Nettles

Latin Name: 
Urtica dioica
Common Name: 
Nettles
Stinging Nettles
Indication: 
pectoral
diuretic
astringent
tonic
styptic
rubifacient
Nettles

Nettles are supreme weeds that offer us nourishment and inner body toning for a healthier life. This lovely plant provides an abundance of necessary nutrients and is a wonderful tonic and vitamin supplement for the pregnant woman. Do encourage women of any age to drink nettle tea. For pregnant women, the ideal combination is nettle and red raspberry leaves, steeped about 30 minutes, made fresh daily. Encourage your clients to drink nettle tea throughout their pregnancy and postpartum period, as it promotes the production of breastmilk and is an excellent source of assimilable iron, complete with abundant vitamin C. Nettles are also high in vitamin A, vitamin K, calcium, protein, chlorophyll, and dietary fiber. They can be steamed and eaten as a dark leafy green, as well.

Nettles' diuretic properties are effective in treating edema and they have a mild tendency to lower blood sugar. They tone the liver, adrenals and kidneys, and are wisely used in treating anemia. Their styptic quality can be effective on postpartum hemorrhage as well as excessive menstrual flow. This can be accomplished by drinking strong infusions of the dried leaf.

Recent success has been documented using freeze dried nettles in treating hay fever. Effective in treating dandruff, nettles can be steeped before your shower and used as a final rinse, for healthy glowing hair. Nettles can also be used as a rubifacient in treating arthritic joints, rubbing the fresh leaves on the painful area. In a nutshell, nettles truly represent one of the most powerful and expansive healers of the nourishing herbs.

Nettles are a deep green with serrated leaf edges and have a soft appearance. They are found growing throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. They like partial shade as well as full sunlight and prefer moist, nitrogen-rich soil, growing 3-5 feet in the wild. In the patch I harvest, they grow to 6 feet due to their location in an irrigated sheep pasture. In the Northwest, nettles for drying are best harvested in mid April to mid June. They can be gathered to eat steamed when even younger, and up until the leaves begin yellowing with maturity. Nettle stalks can also be used like flax to make cloth. However, nettles harbor heavy metals and toxins if they are growing near dumps or in soil with contaminants. Be careful that you harvest nettles in a clean ecosystem, or ingesting them could add toxins to your body.

Nettles are an incredibly viable food source and if your neighborhood patch becomes over-picked or eradicated you may want to grow some in the corner of your yard. As painful as these plants are when they come in contact with the skin, it can be remembered that their nourishing qualities far outweigh their sting. I try to think that nettles' sting is there to alert us very smartly of their presence, so we will remember to come back for the harvest! If you do brush against them with your bare skin, the stinging hairs on the leaves and stems will only cause a mild sensation in the moment, but within minutes the skin becomes reddened and an intense, tingly, and quite unpleasant burning sensation will persist for hours. If you get stung, look for dock or plantain growing nearby and chew and apply these weed leaves to the sting for moderate relief in the present.

For the past few years I have made a point of inviting different women friends along to harvest nettles. My love of being outdoors and sharing friendships is heightened by the ritual of my annual nettle harvest. Be sure to go forth into the woods and fields well prepared. Avoiding the sting requires conscious attentiveness in the entirety of the process. Wear an extra-long sleeved shirt with button cuffs. Take medium to heavy gloves that have cuffs that can be covered with the tightly buttoned shirt sleeves. Wrists seem most at risk for stings during harvest. Take a hand pruning shear, preferably with spring action. Utility scissors can be a substitute, but may not be as easy to use on the taller, more thickly stemmed plants. Wear long, medium weight pants, and socks long enough to protect your ankles. Nettles do seem to be able to penetrate thin material. Plan enough time to pick, wash, and hang your nettles in the same day, and stay protectively dressed during the entire process.

When harvesting nettles I cut where the leaves start looking shabby, with enough stem left to tie onto when I hang them up. While cutting, I place them stem end down into a large paper bag. When the bag is full I place another bag over the tops, to protect folks from being stung during transportation. At home I swish my nettles through a cold water rinse. Nettles seem to hide lots of little critters that come off easily with a quickie bath. Shake off excess water, move them to your prep table, and tie them in bundles of 3-5 stalks, staying gloved and cuffed at all times. Set some aside to steam fresh for dinner that night. Hang the rest to dry in a clean, dark, out-of-the-way place, assuring that no one will run into them by accident. The rich, pungent, deeply earthy aroma that exudes from drying nettles is one of my all-time favorite scents. Anything that smells this good has to be an incredible source of health!

When the nettles are crackly dry, glove up and, using scissors, cut the entire harvest into brown paper bags. Line dry another week, with bag tops well folded over and labeled. Most dry herbs can be stored in a paper bag, but they're better kept stuffed into glass gallons. Use nettles liberally every week when brewing tea for your entire family. The infusion is a rich dark green that turns to almost black if left to steep for hours.

For those enjoying hardy wild culinary delights try steaming the leaves, nipped off of the stems. The sting is totally disarmed when nettles are exposed to moist heat. Nettles are a tasty pot herb and can be cooked into soups or used as a cooked spinach substitute in dishes like lasagne, manicotti, or vegetable pot pie. Midwives are on the front line for guiding folks into healthier eating habits. Sometimes it's as easy as taking a short walk on the wild side. Here's to your health!