Nettle, Urtica dioica, Urticaceae
Parts Used: leaf, root, seed (leaf discussed here)
Energetics: salty, sweet, nutritive, drying, neutral
Habitat: Herbaceous perennial native to Europe, Africa, Asia and North America preferring open or partly shady habitats with plenty of moisture. Nettles are often found on forest edge, by rivers or streams and on roadsides. Now, Nettle has naturalized throughout the world and is often found growing in a streamside ditch
Actions: alterative, analgesic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, antiviral , anticancer, antibacterial, antifungal, antiandrogenic, diuretic, hepatoprotective, nutritive tonic
Active Constituents: Minerals, chloropyll, silica, terpenoids, carotenoids, including β-carotene, neoxanthin, violaxanthin, lutein and lycopene, fatty acids (palmitic, cis-9,12-linoleic and α-linolenic acids), a variety of polyphenols, essential amino acids and proteins, vitamins, tannins, carbohydrates, sterols, polysaccharides, and isolectins (Kregiel, 2018)
Nettles have been treasured through the centuries and for good reason: few other plans can boast such a robust list of medicinal uses, nutritional value, and textile fiber potential. The use of nettle in fabrics has been dated back to 2000 bc with burial shrouds found in Denmark. Hippocrates wrote about 61 remedies using Nettle.
1. Nutritive Tonic- Nettles are quite possibly the most vitamin and mineral-dense plant in Western Herbalism. They are one of the highest known sources of iron and chlorophyll (chlorophyll is what makes plants green and thriving, so when you eat it - you thrive, too!). Chlorophyll is incredibly cooling and alkalizing to the body, and its high content in Nettle plays a role in its powerful anti-inflammatory action. Nettle leaves are mineral rich, particularly high in iron, selenium, zinc, and magnesium. For this reason, Nettles are always indicated for weak, listless, pasty, and/or anemic people. Nettles contain 2x more antioxidant-rich polyphenols than cranberry juice (66.61 mg GAE) . Protein, Vitamin C, fiber, and silica - important for bones! - are also exceptionally high in Nettle. As a nutritive tonic, Nettle works best when taken regularly. Folk herbalists munch on Nettle in a variety ways - sautéed with eggs and other veggies, stewed in soups and broths, or blended into a pesto or smoothie are great ways to eat Nettle. It also makes a tasty simple tea. Nettle’s rich mineral content means it is excellent at strengthening bones and connective tissue, enhancing protein metabolism, building the blood and nourishing the entire body on a cellular level.
2. Diuretic - Nettles are supreme medicine for the entire urinary system. Plants with a “salty” taste let us know they are rich with minerals; this is common for kidney-specific plants like Horsetail, Dandelion, and Celery. Assessing Nettle holistically, you can see that it thrives in deep, damp soils. Using the doctrine of signatures, Herbalists throughout the ages have learned that Nettles also regulate dampness in the body. Pretty cool connection! Synthetic diuretics work solely in the urinary system, increasing liquid output and urination. Herbal diuretics, on the other hand, work much more holistically- they regulate liquids throughout the whole body, working systemically on the Water Element (Evolutionary Herbalism). Synthetic diuretics are used to relieve edema, swelling and gout, but in doing so, they also deplete potassium due to its high water solubility (no one wants to be peeing out precious minerals!). This is why potassium pills are often prescribed at the same time. Herbal diuretics like Nettles are brilliant in that they come equipped with minerals like potassium so that depletion is much less common. Nettles also have a toning, drying and astringent effect, bringing extra umph to cases of leaky, weapy, lax tissue states. Think of Nettle for cramping uteri, post childbirth, leaky gut, high/low blood pressure, and any inflamed puffy state.
3. Alterative - Alterative is an herbal action term that pertains to an herb’s effect on one’s ability to process and remove toxins systemically. Historically, alteratives like Echinacea- also known as Snake Root for this reason - were used to remedy snake bites because they helped the body cleanse itself of circulating toxins. For this reason, alteratives are commonly called “blood cleansers”, but their action is much more complex. Snake bites might not be as common today, but most humans living in the modern world have some degree of toxicity circulating inside. Nettle’s other actions as a diuretic and nutritive play into its role as an effective alterative. Nettle has traditionally been considered a “spring tonic” - folk herbalists would eat the young fresh leaves in the early spring to open up the channels of elimination after a stagnant winter season. Alteratives improve the removal of waste products, enhance metabolic functioning, improve the absorption and distribution of nutrients, and just make you feel fresh and great.
4. Anti-inflammatory - Because of its dank supply of chlorophyll, Nettle is able to cool and alkalize the body. Puffy, inflamed tissues are cooled, nourished, toned, tightened by Nettle’s touch. Arthritic joints, inflammatory GI conditions, excessive cardiovascular heat (often displayed by high blood pressure), and inflammation of the urinary and reproductive organs are especially relieved by Nettle.
