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
Eileen Brantley & Amy Wright
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