Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)

nettles

Stinging nettles emerging in the garden, spring-time

I have yet to blog about herbs. And, I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I’m a little intimidated to write about plant medicine. Apparently, it’s time to get over that. The only way to massage stuff like this (blocks and such) out of my system, is to simply begin doing whatever that thing is… So, responding to my own enthusiasm about plants and to the request of friends who have asked me to do so…I will write about plants. Here I go…

 

I thought I would start with a lovely plant, nettles. Yes, stinging nettles… This plant has been coming up for me for awhile now. I’ve used it in a few different ways. Here is what herbalist, Susan Weed says about the nutritional content of nettles:

Stinging nettle has about 10% protein. It’s a very rapid re-builder of beautiful skin and beautiful hair and is loaded with high quality minerals. A cup of stinging nettle infusion can contain up to 250 mg of calcium. That same cup can have over 1000 IU equivalents of vitamin A and is one of the richest sources of chlorophyll.

I don’t take any kind of supplement or pills, any kind of vitamins or minerals. I depend on drinking nourishing herbal infusions which are much stronger than herbal teas.

To make an infusion steep one full ounce of the herb or 30 grams by weight in 1 quart or 1 litre of boiling water for four hours. I usually weigh the herb – the dried herb always, never the fresh herb – and put it in my container, fill it to the top with boiling water and let it steep for four hours, tightly covered, or overnight, whichever works.That large amount of herb will yield a large amount of nutrition. If we just make a cup of nettle tea with a teaspoon of herb brewed for 5 minutes, we get about 5 mg of calcium. If we used fresh nettle to make our tea we’d get 1 mg of calcium. Using dried herbs (drying concentrates the herbs’ goodness and nutrition), and by using a lavish quantity of herb (30 grams or 1 ounce by weight is usually between a cup and a cup and a half) is how we get the most nutrition from it.

Infusion

Pretty amazing, eh? Susan Weed also says that nettles strengthen the adrenals, allowing you to tolerate stress better.  Nettles is often paired with oatstraw (dried and chopped Avena sativa stalks) which also nourishes the nervous system and is remineralizing.  On top of being such good remineralizer, many use nettles during allergy season as it is reported to lower histamine levels and is anti-inflammatory.

I put about 1/2 cup of dried nettles in a quart jar, pour hot water over it to fill, and let it sit for at least 4 hours; strain and drink. The infusion tastes so hearty and it is a seriously green drink. Don’t get me wrong, it tastes planty and earthy; however, there is a deep sense of nourishment and ease after drinking a glass of this (and, anyway — just get used to the taste…you’ll soon crave it!). The vitamins and minerals in this infusion are super easy to absorb in the body — and you can taste the concentration of good stuff!

Near and Plentiful

I remember gardening and farming around nettles while at Esalen in Big Sur. They loved to hang out around the tomato plants for some reason. When I picked tomatoes, I would always get stung by these fellas demanding attention! Sometimes they would sting right through my gloves. It’s not a severe sting; just a good zap that tingles and diminishes in about a minute or so.

The sting consists of the same chemical that is emitted by honey bees, ants or wasps…formic acid.  It is found on the fine hairs on the underside of the leaves of the plant.

This reminds me of another tid-bit from Susan Weed that I read recently. It’s about her philosophy on what plants to use as food and/or medicine. She says that if plants are near humans and plentiful, they are ASKING to be used often in the diet; plants that are further away, need to be used rarely. So, nettles is definitely asking us to use it — often.

Hair Rinse

I also use nettles as an herbal hair rinse. This was a suggestion I read out of a book on natural body care by Jeanne Rose, an herbalist in San Francisco that specialized in aromatherapy.

I boil water and pour it over the dried nettles and rosemary in a french press. Once it has cooled to a temperature my body can handle, I then press the infusion through the herbs and take the french press in with me to the  bathtub.  After I pour this over my head, I don’t rinse it out.

You can also infuse nettles into apple cider vinegar (1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar) and use that as a remineralizing and cleansing hair rinse.  My curly, brown hair really takes to this well.

The more I experiment with herbal hair rinses, the more those bottles of goo (called Shampoo and Conditioner) look foreign to me. Is THAT really what my hair needs — an endless cycle of stripping my hair of natural oils and then replacing them with artificial ones? Jeanne Rose’s book called the “Herbal Body Book” was a good primer for me to learn about proper hair care. This book is not the easiest to navigate, but it has excellent recipes for almost every part of your body!

Everything adrenal – bladder – urinary tract

After working with this plant for awhile…I’ve learned that it has many virtues when it comes to the urinary system (and the piggy-back riding adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys).  It is a gentle diuretic that can help flush out urinary tract infections (also cooling and anti-inflammatory).  You can use this herb with anti-microbial herbs such as echinacea or usnea to help with any kind of infection (tincture form).

Herbalists David Hoffman and Kiva Rose have both written about the use of nettle seed (raw seed or tincture) as an trophorestorative for the adrenal gland.  One teaspoon, 3 times a day is the normal dosage for the raw seed, or 1-2 droppers full of tincture in 4 oz of water.  There is debate in the herb world about “adrenal fatigue” with more herbalists claiming “fatigue” is due to nutritional deficiencies rather than the actual depletion of this gland.  However, considering the role of the adrenal gland in the stress response, I can see how this gland can be over-utilized causing an imbalanced response when it is triggered (many people have issues with cortisol levels).

It is understood that glands are difficult to rebuild when compared to organs which can repair more rapidly with proper support.  So, there is also debate on whether adrenal glands can properly restore themselves after severe wear and tear.  My understanding of the body, though, is that the body is capable of amazing things when it is properly nourished and supported.

Roughage

There are many ways to serve up nettles as food. The stinging leaves the plant when you cook it and apply heat. Some folks saute them with garlic, butter, olive oil, and some sea salt… Some folks add them to pizza. I love making a pesto with them!  Experiment and see what you can come up with!

Whey Cooler

I also made a whey cooler with nettles and chamomile. I blogged about it here; just scroll down to the bottom half of that entry to get the recipe. It tasted really good to me — tart, a little fizzy, and a little sweet. Whey coolers are just great for the gut as they are packed with lacto-bacilli.

Gardening Tip

If you decide to grow nettles in your garden, beware. They love you and they will want to take a bit plot of your garden as they spread through their rhizomes! So, select a spot that will give the room to grow so that they don’t crowd other plants of yours.

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5 thoughts on “Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)

  1. >Nettles are a fabulous herb! I drink the tea regularly, but have never heard of the herbal hair rinse. That is such a good idea. I want to check out that book by Jeanne Rose. Thanks for sharing : )

  2. >Hey there Lauren! Aren't they!? It's an old-school book, but a great resource… It's basic and to the point…just what I like…tons of cool recipes…down-home spa type stuff 😉

  3. Pingback: Strengthen Your Bones with Weeds! | Madhupa Maypop

  4. Pingback: Botanist’s creamy nettle soup | Packe Street Park Community Garden

  5. Pingback: Ramie & My Nettle Sweater | Madhupa Maypop

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