Nettle works as a topical anti-inflammatory in a very unique way. Its rubefacient, or “counterirritant” action, is pretty unique to Nettle. Essentially, urticating (from the Latin world for Nettle, Urtica) is the historic practice hitting one’s inflamed, swollen joints and aches with the fresh plant multiple times. This action brings a flood of fresh oxygenated blood flow to the area, removing stagnant waste products (which are often the cause of pain) and feeding the area with nourishment. The stinging hairs, or trichomes, of Nettle include the smooth-muscle stimulating substances of acetylcholine, histamine, and 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) along with formic acid, and serotonin.
How to take: As a food herb, we enjoy Nettles best at meal time. A spoon of Nettle pesto (mixed with other garden herbs like parsley or basil- check out our recipe below!) or a handful thrown into the soup pot are great ways to infuse your food with mineral rich Nettle. A warm or cold infusion of 3 tsp. Nettle (dried or fresh) in 1 qt filtered water. Drink throughout the day for a refreshing, cooling treat.
Plays Well With: You can find Nettle in our Wonderful Woman Tea for it’s toning, mineralizing, and astringent properties - perfect for moon time cramping and PMS.
-Due to its drying nature, we like to pair Nettle with a bit of moistening Licorice, Orange Peel, or Tulsi for a tasty, balanced drink.
-For a great bone builder, Nettle, Horsetail, Oat Straw, Dandelion, Rosemary, and Ginger make a stellar daily tonic.
-Soups! Simply through a handful in any soup for a hearty, mineral-rich addition
-Pestos! The deep, salty bite of Nettle plays will with other pesto herbs like basil and parsley. Add a handful of fresh to any pesto batch- just be sure you blend well so you don't sting your tongue!
-Muffins and Breads! A few tablespoons of dried Nettle leaves or powder will give your baked goods fortified nutrition
Contraindications: When consumed abundantly and/or out of balance of other moistening plants, Nettles can cause dryness. Nettles are generally safe, but high amounts might disturb anyone on diuretic pharmaceuticals. Always be sure to harvest the leaves before the flowering stage
Nettle Pesto Recipe
With gloves, basket, and scissors/pruners in hand, go find a nettle patch. Make sure the patch hasn’t flowered yet- harvesting already flowered nettle might cause urinary irritation. I like to use basic scissors to clip the nettle leaves right at the node, or where the next section of opposite leaves begin. This allows one fresh pairs of leaves present at the end of each nettle stem, facilitating more even and beautiful growth for the plant. Clip down to about the 2nd or 3rd node so that you are only getting the freshest tips of nettle. The older, larger leaves at the bottom of the plant are tougher and not as tasty. At the end of this process, you should have about 10 handfuls of leaves and stems (or the equivalent of 3 compacted cups of nettle leaf + stem).
Once inside, gently rinse nettle with colander. Using your scissors, clip off all the leaves and shove the woodier stems in a pot or jar. You can use these stems for teas and soup stocks. I will make a pot of boiling water and infuse the stems for about 10 minutes and keep this in my fridge to drink at my leisure. You can also freeze stems with other veggie scraps and bones for a soup stock base. When all your leaves are de-stemmed, very quickly steam them in a pan with a bit of salt, pepper, and water to de-sting them. Blending up the leaves fresh will also remove the sting from stinging nettle, but I like this extra step as a precautionary measure (I have had fresh nettle pesto where some of the stingers were still in tack- yowch!)
Once leaves have steamed, add about 2-2.5 cups worth (depending on how much you steamed them) to a blender. Add 1/2 c olive oil + 1 spoon tahini, 1 handful fresh parsley, juice and zest of 1 lemon, 2 handfuls of walnuts & flax seeds (about 1-1.5 cup, depending on the nuts you use), 2 tsp miso paste, a hefty pinch sea salt and crushed black pepper, and a dash of cayenne (optional: ½ cup pecorino or any hard goat’s milk cheese). Blend until smooth. Transfer to a jar and store in fridge for at least a week or in freezer. If you divvy them up into ice cube trays and freeze, you have perfect 1-portion servings for quick meals.
Popham, S. & Popham, W. (2015) Materia Medica Monthly, Vol. 2: Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica.
Semalty, M., Adhikari, L., Semwal, D., Chauhan, A., Mishra, A., Kotiyal, R., & Semalty, A. (2017). A Comprehensive Review on Phytochemistry and Pharmacological Effects of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). Current Traditional Medicine, 3(3), 156-167.
Creative Commons, flickr. Ben Matthews, Diana Susselman, mfitaly
What's in RALLY?
