Nettle (Urtica dioica) is one of the premier herbs in traditional Western herbalism. In addition to being high in protein, this extremely nutritious plant contains many vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, iron, and chlorophyll, which explains why it has historically been used as both a pot-herb and vegetable.
Ironically, given its well-known reputation for stinging, Nettle has even been used as a lust-inducing herb. Though I cringe at the thought, apparently, lightly flagellating the sexual organs with a sprig of fresh nettles can act as an aphrodisiac and help – ahem – make things more interesting. I sure hope K-Y doesn’t get any ideas.
Also known as Stinging Nettle or Nettles, this helpful plant ally is a fundamental iron tonic for treating anemia as well as during pregnancy, when it helps to tone the pelvic muscles in preparation for childbirth. For all of its nutritive value, one must take care when harvesting; the plant possesses fine, hollow hairs and spines on the leaves and stems that release formic acid when touched; just one careless grasp can result in a painful, stinging or burning rash from this plants natural little hypodermic needles. According to M. Grieve, the self-same plant is the cure for this rash. Simply applying Nettle juice to the irritation will give near immediate relief. I have no personal experience with this, as I’ve only ever gotten the mildest of stings when I allowed myself to get careless, however I’m willing to bet Ms. Grieve knew her stuff.
Therapeutically, Nettle is well known for having natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an excellent herb for people with asthma or allergies. There have been several studies done which have shown the remarkable improvement of those who suffered from constricted bronchial and nasal passages, asthma, and hay fever when they were given Nettle infusions on a regular basis. Also a diuretic, Nettle encourages excretions while at the same time discouraging nighttime urges to “go”, making it quite helpful for those with urinary, bed-wetting, and prostate problems. Nettle root has also been used historically as a hair tonic to restore thinning, gray hair to its youthful luster, thickness, and color. To quote Susun Weed, “stinging nettle builds energy, strengthens the adrenals, and is said to restore youthful flexibility to blood vessels. A cup of nettle infusion contains 500 milligrams of calcium plus generous amounts of bone-building magnesium, potassium, silicon, boron, and zinc. It is also an excellent source of vitamins A, D, E, and K. For flexible bones, a healthy heart, thick hair, beautiful skin, and lots of energy, make friends with sister stinging nettle. It may make you feel so good you’ll jump up and exercise.” Sounds pretty good to me!
So, how, you ask, can you use this powerhouse? Making a tea is probably the easiest way. Simply infuse the dried herb in freshly boiled water, covered, for 20 minutes. Another method is to make a nourishing herbal infusion (again, thank you, Susun Weed) by placing one ounce (by weight) of herb in a quart sized canning jar and filling the jar with boiling hot water right up to the rim. Screw on the lid and leave it to infuse overnight. The next morning, strain out the herbs, squeeze out all of the precious liquid, and consume all of it within 36 hours. My personal favorite is to prepare them as a pesto – just as you would use basil, only give them a quick blanch first! You can add them to recipes with spinach, use them as a ravioli stuffing, or a pizza topping … the possibilities are nearly endless, and the best part is my kiddo doesn’t even care that they’re in there!
If you have new ways of cooking with nettles, I’d love to hear about them.