Stinging Nettle – Urtica dioica ( er-ti’ kah die-oh’ ee-kah) – comes from “urere”, meaning “to burn”.
Stinging nettle is one of the first of the green allies that pokes her head up out of the cold ground as Winter turns to Spring. Nettle would have been one of the first green foods to be available to our ancestors after the long dark days of Winter.
Stinging Nettle is one of the plants that everyone recognises, not only by the sight, but also by (and because of) her sting!! Stinging nettles have developed stinging cells as an adaptation to deter herbivores from eating them. The plants contain long, thin, hollow hairs that cover the majority of the stem and the underside of the leaves. Nettle stings contain acid (formic acid) but they also contain histamine and other chemicals. The exact details are still unknown but it is the histamine that causes the initial reaction when you are stung. (Dock leaf sap contains a natural antihistamine, which helps to ease the stinging sensation. The dock leaves themselves contain oxalic acid, which deters herbivores from eating them.)
There is evidence to suggest that nettle may have been cultivated in Mexico as early as 8000 years ago! Her fiber was used as rope, spun and woven to make yarn and cloth, as well as the leaves and stalk being used to make various shades of green, very permanent dye, the roots would make yellow dye. Our ancestors would have eaten nettles themselves for their huge medicinal properties, fed them as fodder to their animals, and made them into a disinfectant wash for the animal stalls.
Stinging nettle will grow everywhere if given half a chance and are common throughout the world!!
Nettle is packed full of vitamins, minerals and amino acids, they are high in iron, vitamin C and protein. Nettles are high in calcium, magnesium and chlorophyll. When combined with another great Spring herbal ally, Plantain, acts as a natural antihistamine.
Nettle is a great ally for all people at all stages of life, but she is particularly useful for women during pregnancy, childbirth and lactation, as well as massively supportive, energising, healing and nourishing throughout the menopause! She nourishes and energies the endocrine glands, rejuvenates the cardiovascular system, normalises weight, eases sore joints, relieves constipation, creates strong flexible bones!
I could go on and on about the amazing properties of Stinging Nettle! Here is a very condensed list of some of the benefits of stinging nettle;
Some Of Nettle’s Properties and Benefits
- Extremely rich in chlorophyll, vitamins and minerals – especially high in iron (with vitamin C helping with the iron absorption), calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin A
- Highly nourishing, rejuvenating, remineralizing and alkalizing
- Highly beneficial for anyone suffering from iron deficiency or anemia
- Particularly beneficial to women; nettle helps to replenish iron reserves during periods, but also helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce PMS symptoms
- Nettle gives energy and vitality – ideal if you suffer from chronic fatigue, have low energy or have a weakened immune system
- Very effective to prevent and treat allergies, asthma and hay fever symptoms (congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing) – taking nettle early in the Spring before seasonal allergies start to appear can be really beneficial!
- When consumed over a long period of time, nettle helps to detoxify the system by gently cleansing the body of metabolic waste (perfect after the winter months where we may have eaten heavier meals or may have been less active)
- Anti-inflammatory, it can help prevent and treat eczema, arthritis*, joint pain and gout
- Promotes hair and nail growth
*The Rheumatoid Arthritis Foundation has found that 3 milligrams of boron (dry weight) , taken daily, can be helpful in treating rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. A 100 gram serving of steamed nettle contains significantly more than this amount. This may be part of the reason why eating fresh nettles, and drinking nourishing infusions helps reduce arthritis symptoms.*
Nettle Tea vs Nettle Infusion
It’s important to understand the difference between a herbal tea and a herbal infusion. An infusion is very much like a tea, only it uses a larger concentration of herb and it is steeped for a longer period of time (overnight or at least 4-6 hours).
With those first fresh young vibrant green shoots of nettle, tea, juicing or cooking with the nettle tops is the way to go, then as we move through the spring, I harvest more of the leaves and stalks and dry them (the more you pick nettles the more the come back!) I use dried nettle for the infusions. What you get from a nettle infusion is a dark green, almost black liquid that is super concentrated with the plant’s vitamins and minerals – basically pure nourishment and happiness for your cells!
To sum up, an infusion is therapeutic, while a tea is mainly recreational (of course, you still get some of the benefits of the plant in a herbal tea, but at a much smaller dose).
Harvesting Nettles (Spring)
Stinging nettles grow abundantly almost everywhere! Its always a great idea for nature and for that quick cup of nettle tea in the morning to have a space in your garden where you can grow a small patch of nettles. Other than that, as long as you adhere to the foraging rules of never picking from roadsides or the field edges, because of pesticides and pollution, wherever you see a good clump of nettles should be fine. As always, never over harvest, always leave plenty for nature and the insects, and ensure that there are plenty left to flower for the next season, however, as I’ve said before, nettle almost relishes being cut!
Many people will know that I tend to, at the start of the season anyway, when the leaves are young and soft, harvest stinging nettle without using gloves! This is because I find it helps me to connect with the essence of her, to really focus in on her healing plant energy. However I wouldn’t recommend this if you are new to it, and as we move through the season, and I begin to harvest more of the stems and leaves, she toughens up and the stings start to notice a little more!! So go out armed with a pair of thick gloves and a set of secateurs or sharp scissors.