Herbalism is all about the balancing energetics of herbs to meet the needs of the person taking them. A person with a hot constitution taking a heating herb daily because they heard it might be good for them isn't going to do much good at all (stay tuned for a post on understanding your constitution later!).
Well-balanced formulas, like the blends we create, are geared towards meeting the needs of the general population. RALLY is a blend we've been tinkering with for a while. As expert coffee drinkers and bonified herb nerds, we experiment with putting herbs in our coffee on the regular.
In time, we found the perfect formula of nutty, sweet roots, simultaneously uplifting and calming adaptogens, and flavorful digestive aids to make for an unforgettable cup of coffee. Adding RALLY to our coffee has elevated a mundane daily routine into a morning ritual with the power to sustain all day long. I even carry a little jar of it in my purse to top of my coffee when I'm out and about.
The Herbs in RALLY
Shatavari, Asparagus racemosus
A sweet, slightly bitter, warming and moistening root used as a medicinal food in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India. It soothes the lining of your entire gastrointestinal tract, reinvigorates dried tissue, enhances your ability to respond to stress, and supports immunity. It is also a well-known aphrodisiac.
Red Reishi, Ganoderma lucidum
A cherished heart and immune tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is fondly called the "Mushroom of Immortality" for its restorative qualities. Reishi is slightly sweet, bitter, pungent, and warming. It is an effective antioxidant and immune tonic, increasing or decreasing immune response depending on the individual (amphoteric). It supports healthy blood composition and nourishes the liver.
Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera
A slightly bitter, warm, and drying root used as a medicinal food in Ayurveda. It calms while also enhancing focus and mental and physical performance. Affectionately called "Sweat of the Stallion", it is known to invigorate and balance hormones. It's also a nerve calming nervine and immune-amphoteric.
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
Dandelion root has been used for ages to improves digestion from the stomach to colon. It is another Aster family plant rich with prebiotics that feed healthy gut flora. Dandelion root is a liver and gallbladder tonic, improving the quality of bile for better fat digestion and enhancing detoxification pathways.
Chicory, Intybus cichorium
A sweet, bitter, warming, and nutritious native root once used as a coffee supplement. As an Aster, Chicory is a prebiotic rich with inulin which feeds good gut flora. Chicory is known to enhance digestion and colon health. It is also known to support healthy blood composition.
Digestive, Flavorful Spices
Ceylon Cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum
A sweet, bitter, warm, and nutritive spice. It is a well-known blood sugar stabilizer, circulatory tonic, and respiratory health agent. It soothes the entire gastrointestinal tract.
Cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum
An aromatic, warm, and drying spice traditionally added to coffee in Ayurveda. It is carminative (dispels gas), alleviates stagnation throughout the body, and freshens breath.
How to Drink RALLY
The beauty of adding balanced adaptogens, blood-sugar stabilizers, and digestive aids to your coffee is threefold:
1. Your energy is sustained all day - by nourishing your adrenals, those tiny glands taxed with the huge responsibility of generating stress hormones, adaptogens can keep you from meeting that dreaded 3 o'clock crash. Blood-sugar stabilizers slow down the sometimes topsy turvy effects of caffeine. Drinking RALLY coffee with a fat also sustains the energy high much longer than drinking coffee straight.
2.RALLY may reduces the common ill effects of coffee-drinking like indigestion, reflux, and jitters - Our digestive herbs like Dandelion, Chicory, and Cardamom support digestion and foster an environment of good gut flora - soooo essential for overall health.
3. It's easy! You don't have to go out of your way to incorporate powerful, immune-boosting, stress-relieving herbs into your busy life - simply add a small scoop of RALLY to your morning cup!*
Recipe for the Ultimate RALLY Cup of Coffee
1. We like to choose a darker roast - both for the taste and smaller amount of caffeine.
2. Always use 100% Arabica, shade-grown beans. Not only do they taste better, but shade-grown mimics the natural way coffee grows beneath the forest canopy.
3. Try to pair your coffee with a fat like coconut oil, grass-fed butter ghee, or cream. The fat not only unlocks some of the constituents in the herbs but also slows the absorption of caffeine and mitigates the "acid-stomach" feeling some coffee-drinkers experience. You can go a step beyond and add a scoop of collagen for an added creamy, protein punch.
4. Mix 1/2 tsp RALLY, 1 scoop collagen, and a 1/2 tsp coconut oil and/or splash of your favorite creamer into 1 cup of hot coffee. Blend for a few seconds in a blender or use the incredible hand frother to incorporate the fat and herbs into your coffee. Sip slowly and enjoy thoroughly!
* Adaptogens are described as tonic herbs, meaning they work best when taken regularly as the benefits slowly build over time. It is wise to discontinue any tonic herb routine when dealing with an acute infection - shifting the focus to acute herbs like diaphoretics and antivirals!
