh nettle leaves, as you would spinach….don’t forget to drink the potliquer(the nutritious water the leaves were cooked in.)! The fresh or dried leaves can be easily added to soups as one of the vegetables. In Belgium and other European countries, nettle soup in the spring is a highly anticipated treat and it cleanses the body after a winter of heavy foods. Last year I bought my dried nettles from the herb lady but this year I have my own patch which I started from seed!!
Nettle leaf infusion is a safe restorative for the bladder and kidneys and is used as a remedy for nephritis and cystitis however it is advised not to pick nettles after the flowers have formed because at this point the plant has formed crystals on the leaves and stems which can have the opposite effect and actually irritate the kidneys.
After the nettles flower and dry a bit then the seeds can be collected. The seeds from this plant also have medicinal value. The dose suggested by Susun Weed is a quarter of a teaspoon a day. The stinging nettle plant is a perennial which comes back in full force every year and pretty much takes care of itself. If you would like to try growing your own, it would be a good idea to find a spot where it can spread a bit. My friend keeps her patch in check by mowing around it.
A very interesting and helpful book by Susun Weed Healing Wise (Wise Woman Herbal Series)
You can buy dried nettle leaves from Mountain Rose Herbs
goes into much more depth on the benefits of nettles and other herbs/weeds.....and explains the different methods of preparation. Instead of buying expensive green drinks...a nettle infusion is a real boost for the adrenals. It helps me to feel more calm and energized.