When foraging and harvesting, remember to always ask permission, not only from the land owner, but also from the plant itself! Our green allies always give so much more of their healing essence if we harvest respectfully and politely!
Drying Nettles – Harvest the top third of the nettles and stalks NB: once the nettles have started flowering do not harvest anymore!! – Once they start flowering, the plants will start to produce chemicals that actually cause the reverse of the benefits! Place them on a drying rack or in bunches and hang somewhere warm to dry, with lots of air that can circulate around them. They will dry out fairly quickly, but make sure they are completely dry before crumbling them into an airtight jar or box, as any moisture will result in the nettles going mouldy. Also, be warned, even when dry she can have a sting in her!!
Using and Harvesting Nettle Roots to Make Nettle Tincture and Decoction (Autumn)
Nettle roots have amazing benefits too! You can use them fresh or dried! Depending how many you have, if you dry them you can store them to use as needed. And make nettle root decoction and tincture with them. Nettle roots are great for infections, inflammation, bacterial and fungal infections, and prostate enlargement.
Decoction: simmer a handful of fresh or dried roots in a litre of water for 20 mins, strain, drink a cup full 2 or 3 times a day, keeping in the fridge (use within 48hrs).
To make a tincture , make as a decoction and use the liquid as above, keep the roots, and put in a jar, put a mix of half and half vodka with the decoction, add some fresh chopped roots, put in a cupboard for 3 or 4 weeks shaking occasionally. Strain off and take a teaspoon full when needed (or daily to maintain prostate health).
Some Nettle Recipes
Find some of my favourite nettle recipes below:
Easy Nettle Tea
Pick 4 or 5 fresh young top four leaves from the first nettles, place in a teapot or cafetiere, pour boiled water on them, leave to infuse for 20 mins strain and enjoy.
This is always better using dried nettles.
Take a 1 litre kilner jar, and put in 30g of dried nettle, fill to the top with boiled but not boiling water. Screw the lid on and leave for a minimum of 4 hours or for maximum results, 8 hours or overnight! Strain and drink a glass or 2 daily. This will keep in the fridge for 48 hours.
A tincture is made by using alcohol (or glycerine) to extract all the nutrients from the plant.
Get a jar (I usually use a jam jar) and half fill it with chopped up plant material, top up with vodka or brandy . Seal up tight and place in a dark cupboard for 4 to 6 weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain and bottle. You can take a teaspoon of tincture daily throughout the winter months, or as needed.
Using Nettles In Food
I use nettles in food as I would spinach, I only use the fresh young leaves, wilted down, stirred through stews, casseroles, soups etc. There are loads of recipes out on the internet! Once they are cooked, or heated, they lose their sting!
Is an ancient and refreshing way to use and preserve nettles!
- 2 gallons of cold water
- a bucket of nettle tops
- 3 handfuls of dandelion leaves
- 3 handfuls of cleavers
- 2oz of fresh (bruised) ginger root
- 2 cups of brown sugar
- 1 slice of toasted brown bread
- 1oz fresh yeast
- 9 teaspoons of lemon juice
- Add 2 gallons of cold water to a large pan. I use my jam making pail.
- Add the Nettles, Dandelion leaves, and Cleavers.
- Next bruise the ginger and put in the water along with the other ingredients.
- Bring the water to the boil and allow to simmer for 40 minutes, then strain and stir in 2 cupfuls of brown sugar.
- When the water has cooled and is lukewarm, crumble the yeast into a dish and mix in a little water and a teaspoon of sugar to form a paste, then spread on the toast and then place the toast on top of the beer (fresh yeast is available from bakeries and health stores).
- Put your pail in a warm corner and allow to sit overnight, then strain through muslin and add either the cream of tartar or lemon juice.
- Bottle and tie securely. You can drink this pretty much immediately or leave it to ‘mature’ till the Summer.
Nettles in The Garden
Nettles are a magical plant for the garden too. Where they grow, the roots break up the heaviest of soils, the earth underneath is great for cultivation, which is brilliant for heavy clay soils. Also, nearly every species of butterfly lays it’s eggs on nettles so it is a vital haven for these creatures.
Finally nettle infusion for feeding plants, is a wonderful natural fertiliser for garden plants. It is so easy to make, but be warned it smells very strong!! not to be used on a sunny day when everyone is out in their gardens. I usually apply mine on a dry day in the Autumn.
- Have a small lidded bucket that you will only use for this purpose, it will unusable for anything else once you’ve done this!
- Towards the end of the summer, cut some nettles, chop them up and place in the bucket. Fill the bucket with water, weigh the nettles down with a brick (it’ll make straining it easier too) and put the lid on.
- Leave in a warm spot for at least 2 weeks and up to 6.
- Add 1 part nettle fertiliser to 4 parts (roughly) water, and water the plants with it.
So as you can see, nettle is a plant that needs to have a space in all our gardens!
References; Susun Weed – The Wise Woman Herbal, Stephen Harrod Buhner – Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers
Disclaimer: As with all herbal remedies, please consult your medical provider before embarking on taking any herbal remedy, homemade or otherwise. Take responsibility for your own health, do your own research on things, use your inner guidance system and intuition regarding all things. Never take any herbal remedy daily for more than 6 weeks without at least a small break.
Happy foraging and healing. Keep well. Green blessings!