Panossian, A. G. (2003). Adaptogens: tonic herbs for fatigue and stress. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, 9(6), 327-331.
Wagner, H., Nörr, H., & Winterhoff, H. (1994). Plant adaptogens. Phytomedicine, 1(1), 63-76.
Winston, D., & Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.
When we make dessert we like to make sure of a few things. It's paired with:
1. Lots of good fat
Fat slows down the absorption of sugar. This means two things: we stay satisfied longer and we don't overburden our organs- especially the pancreas.
The pancreas is an incredible organ taxed with the huge responsibility of getting sugar out of the blood. When we have too much sugar in the blood, those sugars bind with our blood cells rendering them clunky, ineffective and hazardous to our entire body. So basically, always eat fat when you eat sugar! We like grass-fed butter, ghee, and unrefined coconut oil for our saturated fats and extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and sesame oil for our unsaturated fats.
2. Sugar stabilizing herbs
In many clinical trials, Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) has been shown to: promotes glycemic control, improve lipid parameters, reduce insulin resistance, and improve insulin action (Ranasinghe et al, 2012). It's likely no coincidence that cinnamon and sugar is a traditional combination. Our ancestors knew what was up!
This class of herbs could possibly be one of the modern human's greatest herbal allies. Adaptogens work by improving our body's perception of and response to stress, making us more resilient in the face of it. Think of it this way- we can't always control the amount of stress going on in and around us, but we can certainly control how we respond to these stressors. Our bodies are always responding to stressors large and small, emotional and physical, whether we are aware of it or not (if you haven't noticed, our bodies are really good at acclimating to sub-optimal environments and our minds are really good at distracting us from listening).
And the truth is- the modern world barrages us with constant, low-level stressors that our ancestral bodies have simply not adapted to handle. These chronic low-level stressors mean that our bodies are always pumping out stress hormones, leaving us depleted in some capacity at some point in time. Depression, autoimmune conditions, fatigue, inflammation, mood disorders, hormonal issues, lack of vigor- many argue that all these things could be traced back to chronic, low level stress (Sapolsky, 2004).
Adaptogens have been utilized by our ancestors in some form across the globe. They are tonic level herbs (meant to be taken regularly) that produce a non-specific response in the body (they increase our resilience to numerous stressors) while also having a normalizing effect (balancing us out no matter the direction we favor) (Winston & Maimes, 2007).
Science is in the midst of catching up to the magic of adaptogens, but the verdict is out: adaptogens rock! They come in all shapes and sizes and address countless modern complaints.
An important note on taking adaptogens: best practice is to stop any adaptogen routine during times of acute illness such as the flu.
1.5 sticks grass-fed butter
6 oz chopped bittersweet bakers chocolate
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ceylon cinnamon
1/4 tsp licorice powder
2 tbsp red Reishi powder
1 tbsp Shatavari powder
4 large eggs room temperature
1/2 c raw sugar
healthy pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup raw cacao
1 c heavy cream (coconut cream can work too!)
12 oz bittersweet chocolate
pinch sea salt
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Cut out a piece of parchment paper to fit a circular 8” pan. Place paper into pan. Set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan at a medium low heat. Add the Reishi and Shatavari, stirring constantly as the herbs infuse into the butter, about 5 minutes. Remove butter mixture from heat and add chocolate chips. Stir until smooth. Add the instant coffee and vanilla extract and set aside.
Whisk or mix eggs, sugar, and salt until your mixture has grown in volume (this takes around 5 minutes with a hand mixer). Next, slowly add your chocolate-butter mixture as you continue mixing. Fold in cacao, cinnamon, and licorice. Mix until completely combined. Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 325. The edges should appear "baked" but you want the center a bit gooey still. Remove from oven and cool at room temperature completely before transferring to a fridge. Let chill for 5 hours.
Bring 1-2" water to a low boil/simmer in a sauce pan. Top with a double boiler. Add chocolate and cream to the double boiler and let melt, stirring occasionally until you have a smooth consistency. Add a pinch of sea salt. Drizzle over your chilled cake until it's completely covered. Chill again for another hour. Serve with whipped cream and enjoy!
Engels, Gayle & Brinckmann, Josef. 2012. HerbalGram: Cinnamon, Issue 95. American Botanical Council
Ranasinghe, P., Perera, S., Gunatilake, M., Abeywardene, E., Gunapala, N., Premakumara, S., ... & Katulanda, P. (2012). Effects of Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Ceylon cinnamon) on blood glucose and lipids in a diabetic and healthy rat model. Pharmacognosy research, 4(2), 73.
Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why zebras don't get ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping-now revised and updated. Holt paperbacks.
Winston, D., & Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.
Eileen Brantley & Amy Wright
We are Herb Girls Athens, LLC. Read our blog!